The Death of the Commonwealth?

The recent Supreme Court cases confirming that Puerto Rico can not attain sovereignty as long as it remains an unincorporated territory did not put the final nail in the coffin of commonwealth, but rather exhumed the long dead and buried myth to confirm it was never viable.

Territorial Legislative Assembly Rep. Jose Aponte Hernandez wrote in an article in The Hill that the recent Supreme Court rulings  were “the nail in the coffin of Commonwealth.” “Commonwealth” party leaders pretend to be shocked by the court rulings.

If people want or need to pretend this comes as a surprise for local political posturing, fine. But the truth is that the idea that “commonwealth” was a sovereign political status was stillborn and never really viable, and they knew that from the beginning. “Commonwealth” in that sense was an autonomist hoax.

Here’s some evidence:

  • Former governor Luis Munoz Marin, architect of the commonwealth concept, agreed that Public Law 600 (the law which gave Puerto Rico its own constitution) did not change the territory’s underlying status. He acknowledged that Congress could re-assert its territorial clause power locally. In testimony during a Congressional hearing on March 4, 1950, he specifically said that the Federal Relations Act “did not change the fundamental conditions of Puerto Rico as to non-incorporation and only permitted Puerto Rico to develop its own self government.”
  • At the same time, the U.S. Congress rejected Munoz Marin’s’s proposal to apply the mutual consent provision of the Northwest Ordinance to the “commonwealth” regime of territorial government.  While Puerto Rico wanted an agreement that the terms of “commonwealth” regime established under federal law could not be changed without consent of the territorial government, the U.S. Congress refused.
  • The terms of Public Law 600 say only “recognizing the principle of government by consent,” and do not say anywhere that the constitution or the relationship between the U.S. and Puerto Rico can be changed only by mutual consent, since the “commonwealth” is a creation of U.S. law and Puerto Rico has no “bilateral” or separate sovereignty.
  • Congress in 1952 made amendments limiting future amendments and confirming the supremacy of federal law in Puerto Rico.
  • A U.S. legal memo was sent to the General Assembly of U.N. in 1953, confirming supremacy of federal law, continued territorial status and the jurisdiction of federal courts to determine Puerto Rico’s status.

The myth of “commonwealth” as a sovereign-to-sovereign association was dead and buried every time Congress ignored proposals to recognize it as non-territorial, while the President and courts rejected it. Just two examples:

  • In 1980 Harris v. Rosario, the Supreme Court ruled that Puerto Rico could be treated differently from the 50 States. This court case allowed the U.S. to give the people of Puerto Rico lower benefits than those living in the States.
  • The 2005 Report by President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status confirmed again that Puerto Rico was subject to the Territorial Clause.

The two recent court cases merely exhumed the corpse and ran forensic testing to confirm that the “commonwealth” myth was never really alive, except in the illusory ideological hoax of Rafael Hernandez Colon and Antonio Fernos-Isern.

An unrealized ambition that failed, combined with repeated denial that it has failed, can become an aspirational myth. Once objective facts demonstrate that aspiration embodied in the myth has failed, repeating the myth as if it were true is a lie. There never has been an opportunity for “enhanced commonwealth,” and the “commonwealth” was never really autonomous.

The need for so many in Puerto Rico to embrace that lie emanated from the 1922 ruling by SCOTUS in the Balzac case, separating U.S. citizenship in Puerto Rico from the U.S. Constitution for the first time =
in U.S. history. That made U.S. citizenship itself a failed ambition and a myth, because U.S. citizenship without rights of citizenship under the Constitution consistent with the Northwest Ordinance is not truly U.S. citizenship, and does not lead to full U.S. citizenship rights that come only with State citizenship.

The irrational Balzac ruling created the need to invent the “commonwealth” myth in order to substitute the illusion of a meaningful citizenship and status for true citizenship status denied by SCOTUS in the Balzac ruling.

But the need for the myth doesn’t excuse the repetition of the lie that it contained. It’s time for Puerto Rico to give up the myth of commonwealth and move forward to true equality as the 51st State.

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