Puerto Rico Forward: How to Solve PR’s Status Problem


The following program is brought to you by
democracyatwork.info. Broadcasting from a US colony, my name is
Andrew Mercado-Vazquez, and this is Puerto Rico Forward. A program that takes a look at the economic
and legal structures at play between the United States of North America and Puerto Rico. Now in past episodes, I’ve attempted to highlight
how Puerto Rico’s current status as a US colony is the result of over a century of legislation
and jurisprudence that time and time again has resulted in the affirmation of Congress’
plenary powers over the archipelago. Since I’ve already discussed the legal origins of Puerto Rico’s colonial status, I won’t be covering that today. However, for a review, head over to episode
2 of this program where I go into detail on how the current political condition came to be. To begin, let’s discuss exactly why Puerto
Rico’s current status is so toxic for its political and economic development. Now, if you take a moment to read up on financial
or economic news, more often than not you’ll stumble upon a few articles about some new
trade treaty between countries, a new tax increase or decrease proposed by a government,
a change in interest rates proposed by a central bank, the legalization or criminalization
of a specific activity, and many other similar stories. These stories will usually touch on the fact
that it is states who are taking such actions since they alone have the power to do so. And when I use the term “state,” I don’t only
mean within the context of a federalized union. But rather at an international level as well. You see, in a world where you buy your clothes
from China and your cars from Japan, more than ever states play an important role in
shaping the economy through the use of their power to implement economic and legal measures. And to further understand the importance of
the state and how it relates to Puerto Rico, let’s take a look at their defining characteristics. Now on the topic of what defines a state,
the greek philosopher Aristotle once wrote, and I quote: “Every state is a community of
some kind, and every community is established with a view of some good… But, if all communities aim at the same good,
the state or political community – which is the highest of all, and which embraces all
the rest – aims and in greater degree than any other, at the highest good.” End of quote. Now if we accept this broad description as
true, we find that a state – within the international sense – is a community
that maybe composed of other communities within it. As such, the state is considered to be the
dominant force. And according to Professors Kenneth Newton
and Jan van Deth, in order to maintain its status, a state must be more powerful than
any of the communities that it incorporates. As a result, power is necessary for the development
of the state but is far from sufficient. Territorial limits, people and the concept
of sovereignty are also vital for a state to be recognized. Now let’s look at each one of them. The first basic element of a state is that
it considers a certain geographic area to be its own. This territory can vary greatly in size and
characteristics. However, the limits of said territory must
be defined and it must be enduring. The next element of a state is the concept
of a people, which can be defined as a group of individuals that share a common consciousness
and identity. As a result of them having the same things
in common, these people form a collective entity. The third and last characteristic that makes
up a state, and in my view, the most important for the case of Puerto Rico, is sovereignty. Now once again I refer back to the writings
of Professors Kenneth Newton and Jan van Deth. They define sovereignty as, and I quote: “The
highest power that gives the state freedom of action within its own territory.” End of quote. In other words, a state with sovereignty has
that independence that allows it to use its power and claim authority. Now its important to point out that sovereignty
is not synonymous to power. While sovereignty is a form of state authority,
power, as defined by Professor Ellen Grigsby, is, and I quote: “The ability to influence
an event or outcome that allows the agent to achieve an objective, or to influence another
agent to act in a manner in which the second agent on its own would not choose to act.” End of quote. Now although two states might be equals when
it comes to sovereignty, ones power can be greater than the other’s. Now if we apply the analysis to Puerto Rico,
we see that it meets 2 out of the 3 defining characteristics of a state. It does have defined territory and it is in
fact inhabited by a people. However, the characteristic of sovereignty
is absent due to Puerto Rico’s colonial status. As we have discussed in the past, from a legal
standpoint, Puerto Rico belongs to – but is not a part of – the US. As a result, Puerto Rico does not have sovereignty
of its own, but rather is under the US’ sovereignty. This, to be more precise, is the reason for
which Puerto Rico can not be considered an independent country. This is why Puerto Rico is under Congress’
plenary power. It is, as a matter of fact, without sovereignty
of its own. The hindering impact this has on Puerto Rico’s
ability to develop a coherent, long-term economic plan or policy is easily observed. For starters, Puerto Rico is covered by the
US Constitution’s Commerce Clause. Article 1, section 8 states that, and I quote:
“The congress shall have power to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the
several states, and with the Indian tribes.” End of quote. Now this clause was inserted into the constitution’s
text in reaction to the framer’s legitimate concern as to the possibility that some states
of the union could develop legal mechanisms that would act as barriers against capital
and goods flowing from other fellow states. If allowed, such measures would hinder national
economic development. This clause has provoked a slew of court decisions
stemming from the early18th century to this day that have given way to a slightly different
variation of the Constitution’s Commerce Clause. It’s the Dormant Commerce Clause. Now this essentially means that states – including
Puerto Rico – may not establish protectionary measures that impede the inflow of non-local
goods in favor of local ones. The practical effect is that Puerto Rico,
for example, cannot enact a law to protect its own beef industry by imposting restrictions
on the import of beef. (And this is a real life example, by the way). Now the matter of sovereignty is actually
quite present in the development of Congress’ power to regulate commerce. Professor Geoffrey R. Stone, while explaining
the origins of the US Constitution, highlights the importance of each state’s sovereignty
in the development of it. And I quote: “To understand the Constitution
and the surrounding debates on its purposes and effects, it is useful to have some understanding
of the Articles of Confederation which the Constitution replaced. The Articles were adopted shortly after the
revolution in order to ensure some unification of the states regarding common foreign and
domestic problems. But the overriding understanding was that
the states would remain sovereign.” End of quote. As we can observe, sovereignty is no small
detail. In my opinion, it’s the backbone of any attempt
by a populace to develop itself into a prosperous state. Professor Stone’s recounting of how the US
Constitution came to be is a great example of how states use their sovereignty as leverage when faces with a decision that involves their political future. The already mentioned Commerce Clause is a
prime example of this type of situation. It wasn’t until the then-independent states
allowed it that Congress was granted the power to tax and regulate commerce in the Constitution. As we know, Puerto Rico’s story is completely different. As I said in the pilot episode of this program,
the archipelago’s sovereignty was ripped away from it back in 1508 by the Spanish Empire
and later handed over to the US in 1898. For 510 years now, half a millennia (a little
bit more), the people of Puerto Rico have had their sovereignty sequestered by another country. And of course, the issue of sovereignty is
not only important to states at an international level, as we’ve already mentioned, the states
of the union are also recognized a distinct sovereignty, separate from that of the country they formed. Althought vast, state sovereignty can be explored
through the US Constitution’s 10th Amendment. The US Supreme Court has had to interpret
this text on numerous occasions, one of them being New York v. United States. In reaching its verdict, and quoting one of
the Federalist Papers, the court affirms the following, and I quote: “States are not mere
political subdivisions of the United States. State governments are neither regional offices
nor administrative agencies of the federal government…the Constitution instead leaves
to the several states a residuary and inviolable sovereignty, reserved explicitly to the states
by the 10th amendment.” End of quote. Now the point I am trying to make is that,
be it a state within a federalized union, or a state at an international level, sovereignty is the key. And Puerto Rico doesn’t have that key. It doesn’t have any sovereignty because it
is neither a state nor an independent country. It can not make the important decisions that
any state would and should make, because it lacks the most basic building block of any
country or state: sovereignty. So how do we fix this? How do we get Puerto Rico’s sovereignty back? Quite simply: Puerto Rico would have to become
a state or an independent country. Under statehood it would have a voice and
vote in Congress and would have all the extent of sovereignty enjoyed by the 50 states today. As an independent country, again Puerto Rico
would regain its full sovereignty within the same degree as any other nation-state. For that to happen, the first step is for
the US to renounce all claim of power or authority over Puerto Rico in favor of the people of
Puerto Rico, in regards to its ability to decide – without any constraint whatsoever
– its political status and relationship with the US. After that, the next step would be for the
people of Puerto Rico to be convene to a referendum with the objective of choosing the legal process
through which the various options of status can be refined and elaborated in detail. In my view, the mechanism most adequate for undergoing such a task would be the “Constitutional Status Assembly.” Now, once the basic structure of the Assembly
is established, including its purpose and limitations, the already mentioned referendum
would take place. And that would allow the people of Puerto
Rico to accept or reject the Constitutional Status Assembly as the method to be used to
finally define Puerto Rico’s status. If accepted, another electoral process would
take place. This time, with the objective of selecting
a number of delegates, each one aligning him or herself with a specific status option. Once formed, and each status option has proper
representation, each one must be specifically defined and developed as fully as possible
within a limited term. Put simply, the Constitutional Status Assembly’s
main task would be to articulate a definition of each status’ option with the representation
of as many sectors of society as possible. After all, it’s not enough to simply choose
independence, for example; one must be aware of the repercussions of such a choice, both
economically and politically. This debate would eventually lead the Constitutional
Status Assembly to choose a specific status option through a majority vote. Once a specific status option is defined and
selected, the Constitutional Status Assembly would form a negotiation commission that would
be responsible of initiating and concluding negotiations with the US government. It’s easy to suppose that such a negotiation
would take quite some time to conclude and would require many modifications to the initial proposal. Both the relevant US authorities and Puerto
Rico’s Constitutional Status Assembly would have to be consulted in order to approve or
deny each proposed modification. This back-and-forth would continue until,
finally, a conclusion and specific agreement would be formalized that would then be ratified
by the people of Puerto Rico through another electoral process, finally solving the Puerto
Rico issue. What I have just described is a very general
overview of a very complex situation. By no means do I want to give off the impression
that such a life-altering process wouldn’t require extensive debate and regulation, along
with the participation of numerous sectors. The role of the international community would
also need to be defined. For example: many people believe that the
UN should supervise the process so as to secure further transparency…and actually I happen
to be one of those people. In fact, the UN Special Committee on Decolonization
drafted a resolution calling on the US government to provide a process that would allow Puerto
Rico to exercise its right to self-determination. The resolution is titled: “Decision of the Special Committee of 20 June 2016 concerning Puerto Rico.” To read the full text of this resolution,
please perform a Google search for the following term: documenta/ac.109/2017/L.12 Before bringing
this episode to a close, I actually wanted to share with you some great news about Puerto
Rico Forward. Now you can find us on iTunes, on Google Play and Patreon! For more information, head over to democracyatwork.info/media#prforward As always, thank you for listening, thank you for your time, y que viva Puerto Rico.

10 Replies to “Puerto Rico Forward: How to Solve PR’s Status Problem”

  1. sounds like puerto rico is going to have to petition for it's sovereignty thru international courts, and the united nations, not that the colonial power will submit to such pressure it would at least be recognized by the world community to be held hostage without representation of it's own affairs… there needs to be more pressure on the u.s. to end it's occupation or adopt puerto rico with full rights of a u.s. state, and puerto rico obviously can't do that by itself because of it's unique situation as a colony.

  2. This series is a nice overview of the history and issues regarding status that we face in PR. Thank you for the effort!

    I listened to debates and heated arguments about status growing up in the 50's and 60's in Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood and, as an adult, spent a major portion of my professional career as a professor at UPR-RCM. It strikes me that the status is issue has been used successfully as a proxy for control, both by the US government and governmental administrations on the Islands. In other words, leaders in both the US and PR have organized things in such a manner as to make the population of PR its own worst enemy. By keeping us fighting among ourselves, we, as a society, have had neither the time nor energy to stop and really think about what would be best for us.

    US citizenship often is held up as the "Holy Grail" in status debates. However, the Trump administration's response to the devastation cause by the one-two punch of hurricanes Irma and María should leave no doubt in anyone's mind what that citizenship actually is worth.

    From my perspective, both US and PR leaderships failed miserably over the past 120 years with respect to our status. From the PR perspective, we should have marshalled our efforts towards developing economically, philosophically, and politically as an independent nation. Yes, there have been imposed restrictions on doing that by the US, but there still was plenty of room for development within that framework. The US perspective from the beginning should have been been development towards statehood. The irony is that the same things that would prepare us for independence are the same basic things that also would prepare us for statehood. Then, we could have had a real and productive debate about our status. Unfortunately, neither of these things happened.

    I am now in my 60s and find myself listening to the same debates and heated arguments about status that I heard as a child. It is truly frustrating to see that little, if any, progress has been made in my six decades of life.

  3. This is the type of argumentation that while well intentioned it suffers from the myopia of political 'scientism'. Political-scientism is a discipline that grows mainly along its own path of unfolding logistics and allows college kids to develop a lingo that makes them sound smart but often to the detriment of a grip on reality like it happens to most Economics majors. It's an infinitely fragmented tiled view which breeds corruption of the niche as a social formation. Have your wine and cheese. Thanks

  4. Your beloved Jesus: This time I come to renew the Earth, to re-establish My Kingdom on Earth.
    -Tuesday, April 29th, 2014 @ 09:00

    My dearly beloved daughter, many may wonder how God, the Father Almighty Creator of all that Is and will Be forever, could suffer.
    The Truth is that My Father, perfect in all that can be, is infused with Love. Because He is the Creator of Love, when rebuked, it causes Sorrow in His Heart.

    God’s children rejected His Great Gift of Paradise, through the sin of Adam and Eve, when they fell from His Favour.
    Instead, they allowed themselves to be seduced by the cunning deception, placed before them, by the evil one. How My Father suffered, because of this betrayal then and how He still suffers because of the sin of betrayal in today’s world.
    Nothing has changed, except the Miracle of Redemption, which He bequeathed the world, through My Sacrifice for mankind.

    My Father’s Love for all of you is so Great that His Sorrow, which has been caused by man’s blindness and rejection of His Great Mercy, is also His Gift to humanity.
    Because of His Sorrow, He pines for souls and, as such, will reach out and grasp even the most reluctant non-believer.

    To those, who do not believe in God, but who desire proof and any sign that will bring them comfort in their wretchedness, I say this. I, Jesus Christ, came the first time, not to merely save those who accepted the Truth – I came to save those who were incapable of believing in God.

    I do the same now. While the believers will fight amongst themselves, arguing as to whether or not it is I, Jesus Christ, Who communicates to the world, at this time, I promise you this.
    I will, out of My Love for you, prove to you that it is indeed I, Who speaks now and that I have, once again, been sent by My Father to save you.

    This time I come to renew the Earth, to re-establish My Kingdom on Earth – the Paradise created by My Father, for Adam and Eve.
    That Day will dawn soon and before the time comes, I will enlighten your mind, body and soul. I will shock you with My Power – My Divinity, but you will feel such a surge of love that you will be left in no doubt that this could only come from Me.

    That is My Promise. It is the children of God, who do not know Him, nor believe in Him, that I will reach out to first.
    Most of them will come running to Me, because they will have no preconceived ideas, which can evolve from too much knowledge of spiritual matters.

    At the same time, I will reach out to those souls who are in great darkness, who are desperate, lost and laden with great sorrow in their hearts.
    So when you read My Word, contained herein, know that My Messages are not aimed at those who love Me only – they are being given to reach out to you.

    I give you peace. I bring you great news, for I have carved out a glorious future for you, where death will have no power over you.

    I await that Day, with great joy. Please await, with patience and trust, for when I open your heart, your worries will be no more.

    Your beloved Jesus

  5. The reason why PR is not sovereign in a day and age when it should be is proof that national borders and the "nation state" are obsolete concepts. Nations states are meaningless now that technology has the ability to replace all forms and functions of government administration and ability to supplant our current economic model. Bitnation has the right idea.

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