New group forms to defend sovereignty in plebiscite

by | Mar 23, 2017 | Status | Comments

The fight for independence has found new footing in the days following the approval of the new budgets. Since the upcoming plebiscite will only have two options for voters between statehood or independence/free association, there is a new push for Puerto Rico to fight for its sovereignty.

While many in the elected government are strongly pushing for statehood, a section of voters has decided to fight to keep Puerto Rico separate and to see Puerto Rico as a sovereign state. The new group has the participation of the Puerto Rican Independence Party, led by former senator and gubernatorial candidate Juan Dalmau, along with former independent gubernatorial candidate Alexandra Lúgaro, as well as Popular Democratic Party leaders senator Manuel Natal and San Juan mayor Carmen Yulin. Natal’s and Yulin’s participation in the group is notable as they are the first PDP leaders to come out in favor of a form of independence, which they refer to as sovereignty, even as their party has yet to take a position for the plebiscite.

Tracing back to Spanish colonialism, the independence movement has been a viable third option for a small group of Puerto Ricans over the years, however each attempt has been thwarted by electoral defeats in recent years.

The group formed partially because of recent Supreme Court decisions that showed the people of Puerto Rico that they are completely subordinate to the US Congress and are lacking in “power, dignity, and authority” when compared to the states that are admitted into the union. The two responses to this ruling have come to statehood and earned equality with states in power, dignity, and authority, or to remove the US congressional power and be inherently equal in those measures by nature of sovereignty. Many people want independence stemming from their views that the United States has only ever used the islands as an economic advantage and source of labor.  Independence would mean that Puerto Rico would have freedom and totally sovereignty for the first time since before Spanish Colonialism.  

The biggest question that comes into play with the other option, free association, is that of citizenship. Over the course of Puerto Rican history it has been guaranteed that the citizens of Puerto Rico are also citizens of the United States. Since none of the other countries with free association are granted citizenship under their agreements, the skepticism regarding the lack of citizenship could push many voters to reject the free association and independence choices.

Free association is a two part process that would first require Puerto Rico to become independent, and then begin to enter into negotiations with the United States for the terms of the FAS agreement. These agreements tend to last for fifteen years before being revisited by both parties. Like the other freely associated states (Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands), Puerto Rico would likely be guaranteed sovereign freedom and the independence to run its own government, with assurances of continued American protection and certain financial supports, but nothing is certain until an agreement is ratified.

In the current push for sovereignty, many of its advocates are pushing for a free association agreement with automatic dual citizenship (Puerto Rican and United States), continued financial assistance for thirty years (including participation in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid), as well as revocation of certain laws in place, terms unlikely to get approval from the US. In fact, the new Free Associated State could not ultimately set the terms for the agreement and the US could refuse certain portions or the entirety of the agreement. If no suitable agreement could be made Puerto Rico would become completely independent and would sever ties with the United States entirely, leaving out the possibility for statehood or territorial status for Puerto Rico.