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Presidential Statements on Puerto Rico’s Status

Report by The President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status (President Barack Obama), 2011, p. 26.  Under the Commonwealth option, Puerto Rico would remain, as it is today, subject to the Territory Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Report by The President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status (President George W. Bush) December 2007, p. 5.  When “Commonwealth” is used to describe the substantial political autonomy enjoyed by Puerto Rico, the term appropriately captures Puerto Rico’s special relationship with the United States.  The commonwealth system does not, however, describe a legal status different from Puerto Rico’s constitutional status as a “territory” subject to congress’s plenary authority under the Territory Clause “to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory… belonging to the United States.” Congress may continue the current commonwealth system indefinitely, but it necessarily retains the constitutional authority to revise or revoke the powers of self-government currently exercised by the government of Puerto Rico.  Thus, while the commonwealth of Puerto Rico enjoys significant political autonomy, it is important to recognize that, as long as Puerto Rico remains a territory, its system is subject to revision by Congress.

President George H.W. Bush, Memorandum of November 30, 1992, Federal Register, Vol. 57, No. 232.  Puerto Rico is a self-governing territory of the United States whose residents have been United States citizens since 1917 and have fought valorously in five wars in the defense of our Nation and the liberty of others. . . .  As long as Puerto Rico is a territory . . . the will of its people regarding their political status should be ascertained periodically[.]

Message from Harry S. Truman, President of the United States, Transmitting the constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Adopted by the People of Puerto Rico on March 3, 1952.  Through the act of July 3, 1950, providing for the establishment of a constitutional government in Puerto Rico, the United States gives evidence once more of the adherence to the principle of self-determination and its devotion to the ideals of freedom and democracy.  The people of Puerto Rico have accepted the law as enacted by the Congress.  They have complied with its requirements and have submitted their constitution for the approval of the Congress.  With its approval, full authority and responsibility for local self-government will be vested in the people of Puerto Rico.  (Emphasis added)

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