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Is a “Culminated Commonwealth” a Viable Status Option for Puerto Rico?

Angel Collado Schwartz provided a history lesson for readers of El Nuevo Dia in his recent article, “¿Es viable un ELA culminado?”

The question is one that has been discussed for decades: can Puerto Rico develop, enhance, perfect, or in this case complete the “commonwealth” status? The answer from the federal government has been a resounding “No.

Yet some “commonwealth” leaders continue to claim that the relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico is not that of “a mere territory.” The relationship was, they say, intended to evolve into something different, according to agreements made around the Puerto Rico constitution in 1952.

Attempts to enhance the commonwealth

The article lists many efforts to complete the commonwealth:

  • Antonio Fernós-Isern, the Resident Commissioner in the 1950s, introduced a bill with Senator Murray (D-MT) which would have allowed Puerto Rico to obtain more power such as setting the duty rates on coffee exports, and Puerto Rico could have negotiated trade deals with countries  as though it were itself a nation. The bill was unsuccessful, and it was withdrawn. In the discussion, Sen. Henry Jackson pointed out that Congress could make all the rules for Puerto Rico, and therefore couldn’t enter into a compact with the territory which would be binding on a future Congress.
  • John F. Kennedy established a Joint Commission with 7 federal representatives and 6 from the territory to explore the question of developing Puerto Rico’s status. Following Kennedy’s assassination, Johnson kept the Joint Commission at work. At last, under Nixon, the Joint Commission requested the ability to vote in presidential elections, a request which was ignored by Congress.
  • President Ford asked the Department of the Interior for a decision about “enhanced commonwealth” and was told that such an arrangement would be “constitutionally unfeasible.” Ford then asked Congress to admit Puerto Rico as a state. This did not happen.
  • Presidents Clinton, Ford, and Obama all established task forces on Puerto Rico. Each task force emphasized in its report that Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States, with no special relationship nor the possibility of enhanced commonwealth.


“However, the reports coincided in ratifying the territorial status with the plenary powers in the hands of Congress, and in that the Constitution of the United States prevents the culmination of a territory (ELA),” the El Nuevo Dia article concludes. “This culmination would subtract Puerto Rico from the territorial clause and insert it as another of the sovereign (independent) countries of the international community, where everything is negotiable between equals, for the benefit of both parties” including U.S. citizenship and disaster relief.


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