Elaine Duke, former acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), revealed in a New York Times interview over the weekend that President Trump asked whether the United States could “divest itself” of Puerto Rico.
Duke, who served in the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security and Defense for 30 years, claimed that the president wanted to “sell the Island.” She also said that such a move was “never seriously considered, for obvious reasons.”
Ritchie Torres, a New York Councilman and Congressional candidate, tweeted the news. Torres, whose father is from Puerto Rico, is expected to win the Congressional seat of Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY) in November, a Congressional district that includes a sizable Puerto Rican population.
“Donald Trump’s attempt at ‘selling’ Puerto Rico serves as a reminder that the U.S.’s colonization of the Island is and always has been a grave injustice,” said the councilman. “The road to legal equality for Puerto Rico runs through statehood, which would protect the island.”
Could Trump sell Puerto Rico?
The President of the United States does not have the authority to sell U.S. territories. However, Congress could. Article 4 of the Constitution says, “The Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States.”
“Dispose of” certainly could be interpreted as permission to sell Puerto Rico.
As a State, Puerto Rico would have the same sovereignty and equality with other States that the 50 current States have. Statehood would, as Torres said, protect the Island.
Congress could also in theory “divest itself” of Puerto Rico and force the territory to become an independent nation. In 1936, Senator Millard Tydings of Maryland introduced a bill to hold a referendum in Puerto Rico with the yes or no question, “Should the people of Puerto Rico be sovereign and independent?”.
Puerto Rico’s leaders rejected the plan and Congress let the bill die. Another Congressman, Vito Marcantonio of New York, responded with his own bill for Puerto Rico’s independence. This bill had better terms for Puerto Rico, but no action was taken on this bill. Congress as a whole has never seemed eager to “divest itself” of Puerto Rico.