The United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization approved a resolution this month “reaffirming the inalienable right of the people of Puerto Rico to self-determination and independence.”
Over the past 50 years, this committee has made this same resolution 40 times. As Andrés L. Córdova, a law professor at Inter American University of Puerto Rico, pointed out in an opinion piece published in The Hill, the leaders of this committee are from Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua — “not,” he says, “exactly stalwart defenders of democratic principles.”
The General Assembly has failed to follow up on the recommendation thirty-nine times. Puerto Rico is not officially considered a colony at the U.N.
Is Puerto Rico a colony?
The Special Committee on Decolonization thinks so. However, the General Assembly of the UN does not. Since 1953, when Puerto Rico drafted its own Constitution and Congress approved it, Puerto Rico has been off the list of non-autonomous territories.
The Special Committee is not actually unanimous in its position as to what should be the ultimate resolution of Puerto Rico’s current status, which, U.N. position notwithstanding, is increasingly recognized as colonial. Some members of the committee spoke firmly in favor of independence for Puerto Rico, but others noted that Puerto Rico voted for statehood in November of 2020. These members spoke up for decolonization through statehood.
“The long held political strategy of the pro-independence factions, for obvious reasons, has been to place Puerto Rico’s political status within the context of international law, to underscore the political and legal difference between the people of Puerto Rico and the people of the United States,” writes Cordova. “Contrary to what some would have us believe, international treaties and obligations are not above constitutional authority.”
Is the United Nations in charge?
“The use of loaded terms such as ‘colonial’ and ‘self-determination’ to characterize Puerto Rico’s territorial status are underhanded attempts to place the status question within the context of international law instead of the United States Constitution, where it belongs,” Cordova continues.”As a matter of political reality, the Puerto Ricans have been exercising their right to self-determination in every electoral event since the approval of the 1952 Constitution and subsequent general elections and local plebiscites, albeit incompletely and inconclusively. The next step in this long overdue process is a federally mandated plebiscite with clear and constitutionally valid alternatives.”
Statehood and independence are the only constitutionally valid alternatives to territorial status. Cordova puts it like this: “Any pretense of placing Puerto Rico outside of the Territorial Clause must necessarily do so either as a state or as an independent nation, in any of its guises.”
Free association must be understood as a guise of independence. Some leaders of a “commonwealth” option are transitioning to the term “free association” as another name for “enhanced commonwealth.” As Cordova points out, this is a misrepresentation.