Puerto Rico has been called a lot of things over the years.
Federal laws sometimes simply refer to Puerto Rico as a “possession” of the U.S.
Some people claim that Puerto Rico became a “commonwealth” in 1952 when Puerto Rico passed and Congress approved the “Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico,” but the term “commonwealth” has no special legal meaning in the United States. The states of Kentucky, Massachusetts, Virginia, and Pennsylvania are also referred to as “commonwealths.”
Some “commonwealth” proponents have argued that the “commonwealth” moniker bestowed special state-like or sovereign powers to Puerto Rico, but this theory was largely put to rest in 2016 when the Supreme Court clarified in Puerto Rico v. Sanchez Valle that Puerto Rico is not on “equal footing” with the States, and does not share in their “power, dignity and authority.”
Seemingly right on cue, also in 2016, Congress passed legislation imposing a U.S. financial control board in Puerto Rico that exercises powers that exceed those of even the Puerto Rican Governor.
More recently, the label “territory” seems to be sticking to Puerto Rico. It’s a factually correct characterization of Puerto Rico’s political status as found in the U.S. Constitution in Title 4 Section 3: “Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States[.]” But it’s also a bit of a mouthful.
In the past, people living stateside have not really used the term “colony” to describe Puerto Rico. It’s jarring. It’s not who we are. The U.S. is a former colony, as Americans are taught in school, we are not the colonizers. Or are we?
The world changes. Words come in and out of vogue. It now appears to be ok to call Puerto Rico a colony, and people know what a colony is. As Rep. Nydia Velazquez clearly explained in December of 2022 on the floor of the United States House of Representatives:
“For 124 years Puerto Rico, the nation where I was born and raised, has been a colony of the United States.Invaded by the United States during the 1898 Spanish American War, Puerto Rico has remained in a state of colonial limbo that flies in the face of the anticolonial values upon which the American Republic was founded. Congress’s unlimited plenary powers over Puerto Rico are reminiscent of the monarchical powers enjoyed by King George III against which the founders of the American Republic so bravely fought. If Hamilton and Madison were alive today, they would be shocked to see how the anticolonial Constitution they drafted in 1787 is currently used to legitimize colonialism in Puerto Rico over three hundred year later. Advocating now for the continuation of the status quo on the island is the height of hypocrisy. Colonialism has destroyed the Puerto Rican economy. Colonialism has divided the Puerto Rican people. Colonialism has eaten away our people’s sense of dignity and self-worth. Colonialism has made the people of Puerto Rico both psychologically and economically dependent on the United States. Colonialism is not only humiliating for Puerto Rico, but it is an embarrassment to the United States. The United States that holds itself out as a leader of the free world that stands up to imperialist tyrants abroad while keeping colonies in the Caribbean and the Pacific. Puerto Rico’s colonial crisis is not a simple domestic issue, as some erroneously believe. Make no mistake- this is an international issue that directly affects America’s standing and image around the world, which is why this double talk must come to end. The time has come to fully decolonize Puerto Rico.100 years after the US Supreme Court’s decision in Balzac –the last “Insular Case” – and 70 years after the ratification of the territorial constitution of 1952. History calls upon us to put politics aside and do right by the people of Puerto Rico.”
The curtain has now been pulled back. It is clear for all Americans – and the world – to see. Puerto Rico is a U.S. colony. The question is: What are we going to do about it?”