Is Puerto Rico a Commonwealth or a Territory?

Over the years, many Puerto Ricans have voted for statehood, a smaller number has voted for independence, and some have voted for a “Commonwealth” option that means different things depending on the ballot.  Few have voted for Puerto Rico to remain a territory.

People often refer to Puerto Rico as a “Commonwealth,” thinking the term is synonymous with the status quo “territory,” but it isn’t.  As the non-partisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) set forth  in a chart in 2011 analyzing Puerto Rico votes:

  •  The definition of “Commonwealth” on the ballot in 1967 included the “inviolabilty” and “indissoluble link” of Puerto Rican citizenship, which “arguably demonstrated support for an expanded form of self-government for Puerto Rico.”
  • The text of the ballot for the “Commonwealth” option in 1993 “included provisions that arguably exceeded the relationship established in 1950 [when Puerto Rico approved its Constitution], ” including “irrevocable U.S. citizenship,” “fiscal autonomy for Puerto Rico,” and an unprecedented legislative agenda that would have had to be considered by Congress.

“Commonwealth” has not been an option on a Puerto Rico plebiscite ballot since.  In a 1998 vote, however, “territory” received .1% of the vote.  In 2012, 46.03% of voters accepted the territorial status quo, but even this figure was high because there remained a lot of misinformation in Puerto Rico as to what rights would be possible for the territory in the future – a question that got answered for many when the Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that Puerto Rico has no independent sovereignty.  More recently, on June 11, 2017, just 1.3% of voters came to the polls to vote for Puerto Rico to remain a territory.  Others stayed home waiting for the elusive “commonwealth” to return to the ballot.  It may be a very long wait.

 

 

 

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