Puerto Rico has long been under the control of an outside ruler. Prior to the United States claiming it as a territory in 1917, Puerto Rico was under Spanish Colonial rule until 1898 at the end of the Spanish-American war. But now it might be time for a change in Puerto Rico’s status. Lawmakers who support Puerto Rico’s right to self-determination and lawmakers who believe Puerto Rico should become a state and join the union have come together to create the Puerto Rico Status Act. The bill is designed to allow Puerto Rican citizens to vote on the territory’s future status giving them three options to choose from: statehood, independence from the United States, and independence in free association with the United States.
This act is incredibly significant in terms of Puerto Rico’s economy because it could either restore complete autonomy over economic affairs to the Puerto Rican government or it could join the union and receive statehood benefits. If Puerto Ricans were to choose independence, then the territory would have complete economic autonomy for the first time since the islands were ruled by the Taíno. If they were to choose statehood then they would get benefits such as continued guaranteed US citizenship and more access to US public programs, however, they would only have control over the things outlined in the 10th Amendment just like any other US state.
There is also a third option included in the act which would allow Puerto Rico to have complete independence under negotiated conditions (also known as a Freely Associated State). If Puerto Ricans were to vote for sovereignty with free association, it would require negotiations between Puerto Rico and the US to join a Compact of Free Association which would govern military, economic and diplomatic relations with the US. Currently, there are three other nations that have this status which include the Republic of Marshall Islands, Palau, and the Federated States of Micronesia. All of these nations are independent but each has agreements with the US that ultimately require them to give up certain aspects of sovereignty.
An example of this is that the US is obligated to protect a FAS militarily and because of this, the US is allowed to “overrule FAS government policies that it considers inconsistent with its defense of the FAS.” This means that the US government has the power to dismiss any action taken by the freely associated state government if it believes that it disrupts the military protection of the FAS. This is an integral point to keep in mind when thinking about Puerto Rico’s economic sovereignty because if they were to choose FAS status they would still potentially be at the will of the US military and any economic action that could be taken to improve Puerto Rico would ultimately be up to the US for the final decision.
Puerto Ricans have a very big decision to make come November 2023 and there is much to consider when weighing the pros and cons of each option. Complete economic autonomy is on the line and it is up to Puerto Ricans to decide what they want. The act ultimately gives power to the people to decide the future status of Puerto Rico and its economic autonomy and will be decided upon by a simple majority vote.