As a nation, Puerto Rico could sign a Compact of Free Association (COFA) with the United States, creating especially close ties as a Freely Associated State. Either nation could unilaterally terminate the relationship.
For decades, some leaders in Puerto Rico have claimed that Puerto Rico could become an “enhanced commonwealth.” Sometimes called “perfected commonwealth” or “developed commonwealth,” this idea includes cherry-picking among federal laws in their application to Puerto Rico and creating a completely new relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States. All three branches of the federal government have rejected this option.
As it has become clear that “enhanced commonwealth” is a non-starter, some of its supporters have started suggesting that Puerto Rico can have that brand new relationship under “Free Association.”
In 2017, the Department of Justice (DOJ) expressed concern that voters might confuse the two options. In rejecting the text of a proposed plebiscite ballot, the DOJ made sure Puerto Rican voters understood that “Free Association” is an option only after 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.
Read more about Free Association:
Get the basics. This article explains just what Free Association is and how it works.
Is it possible to repackage a rejected “enhanced commonwealth” status as “free association”?
The federal government has said clearly that Puerto Rico as a Freely Associated State could not count on keeping U.S. citizenship. Read the statements made by every branch of the government.
See how the federal government has responded to efforts to relabel “enhanced commonwealth” as “Free Association.”
What would a Compact of Free Association between Puerto Rico and the United States look like?
Territories tend to receive more generous health benefits than Freely Associated States.
In Free Association arrangements, either side can change the deal at any time. Puerto Rico cannot, for example, guarantee that the United States will allow citizens of a republic of Puerto Rico to keep their U.S. citizenship forever. See how the law works.
Puerto Rico could become a Freely Associated State, but it’s necessary to be aware of the possible drawbacks.
As Puerto Rico moves forward, it’s essential that voters and lawmakers alike understand what a Freely Associated State is and how that status would affect residents of Puerto Rico.
Updated August 20, 2019