On July 25, Univision mistakenly aired an advertisement wishing Puerto Rico a happy independence day. The company apologized for its mistake the next day by posting an announcement on Twitter.
Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States. It is not independent. The Island has local autonomy, which was granted by Congress and began on July 25, 1952. But it is still a territory.
Univision is not alone in its mistake. Confusion over Puerto Rico’s political status has plagued the Island ever since Congress approved the 1952 Puerto Rican constitution entitled, “The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.” Upon enactment, people in Puerto Rico and throughout the broader U.S. began to refer to Puerto Rico as a “Commonwealth.”
While the “Commonwealth” label is technically correct, it is also meaningless. Puerto Rico is a territory. Congress was explicit when it enacted legislation in the 1950’s that Puerto Rico’s new power was limited to internal self-government. The U.S. House of Representatives and Senate were both clear that the new constitution “would not change Puerto Rico’s fundamental political, social, and economic relationship to the United States.” Upon signing the 1952 legislation, President Truman stated that “local self-government will be vested in the people of Puerto Rico,” not expanded national powers.
Unfortunately, the “Commonwealth” label has taken on a second meaning that is as incorrect as Univision’s independence day mistake. Under this second meaning, Puerto Rico has power beyond anything granted in the U.S. Constitution. In fact, a Puerto Rican “Commonwealth” has more power than any State.
This enhanced “Commonwealth” status has been declared unconstitutional and impossible to implement by authorities throughout the U.S. government, over successive presidencies and Congresses. Yet it is this “Commonwealth” definition – and not a territorial “Commonwealth” – that has been placed on the ballot of Puerto Rico’s past referenda (leading to inconclusive results) and is even found in the “Commonwealth”/PDP platform today. (This platform explicitly calls for “sovereignty of the people of Puerto Rico, to which is not nor should be subject to the plenary powers of the United States Congress.”)
Univision’s mistake was just the latest and most obvious in a series of mischaracterizations about Puerto Rico’s “Commonwealth” political status that has plagued the Island for six decades. If this incident can advance public education and clarify confusion over the “Commonwealth” option it will have served a valuable purpose, particularly as we approach the referendum in November.