An organization calling itself the Puerto Rican Action Movement (MAP, from El Movimiento de Acción Puertorriqueña) has proposed a compact of free association (COFA) with the United States. According to El Nuevo Dia, their proposal features three principles:
- Full self-government for Puerto Rico, with a financial assistance agreement including funding from federal programs, grants, and a trust fund that would be “subject to planning, monitoring, and information requirements”.
- US citizenship of those who were born on the island during its time as a territory. Those born under the new sovereign status would be Puerto Rican citizens, “without limiting the right they may have under US law to claim US citizenship.” There is no clear path for citizens of an independent nation to “claim US citizenship.”
- Puerto Rico will have sovereignty over its foreign affairs, while the United States would retain responsibility in the areas of defense and security.
Their website contains a more detailed list of the principles they have in mind.
“We seek to define free association as we believe that it is the only viable and available status formula, but for it to be a real option it must be defined by a group of experts led from the White House,” said Efraín Vázquez Vera, professor of International Relations and Political Science at the University of Puerto Rico, on behalf of MAP. “We will not be able to exercise our right to self-determination without having in black and white the implications of free association.”
Julio Ortiz Luquis, professor of International Relations at the City University of New York and spokesperson for MAP in the States, called for President Biden to establish “a negotiating commission.” Such a commission would, says Ortiz Luquis, need to include representatives from the White House and members of Congress.
Free Association has been on the ballot in the past
While the most recent plebiscite, held in November 2020, was a straight yes/no vote on statehood which statehood won, Free Association has been on previous referendum ballots. It is a form of independence, according to the Department of Justice, and has been so identified in previous votes.
In fact, the DOJ rejected a draft of the 2017 ballot in order to make sure that Puerto Rican voters understood that “Free Association” is a form of independence. The Compact of Free Association between the United States and the nations that are now Freely Associated States are deals between sovereign nations, not between a territory and the United States.
This option has never done well in any of the status votes. In 2012, 61.16% chose statehood, 33.34% voted for sovereign free association, and 5.49% preferred independence. Given the 28% difference between independence and sovereign free association – essentially two forms of sovereignty – it remains unclear what the 33.34% of voters who selected sovereign free association thought would be included in that package – perhaps continued federal benefits and US citizenship – and how viable those options would be.
Resident Commissioner responds
Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon (R-PR) responded in a written statement, “The pretensions of these tricksters, who do everything in secret from the People, are to bring independence through the kitchen, even though Puerto Rico has repeatedly voted in favor of statehood. They intend to impose independence and free association over the people, who have expressed their mandate for statehood beyond any politician or party on the island.”
She points out that MAP acknowledges that a COFA can be unilaterally ended by either party, pointing out that this means Puerto Rico could end up with full independence and no compact of free association.
“With total tranquility and cynicism they say that those who are born after the signing of the treaty, will not be American citizens, but they do not say that those of us who have it are in danger of losing it, because it may be a condition of the United States, who does not have to have a republic made up of American citizens,” added González. “What seems even more incredible to me is that they ask the United States to give us federal funds indefinitely. Ha! They want the benefits of statehood under independence. How little seriousness is in what they propose: that the federal programs continue. How little dignity!”
Gonzalez-Colon continued, “As an elected official to Congress representing the People of Puerto Rico, I assure those who have such claims that… we will have to ask every Puerto Rican who loves his citizenship and every statehood supporter, that we act in concert to show them what we mean. it is dignity, democracy. We statesmen are the majority.”