Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Amending the Puerto Rico-Federal Relations Act

The new proposal of the Popular Democratic Party: to amend the Puerto Rico-Federal Relations Act in order to exempt the island from U.S. Coastwise Trade Laws and to allow Puerto Rico to enter into international commercial treaties (the amendments can be accessed here and here). It is surprising that these proposals have not been immediately rejected by the island's anti-colonial sector. While the proposals have not been able to capture the attention of the media, and much less of ordinary Puerto Ricans, it is important to understand their meaning and their relationship with the 'sovereigntist rethoric' advanced by a sector of that party.

The Puerto Rico-Federal Relations Act of 1950 is the U.S. law that regulates the relationship between the the U.S. and Puerto Rico (which is nothing but the old Jones Act of 1917, as amended by Public Law 600). As its predecessors, the Foraker Law of 1900 and the Jones Act, of 1917, that statute is the juridical manifestation of Puerto Rico's colonial status. In its Article 9, it establishes that all laws adopted by the U.S. Congress apply in the island (unless they are 'locally inapplicable', an exception with little or no practical effects). So, for instance, the fact that the U.S. Patriot Act and the Federal Death Penalty Act of 1995 apply in Puerto Rico is a direct result of the previously mentioned Article.

Of course, it is not the first time in history that a colony requests an empire the modification of the juridical apparatus that regulates the colonial relationship. Several of the former British colonies, as Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, achieved independence gradually, through the modification of the laws and conventions that sustained the supremacy of the British Parliament over these territories. The first step for the gradual elimination of political colonialism was the British Parliament's agreement to not legislate for its former territories, unless requested by the territory. In the case of Canada, for example, that determination took place in 1867 and culminated with the adoption of the Statute of Westminster in 1931.

However, the new PPD's proposal (presented in the 21st Century!) would leave Article 9 intact, and that would mean that each time the U.S. Congress approves a law and the U.S. President signs it, each Puerto Rican is supposed to obey it. Now, it is true that the mere idea of requesting the U.S. to amend the Puerto Rican-Federal Relations Act in order to give us "more powers", constitutes a legitimation of colonialism that should be rejected. But even if that strategy were considered acceptable, any proposal of that kind that does not push for the elimination of the unilateral application of U.S. laws in the island does not even deserve to be taken seriously.

It is interesting that the 'sovereigntist' wing of the PPD remains silent about this proposal. In a way, that silence is not surprising, since the proposed amendments are entirely consistent with the logic of the Estado Libre Asociado Soberano ('Sovereign Commonwealth') defended by that sector. That is, for Puerto Rico to retain a series of powers (in this case, making international commercial treaties and being exempt from the U.S. Coastwise Trade Laws) and delegates a series of 'competencies' to the U.S. (in this case, the power of the U.S. to adopt laws for Puerto Rico).


  1. La libre asociacion, segun definida en el derecho internacional, debe ser la propuesta de estatus del PPD de cara al futuro.

    Los invito a mi blog:

  2. Hola Anónimo,

    Gracias por invitarnos a visitar tu blog. Hemos discutido aquí y en el blog en español el tema de la libre asociación. Ver por ejemplo: También puedes ver este post y los comentarios:

    Una de las críticas que tenemos está precisamente relacionada con la cuestión de la "libre asociación según definida por el derecho internacional". A mi juicio, el derecho internacional es extremadamente ambiguo a la hora de definir la libre asociación. Por ejemplo, no está claro si bajo un tratado de libre asociación la "ex-colonia" puede consentir a que sigan aplicando algunas leyes de la metrópoli.