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Myth vs. Fact on the Commonwealth Option

 “Commonwealth is the option of status that best represents the aspirations of the People of Puerto Rico.”  Opening sentence of the Commonwealth Party Platform, as translated from  El Nuevo Dia, June 7, 2012.

“Under the Commonwealth option, Puerto Rico would remain, as it is today, under the jurisdiction of the Territory Clause.”  Report by the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status, March, 2011, p. 26.

It is well established that the label “Commonwealth” has not changed Puerto Rico’s status as a territory of the United States, and that as a territory, Puerto Rico is subject to the limits of the U.S. Constitution: “The Congress shall have Power to dispose of an make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States.” (Article IV, Section 3, Clause 2, commonly known as the Territory Clause.)

It is therefore interesting that the Commonwealth platform does not recognize Puerto Rico’s current status as a territory, instead calling Puerto Rico “an autonomous political body, founded on a pact of union established in 1952,  based on the exercise of sovereignty of the people of Puerto Rico, to which is not nor should be subject to the plenary powers of the United States Congress.”

This “Commonwealth” definition appears to be aligned most closely with the “Enhanced Commonwealth” proposal, which has been rejected by numerous federal officials and other authoritative sources as both unconstitutional and impossible to implement from a policy and practical perspective.   As such, this “Commonwealth” option can hardly offer “the greatest opportunities for progress and development for every Puerto Rican,” as suggested in the second sentence of the platform.

It remains to be seen what will “best represent the aspirations of the People of Puerto Rico” on November 6, 2012, the day of the referendum vote.  It is clear, however, that if this enhanced, non-territorial “Commonwealth” option were to have significant support, a broader educational campaign in Puerto Rico would be in order.

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