In recent discussions about Puerto Rico’s status, the “commonwealth” party has been talking about the need for Puerto Rico’s government to sit down with the U.S. Congress and work out a new arrangement that both sides will like. The Federal government hasn’t responded with any invitations.
In fact, the U.S. government has said over and over that this isn’t how it’s going to work. And yet “commonwealth” party political leaders in Puerto Rico continue to suggest that this can happen, and that the special deal that would be worked out would be better than statehood.
The reasons are complicated, but much of it goes back to the 1950s. The United Nations made a list of “non-self governing territories” at that time — colonies, essentially — and included Puerto Rico. The United States didn’t want Puerto Rico on that list, so there was an official request to remove Puerto Rico from the list.
The 2007 Report of the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico explains:
Both before and since the issuance of the 2005 Task Force Report, some have questioned whether Puerto Rico’s status as a United States territory is consistent with statements that the United States made to the United Nations in 1953 following the adoption of Puerto Rico’s constitution, in requesting that Puerto Rico be removed from the list of non-self-governing territories. In its official request to the United Nations, the United States stated that Congress had given Puerto Rico the freedom to conduct its own internal government subject only to compliance with federal law and the U.S. Constitution. The official request did not state that Congress could make no changes in Puerto Rico’s status without its consent. It is true that, prior to the submission of this official request, the U.S. representative to the U.N. General Assembly indicated orally that common consent would be needed to make changes in the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States. Notwithstanding this statement, however, the Department of Justice concluded in 1959 that Puerto Rico remained a territory, and as noted above, the Supreme court, while recognizing that Puerto Rico exercises substantial political autonomy under the current commonwealth system, has held that Puerto Rico remains fully subject to congressional authority under the Territory Clause […]
The 2005 Task Force Report also explained why existing constitutional principles foreclose the so-called “New Commonwealth” status […] The U.S. constitution would not permit the “New Commonwealth” proposal because land under United States sovereignty must either be a State or a territory. As the Supreme Court stated over a hundred years ago, if land is “not included in any State,” it “must necessarily be governed by or under the authority of Congress.” […] Thus, although Congress is free to allow a territory to exercise powers of self-government (as Congress has done with respect to Puerto Rico), it may not restrict the authority of a future Congress over that territory.
As some of the “commonwealth” party leaders have pointed out, the U.S. representative to the U.N. General Assembly implied that the U.S. could possibly sit down with Puerto Rico and agree on changes in the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States. That’s not the important part of the story, though. The important part is “the Department of Justice concluded in 1959 that Puerto Rico remained a territory, and as noted above, the Supreme Court […] has held that Puerto Rico remains fully subject to congressional authority under the Territory Clause.”
That is, the U.S. doesn’t have to make any deals with Puerto Rico, and they don’t plan to. In order to participate in the democratic process in the U.S., Puerto Rico has to be a state. Sign the petition.