Discussions of independence for Puerto Rico often include talk of reparations. Javier A. Hernández, for example, says, “If a sovereign Puerto Rico negotiates a comprehensive reparations (colonial compensation) package with the United States accepting such colonial cost and damages of $6.1 trillion, according to the calculation of Dr. Alameda Lozada’s research, the new Republic of Puerto Rico could receive $122.1 billion a year for the next 50 years.” The Puerto Rico Status Act calls for financial support of a sovereign Puerto Rico from the United States, though it stops short of specifying reparations.

Rep. Nydia Velazquez has said that continued U.S. citizenship is “the least” Puerto Rico should expect from the United States in case of independence.

But there is rarely discussion of what the United States might want from an independent Puerto Rico. We might find clues to this in the hearings held when Congress debated an independence bill for Puerto Rico in the 20th century.

Military rights

“Because of its location and size, Puerto Rico is of great strategic importance as a naval operating base,” aid Captain Parks, the representative of the Navy. “The amount and size of the naval facilities that the Navy may need in Puerto Rico in the future cannot be foreseen now. For that reason, the Chief of Naval Operations is opposed to any bill for independence for Puerto Rico that provides only for the retention of naval and military reservations, and does not also provide for the expansion of naval and military facilities, and the selection of new sites at any time n the future, if necessary to the national security. The United States must be the sole judge of its own future requirements in this area.”

In other words, the United States believed that they had the right to military bases in an independent nation of Puerto Rico. The Navy did not want to accept the bill, which stated that the U.S. could keep the military installations that it had at the time, but insisted on expanding the military power the U.S. would have over the new nation of Puerto Rico.

Free trade

During the hearing, here was extensive discussion of trade. Senator Muñoz-Marin and the chairman of the committee both agreed that an independent Puerto Rico should have free trade with the United States, without charging tariffs on imports from the U.S. They agreed that this should be a reciprocal deal.

If Puerto Rico were to become independent in their 21st century, would the leaders of the new nation agree to this kind of trade deal? For Muñoz-Marin, the deal was part of a request that the United States should guarantee economic support until Puerto Rico was able to support itself — no matter how long that might take. There were concerns from other members of Congress that doing such a thing for Puerto Rico would compel the United States to do the same for other nations, and today’s Congress might not be open to the possibility at all.

But this might well be a demand the U.S. would make as a condition of independence for Puerto Rico.

Plan ahead

Congress should clarify any requirements they would expect to have before agreeing to independence. This clarification should be made before the final referendum on statehood. Voters should know what the U.S. would demand, so they can vote with a full understanding of the terms.



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