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In regional organizations, such as the ACS, the non independent territories of the Caribbean that acquire affiliate or observer status, are often perceived as doing the bid of their metropolis; be it France in the case of Martinique or Guadeloupe or the United States in the case of Puerto Rico.
Berrios was designated a special adviser on international affairs to the government of Nicaragua, a partnership that is seen as important for the country's independence movement.
Puerto Rico between Commonwealth and Statehood
OF THE CARIBBEAN
Issues of Caribbean Identity, Sovereignty
and Dependence: the case of Puerto Rico
Dr. Jacqueline LAGUARDIA MARTINEZ
• To analyze the ongoing debate regarding the political and
legal status of Puerto Rico, one of the remaining dependent
territories in the Caribbean.
• To examine the historical and economical background that
explains Puerto Rico current situation and debate possible
futures for the Caribbean island.
Committee of 24
(Special Committee on
• It is exclusively devoted
to the issue of
• It was established in
• As of 2014, there still
remain 17 territories
listed on the United
Nations list of non-self-
1. Western Sahara
4. British Virgin Islands
5. Cayman Islands
6. Falkland Islands (Malvinas)
8. St. Helena
9. Turks and Caicos Islands
10. United States Virgin Islands
12. American Samoa
13. French Polynesia
15. New Caledonia
6. Guayana Francesa
7. Islas Caimán
8. Islas Turcas y Caicos
9. Islas Vírgenes Británicas
10. Islas Vírgenes de Estados Unidos
13. Puerto Rico
16. San Bartolomé
17. San Eustaquio
18. Sint Maarten
DEPENDENT TERRITORIES IN THE CARIBBEAN
Although Puerto Rico is not included in the UN list
of territories without decolonize, the Special
Committee on Decolonization has asked the United
States several times to launch a “process to allow
Puerto Rico the full exercise of the inalienable right
to self determination in independence”.
Latin American, American, Caribbean, Puerto Rican?
Commonwealth of Puerto Rico
• The Free Associated State of Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United
States, a status that applies to those places that are under US sovereignty , but not
part of the national territory of the country's territory.
• It is an unincorporated organized territory of the U.S. with commonwealth status.
• It is an area controlled by the government of the U.S. where fundamental rights apply
as a matter of law, but other constitutional rights are not available.
• Under this consideration, Puerto Ricans have US passport, its soldiers fight under the
US flag and the island currency is the USD, but they do not vote to elect the
president and his sole representative in Congress has no vote.
• The territory operates under a local constitution, and Puerto Ricans elect their own
governor. However, Puerto Rico lacks voting members in Congress and is subject to
the plenary jurisdiction of the United States under the Puerto Rico Federal Relations
Act of 1950.
• The current Governor is Alejandro García Padilla who was inaugurated on January 2,
• The Governor of Puerto Rico is the head of government of the Commonwealth of
Puerto Rico and by its nature constitutes the executive branch of the government of
Puerto Rico. He is also the commander-in-chief of the commonwealth's military
forces, the Puerto Rico National Guard.
• The Governor has a duty to enforce state laws, to convene the Legislative Assembly,
the power to either approve or veto bills passed by the Legislative Assembly, to
appoint government officers and to grant pardons.
• Since 1948, the Governor has been elected by the people of Puerto Rico. Prior to
that, the Governor was appointed either by the King of Spain (1510–1898) or the
President of the United States (1898–1948).
• The current resident commissioner in the US Congress is Pedro Pierluisi since
January 3, 2009 (non-voting member).
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Puerto Rico
“belongs to but is not part of” the United
States (Puerto Rico is treated as “spoils of war”
or “prize of war”).
Society and Identity
• Population: 3.7 millions inhabitants
• Life expectancy: 78.29 years
• 70% in cities: San Juan, Ponce, Mayaguez
• Homogeneous mix: Tainos, Black Slave Descendants (around 10% of total
population), White Spanish Descendants (80% of total population)
• Mostly all Puerto Ricans speak Spanish as a first language, but English is
also the official language of the country.
• The most popular sport in Puerto Rico is baseball.
• Most families are Catholic (85% of total population) the rest includes
Protestant, Spiritualism, Santeria and others.
• Puerto Rico was first inhabited by the Arawak Indians.
• On November 19, 1493, Columbus landed on the island, naming it San Juan
Bautista in honor of Saint John the Baptist (Columbus second travel).
• During Columbus's exploration, the Taino culture was prominent in the country.
• In 1508, Juan Ponce de Leon was chosen by the Spanish Crown to lead the
conquest and exploitation of the Taino Indians for gold mining operations. He
changed the island’s name to Puerto Rico .
• According to historian Adolfo de Hostos 1,050 black slaves came to the island
between 1521 and 1551. African populations soon began to rebel against the
Spanish, the first rebellion documented as early as 1527 (Abolition in 1873).
• On 17 April 1797, Lieutenant-General Sir Ralph Abercromby attack on the Spanish
colonial port city of San Juan in Puerto Rico with a force of 6,000-13,000 men
(the Battle of San Juan).
• Puerto Rico has a convenient location in the center of the Caribbean Sea. For this
reason, it was a military post for many countries during times of war.
• William H. Seward, the former Secretary of State under presidents Lincoln and
Grant, stressed the importance of building a canal in Honduras, Nicaragua or
Panama. He suggested that the United States annex the Dominican Republic and
purchase Puerto Rico and Cuba.
• Like Cuba, Puerto Rico remained a Spanish colony until 1898.
• On July 25, 1898, during the Spanish–American War, the U.S. invaded Puerto
• As an outcome of the war, Spain ceded Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam to
the U.S. under the Treaty of Paris. Spain relinquished sovereignty over Cuba, but
did not cede it to the U.S.
• In the early 20th century, Puerto Rico was ruled by the military, with officials
including the governor appointed by the President of the United States.
• The Foraker Act of 1900 gave Puerto Rico a established civilian government.
• In 1914, the Puerto Rican House of Delegates voted unanimously in favor of
independence from the United States, but this was rejected by the U.S.
Congress as “unconstitutional” and in violation of the 1900 Foraker Act.
• In 1917, the U.S. Congress passed the Jones-Shafroth Act which granted
Puerto Ricans U.S. citizenship (opponents said that the US imposed
citizenship in order to draft Puerto Rican men into the army as American
entry into World War I became likely) and exclude Puerto Rico from federal
• The Río Piedras massacre occurred on October 24, 1935, at the University of
Puerto Rico in Río Piedras. Local police officers confronted and opened fire on
supporters of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party lead by Pedro Albizu Campus.
• On May 21, 1948, a bill was introduced before the Puerto Rican Senate which
would restrain the rights of the independence and nationalist movements in the
island. It made it illegal to display a Puerto Rican flag, to sing a patriotic tune, to
talk of independence, or to fight for the liberation of the island.
• In 1950, the U.S. Congress approved Public Law 600 which allowed for a
democratic referendum in Puerto Rico to determine whether Puerto Ricans
desired to draft their own local constitution.
• In 1951, 70% voted for the Commonwealth status (Free Associated State of
• The Constitution of Puerto Rico was approved in 1952 (also by U.S. Congress).
The future of Puerto Rico
Four plebiscites have been held in recent decades
to resolve the political status.
The most recent, in 2012, showed 54% of the
electorate in favor of a change in status, with full
statehood the preferred option.
Puerto Rico Status Resolution Act
• Puerto Rico just took a small step in the direction of becoming the 51st
U.S. state (Puerto Rico Statehood Resolution introduced in Senate)
• U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) submitted legislation on Feb.4, 2015,
that would mandate a referendum asking Puerto Rican residents if the
island should become a U.S. state in an up-or-down vote.
• Puerto Rico has spent nearly 116 years as an American territory.
• The Obama administration included $2.5 million in the Omnibus Spending
Bill to conduct a plebiscite aimed at resolving the status conflict.
Puerto Rico launches campaign for independence
• The Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) has launched an international
campaign to promote the country's independence from the United States,
kicking off the process of decolonization.
• Secretary-General of the PIP, Juan Dalmau, said the decision was taken
after PIP President Ruben Berrios was given the floor to speak at the III
Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States
(CELAC) in Costa Rica on 28-29 January 2015.
• Though Puerto Rico is not part of CELAC, Nicaraguan President Daniel
Ortega offered his speaking time to the independence leader Ruben
Berrios. When given the floor, Berrios took the opportunity to push for a
Puerto Rican independence movement, which the bloc largely supported.
• Popular Democratic Party (PDP): Founded in 1938, dominated
Puerto Rican Politics until 1968 and supports existing
• New Progressive Party (PNP): Founded in 1967, major force in
Puerto Rican politics and desires statehood
• Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP): Started in mid-1940s
Least Popular Party in Puerto Rico and desires complete
independence from the United States
Commonwealth, Statehood or Independence?
Current status: Commonwealth of Puerto Rico
• It establishes a clear dependency from the U.S.: politics, economics, laws,…
• Legal bound recognized between U.S. and Puerto Rico…
• But no longer recognized as the best way to go: democratic deficit (U.S.
Congress hold all the decision power, lack of representation in U.S.
government, no voting for President); tax reform and neoliberal policy
according to U.S. economic authorities’ interests affected the economy of
the island; losing the privileged access to U.S. markets (U.S. signing FTA in
the region with Mexico and Chile); cultural nationalism trends reinforced;…
• Even though the current status quo is questioned, U.S. hegemony in Puerto
Rico is not fundamentally menaced: the links with U.S. are highly
appreciated (U.S. perceived as the “exemplar society”).
The Foraker Act of 1900 created a Puerto Rican
citizenship for the residents “born in Puerto Rico
and, therefore, subject to its jurisdiction”
recognized in its Section VII.
The Puerto Rican citizenship replaced the Spanish
On November 17, 1997, Governor Pedro Rosselló
signed Law 132 amending Puerto Rico's Political
Code. The law states “Every person who
possesses the nationality and is a citizen of the
United States and resides within the jurisdiction
of the territory of Puerto Rico shall be a citizen of
Since the summer of 2007, the
Puerto Rico State Department has
developed a protocol to grant
Puerto Rican citizenship
certificates to Puerto Ricans
• U.S. citizen, U.S. military
• Porto Rican culture, Spanish language and religion
• Being Porto Rican is to be an specific kind of American
• Porto Rican not equal to “Latino”, even if they are
Economic growth (not necessarily development) possible thanks to:
(i) capital imports , mostly of American origin;
(ii) structure of tax exemptions;
(iii) substantial federal financial transfers to both local government
(iv) high employment in government institutions;
(v) migration alleviates demographic pressures on the job market
and sources of remittances
• Puerto Rico has accumulated $70 billion in public debt.
• Unfunded pension obligations to the tune of $36 billion.
• 15.4% unemployment.
• 1 million inhabitants work in the formal economy.
• 41.3% participation of labor force (one in four work for the government).
• Poverty is around 45%.
• Per capita income is around 15,200 half of Mississippi, the poorest state.
• 37% of all households receive food stamps (in Mississippi the total is 22%)
• Worrisome exodus of professionals and middle class (mostly to Florida and
• Standard and Poor's and Moody's downgraded its debt to junk status, brushing
aside a series of austerity measures taken by the governor including increasing
taxes and rebalancing pensions (The New York Times, Feb. 2014).
What happened in 2006?
• Puerto Rico has been using tax incentives to draw corporations to do business in
the territory. Under the terms of a special tax break, U.S. companies were exempt
from paying federal income tax on profits earned by their Puerto Rican
• The island, having the ability to offer such tax breaks, was in large part,
restructuring its economy around them. The tax laws being abundantly generous,
fueled the spread of textile and pharmaceutical factories. There was a time when
16 of the 20 top-selling drugs in the U.S. were made on the island.
• This situation brought plenty of companies and jobs to the island until Congress
voted to phase out the benefits between 1996 and 2006. The U.S. Treasury
phased out tax breaks for the parent companies of Puerto Rico-based U.S.
manufacturers. The tax credit provided American firms operating in Puerto Rico
with tax-free income.
• When the incentives were completely phased out in 2006, many U.S. companies
left, taking their jobs with them.
• Puerto Rico has no control over monetary policy (U.S. Federal Reserve), and so
cannot mitigate a fiscal tightening with lower interest rates or a cheaper
• For Puerto Rico to restructure its debts, it would be entering uncharted legal
terrain. Unlike a city it cannot declare bankruptcy. It does not enjoy the same
sovereignty the constitution grants the states; should it try to renege on its
debts, Congress might intervene. Years of litigation would follow. No state has
defaulted since 1933 (The Economist, 2013).
• The current administration has sought to shore up its finances by increasing
taxes by $1.1 billion (about 1% of GDP) and raising the retirement age for
government employees, as well as the share of their salaries they contribute to
their pensions. It has promised to wipe out its budget deficit, projected at
$820m this fiscal year, by 2016.
On July 4, 2006, the government
approved Law Number 117 establishing
a tax with a 5.5% rate at state level and
an optional 1.5% rate at municipal
The tax went into effect on November
Urgent Interest Fund Corporation
(COFINA) is to pay the public debt of
The island’s current debt, between
$52 billion and $70 billion is the third-
largest behind California’s and New
York’s, despite a far smaller and
• In may 95,000 public employees got unemployed.
• Schools and government agencies shut down.
• 38% rise on water bills.
• High cost of life and insecurity.
• Increasing in drug trafficking.
• Increasing in murders and other violent crimes.
• Poor public education (exodus of teachers, declining birth rate and migration to the U.S.,
shortage in public funding,…)
• Universities are loosing their best professors and funding for important research projects.
• April 13, 2010: Beginning of a series of University of Puerto Rico strikes. UPR's Río Piedras
Campus to shut down for close to 60 days. Students demanded a repeal of Certification 98
which made changes to student waiver policies by limiting them. Students were also
opposed to tuition fee increases and demanded guarantees that campuses would not be
privatized. Students from the Mayagüez Campus of the University of Puerto Rico also held a
general assembly, in which they ratified the indefinite strike vote.
• Dependency to U.S. economy: 90% of all exports to the US and 50% of all imports from
• Forced to use U.S merchant ships, trade under U.S. rules: High transportation costs.
• Dependent on a single industry at a time: coffee, then sugar, and most recently
pharmaceutical production plants.
• Manufacturing 41% of the GDP.
• Agriculture 1.4% of the GDP.
• Tourism (75% of tourist are Americans).
• Public sector accounts for 20% of employment, compared with 3.7% for the average
• Local productivity and incomes are far lower than in the rest of the U.S.
• High cost of living: sky-high electricity cost (more than double in mainland) with 67%
dependency on petroleum for electricity power.
• Stunted infrastructure.
United States Navy in Vieques Island
• Since 1938, the United States Navy has occupied a significant portion of the
Puerto Rican island of Vieques. By the end of the twentieth century, the U.S. Navy
controlled over 70% of the island.
• Thousands of the island's 10,000 inhabitants had been forcibly removed from
their homes and relocated to the center portion of the island, surrounded by
training grounds, weapons depots, and bomb sites on both sides.
• According to the U.S. Navy, the island was used for live-fire practice, air-to-
ground bombing, ship-to-shore shelling and various other maneuvers. Other
countries also used the island for training purposes.
• In 1998, 23,000 bombs were dropped on the island and live training took place
180 days out of the year.
• Additionally, the municipality faced an unemployment rate above 50% and more
than 70% of the population lived below the poverty line.
Campaign to remove the U.S. Navy (1999-2003)
• The first protests were registered from 1977 – 1983 and failed after violence
broke out and the Puerto Rican governor was forced to sign a good-neighbor
agreement with the United States to guarantee continued financial support.
• After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S. began to reassess its presence at
various bases around the world. The people of Vieques hoped that the two
Navy sites on the island would be among those closed. When Vieques was not
included on the list, the grassroots movement was revitalized in its fight to evict
the U.S. Navy and return control of the island to Puerto Rican citizens.
• In the two decades that had passed since the fishermen's campaign against the
U.S., awareness about the dangers of toxic contamination had grown
extensively. Residents' concerns now revolved around chemical waste,
environmental damage from bombings, polluted water, and increased rates of
• Although the Comite pro Rescate y Desarrollo de Vieques (Committee for the
Rescue and Development of Vieques, CPRDV) and others protested the U.S.
Navy's presence on the island throughout the 1990s, it was not until April 19,
1999, when David Sanes Rodriguez, a civilian security guard, was killed when two
F-18 jets misfired two 500-pound bombs that the campaign began to gain wider
• Protesters acting as human shields were able to stop military maneuvers for a
year by scaling fences and traveling by boat to occupy closed military sites.
• Within a year of his death, fourteen protest camps had been established in
Vieques and at other naval sites in Puerto Rico.
• Celebrities and supporters of civil disobedience such as the Dalai Lama,
Reverend Jesse Jackson and Rigoberta Menchu, also visited protest camps in
1999 and 2000. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M07pWJMuwkc
• The Puerto Rican diaspora rallied behind the protesters and demanded action
from their representatives in Congress.
• Even after security forces tore down the camps, picketing continued at the gates
and Puerto Ricans wore white ribbons to demonstrate their support.
• In late 2000, protesters conducted a sit-in at the office of Puerto Rico's Secretary
of Health, demanding information about cancer rates on Vieques.
• In response to widespread protest, President Clinton offered up to $90 million as
economic incentive to allow indefinite use of the island for military purposes
• An informal referendum in July 2001 showed that 70% of the population wanted
the Navy to leave immediately.
• President Bush reversed Clinton's attempts to negotiate with Vieques and stated
that the Navy would halt military exercises in February and leave the island by
• The closure of both military bases on Vieques was met with an island-wide
celebration and support rally.
• The land was given to the Department of the Interior for the purpose of building
a wildlife refuge.
What does the U.S. wanted?
• Traditionally Puerto Rico mattered because:
1. Economy: Attractive location to U.S. capital (tax exemptions and low
cost labor force), market for U.S. products
2. Military: U.S. naval station, military bases, communication and control,
3. Security: Drug trafficking in the Caribbean
What does the U.S. wants?
• Efrén Rivera, “Hegemonía y legitimidad en el Puerto Rico contemporáneo”, Universidad
de Puerto Rico, Working Paper n.149, Barcelona, 1998.
• James Dietz, “The Puerto Rican Political Economy”, Latin American Perspectives, Vol. 3,
No. 3, Puerto Rico: Class Struggle and National Liberation, (Summer, 1976), pp. 3-16.
• Banco de la Reserva Federal de Nueva York, Actualización del Informe sobre la
competitividad de la economía de Puerto Rico, 31 de julio de 2014
• Carlos Rivera Lugo, The Politics of the International Law of Decolonisation in the Case
of Puerto Rico, paper presented before the International Institute for the Sociology of
Law Oñati, Basque Country, Spain, 2006
• Aarón Gamaliel Ramos, The development of Annexationist Politics in Twentieth Century
• Humberto García Muñiz, “The Colonial Persuasion: Puerto Rico and the Dutch and
French Antilles” in Stephan Palmié and Francisco A. Scarano (eds.) The Caribbean: A
History and Its Peoples London: The University of Chicago Press, Ltd. (2011), Ch. 36