The government of Puerto Rico is planning to open an office in Peru designed to encourage trade and cultural exchange between the Latin American country and the U.S. territory.
A Peruvian news outlet described it in these terms:
The government of Puerto Rico announced it plans to open a trade and cultural office in Peru soon to further promote bilateral relations and strengthen its commercial and tourism ties with the Andean nation. Puerto Rico’s Secretary of State, David E. Bernier, announced such plans during a meeting with Ambassador Claudio de la Puente Ribeyro in the framework of his official visit to Peru. The objective of his visit is to review the bilateral development projects currently implemented by Peru and the Associated Free State of Puerto Rico. Government officials stressed the importance to enhance exchanges in education, scientific and technological innovation, as a way to bring the two countries and their people closer together.
In this press coverage, Puerto Rico is incorrectly referred to as both a country and an Associated Free State. Puerto Rico is neither. Under U.S law, Puerto Rico is officially a territory of the United States.
The majority of the people of Puerto Rico do not seek to be an Associated Free State or an independent country. Those options received 33% and 5.5% of the vote respectively in the last plebiscite on Puerto Rico’s status in 2012, The majority of the voters – 61% – chose statehood from among the alternatives offered on the ballot.
The difference between being a territory, a country or Associated Free State is not merely of academic interest. Political status determines an entity’s rights and responsibilities. Notably, a territory does not have sovereign powers. Puerto Rico may engage in cultural exchanges with Peru, for example, but it cannot negotiate with Peru as if it were an independent nation. When Puerto Rico attempted to make a trade agreement with Belize in 2003, then Secretary of State Colin Powell sent a memorandum to the Embassy of Belize making this clear:
The Department is aware that Puerto Rican government officials have approached a number of countries . . . seeking treatment normally only accorded to a sovereign state. . . . The department reiterates that the U.S. federal government is responsible for Puerto Rico’s foreign affairs.
Some members of Puerto Rico’s government have said that Puerto Rico’s inability to make these agreements in any meaningful way hinders Puerto Rico economically.
The United States Federal government has not yet responded to the announcement publicly.