Is puerto rico a country or territory: Council on Foreign Relations

Is Puerto Rico a Country?

by pr51st

on December 9, 2015

Facebook lists Puerto Rico as a “country,” even though the official description for Puerto Rico’s fan page says clearly that Puerto Rico is a territory.  For Facebook, it’s just because there is no category for territories.

But you can find the idea that Puerto Rico is a country in many more places:

  • has a “country profile” for Puerto Rico.
  • also has a “country profile” for Puerto Rico including “Nationality: Puerto Rican” and claims that “Puerto Rico is a self-governing commonwealth in association with the United States” and “Although Puerto Rico is considered a territory of the United States, the island has its own Olympic team and competes in the Miss Universe pageant as an independent nation. ” In fact, Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States and competes under the same terms as other territories in these competitions. acknowledges that Puerto Rico is a territory.
  • The NationsEncyclopedia includes a “country overview” of Puerto Rico which explains that Puerto Rico “shares no borders with other nations.”
  • Knowledge@ Wharton referred to Puerto Rico as a country in a recent article.
  • NationFacts says that “Puerto Rico is an island country” and repeatedly uses the term “country” along with a claim that it “is considered a territory of the United States.”
  • The World Bank lists Puerto Rico among countries on its website.
  • UK news source had this headline: “Puerto Rico financial crisis: Country on the brink of defaulting on debts.”
  • BusinessInsider said that the Governor of Puerto Rico commissioned “a study of the country’s situation,” meaning Puerto Rico.

We could go on.  There are thousands of references to Puerto Rico as a country.  Some may be carelessness, some may be a decision to include Puerto Rico in a list of “countries” for convenience or to encourage tourism, and some are just ignorance or wishful thinking.

In a sense it’s a trivial oddity that Puerto Rico’s true status is ambiguously perceived.  There is irony and even humor in it, as when a Miss Puerto Rico Barbie came in packaging implying Puerto Rico was a country.  We may laugh about distorted and ambivalent ethnic stereotyping, but for the succeeding generations of Puerto Rican who salute the U.S. flag in school and have family members who fight and die serving in the U.S. military, there are serious issues of identity confusion.  Seemingly innocuous false portrayal of national status reinforces both on the island as well as throughout the nation and the world the same problematic “West Side Story” urban myth epitomized in the line in the song from the musical, “Nobody knows in America, Puerto Rico’s in America.”

The ultimate impact on the identity and the quality of life for people on the island is anything but funny.  Like the people of the tiny U.S. military outpost also organized under federal territorial law in Guam, Puerto Rico may participate in beauty pageants or international sports, creating a cultural illusion of a separate country.   But when beauty contestants or basketball players get back home they once again are limited in both human rights and economic opportunities – not to mention full human dignity – that can be secured for the future only through full equal legal and political rights attainable through statehood under the U.S. Constitution, or real separate nationhood.

On a serious level, many of the examples of confusion in how Puerto Rico is portrayed in media and even local public life is contrived and perpetrated by the local “autonomist” political party, which falsely claims Puerto Rico can have the benefits of both U.S. statehood and sovereign nationhood without the full burdens of either.  Under the banner of “commonwealth” the party that opposes both statehood and real sovereign nationhood went so far as to lie to the government of Japan and claim “commonwealth” gives the territory sovereign power to negotiate a tax and trade treaty.  Japan was embarrassed when the U.S. State Department and Congress discovered the scam and had to intervene and inform Japan it had been duped by a hoax.

Thus, the real problem is that the confusion arises from a myth that Puerto Rico has a country status when the people do not have the rights of a country.   That myth prevented the people for decades from exercising the democratic rights they do possess as a territory to seek statehood or nationhood.   The myth of “commonwealth” as a combination of statehood and nationhood was discredited as untrue by the President, Congress and more importantly the statehood and independence party leaders in Puerto Rico.  Because separate nationhood would mean the loss of U.S. citizenship, our fellow U.S. citizen voters of Puerto Rico rejected the current territory status and choose statehood in a 2012 referendum.  Now the real future status of the territory can be decided by real choices that must be made by Congress and our fellow U.S. citizens in the territory.

So is it any wonder that so many Americans are confused about Puerto Rico?  Believing that Puerto Rico is a separate country, they don’t understand that the millions of U. S. citizens living in Puerto Rico are actually denied equal rights because Puerto Rico is not a state.

The first step toward support for Puerto Rico’s statehood among Americans on the mainland is simply to get the word out that Puerto Rico is not a separate country.  It’s a territory of the United States.  Share the knowledge!

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The 51st State? | History Today

Ben Jones

On 3 June 2022 representatives from the US Democratic Party, Raúl Grijalva, Nydia Velázquez and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, travelled to Puerto Rico, where they joined the island’s resident commissioner Jenniffer González Colón, a Republican, to discuss the Puerto Rico Status Act. This concerns Puerto Rico’s relationship with the United States. If passed, it would authorise a plebiscite for Puerto Ricans to express their wishes on the island’s political future and bind US Congress to act on their mandate. ‘Getting to this point has not been an easy process’, said Grijalva. All four members of the bipartisan group support the act; others, both within Puerto Rico and the US, vehemently do not. 

The US acquired control over Puerto Rico in the aftermath of the 1898 Spanish-American War, in which it also acquired the Philippines and Guam, and granted citizenship to Puerto Ricans in 1917. After lengthy negotiations, in 1952 the island became the world’s only Estado Libre Asociado (Associated Free State). The US Congress holds ultimate power over Puerto Rico’s legal affairs, but the island’s single Congressperson is a non-voting member of the House of Representatives and its inhabitants have no right to vote for the US president. A territory ‘foreign in a domestic sense’, Puerto Rico is neither part of the federation that makes up the US nor a sovereign entity.

Armed rebellion has often been necessary for the decolonisation of nations that have faced similar circumstances to Puerto Rico, but its inhabitants have never supported direct action en masse. A combination of the memory of violent colonial traumas and the limited successes of the Estado Libre Asociado have made electoral exercises the preferred way to express collective opinions.


The alternatives

In 1966 the United States-Puerto Rico Commission on the Status of Puerto Rico determined three potential status options for the island, two of which would change Puerto Rico’s relationship with the US. The first option was to keep the Estado Libre Asociado, a system that is currently so unpopular that it was left out of the latest draft of the Puerto Rico Status Act entirely. Still, the political elites who have built their careers supporting the status quo continue to lobby for it. 

The second option would see Puerto Rico annexed as a state, which would impose federal tax responsibilities that the island does not have as a territory. Annexation would require the adoption of English as a lingua franca and other forms of assimilation. Support for annexation steadily increased from the late 1960s onward due to the increasing importance of the federal welfare state’s subsidising of the shortcomings of the Estado Libre Asociado’s economy. Those wanting statehood not only lead the New Progressive Party, the dominant force in Puerto Rico’s elected government, but have succeeded in rallying votes in favour of their cause in non-binding plebiscites that occurred in 2012, 2017 and 2020.

The third option would be the end of Puerto Rico’s relationship with the US via independence. Some Puerto Ricans argue that full sovereignty is the only path to true decolonisation. But fears about the loss of US citizenship and federal funding have kept those supporting independence in the minority. Younger generations, however, appear curious about opportunities to develop Puerto Rico without imperial restrictions.

In the mid-1980s a fourth option emerged, as the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and, later, Palau became republics associated with the US. By signing a Compact of Free Association these countries ended their territorial status, but continued receiving financial and military assistance from the US. Known by some as the ‘sovereign Estado Libre Asociado’, this alternative appeals to Puerto Ricans who reject US colonialism but still believe that close economic and diplomatic relations with the US are necessary. Though this option is acceptable to some members of the Puerto Rican independence movement, various annexationists claim it resembles the Estado Libre Asociado so closely that the problem would remain unresolved.


A farewell to arms

There have been efforts to fight Puerto Rico’s political subordination ever since the Spanish violently colonised the island’s native Arawak/Taíno population in the early 16th century. Puerto Rico’s location at the entrance of the Caribbean Sea has made it geopolitically important from a defence point of view; uprisings have proved difficult to organise due to the militarisation of the island. The most significant revolt against Spanish rule occurred in 1868, when a group of Puerto Ricans took up arms in the town of Lares – and were put down by the colonial authorities.

Creole elites saw the aftermath of the US invasion in 1898 as an opportunity to assert a political power previously denied to them by the Spanish and their preference for Spanish-born leaders. Instead, the US organised a colonial civilian government in Puerto Rico through the Foraker Act of 1900, which introduced an executive council made up of eleven people, all of whom were appointed by the US president. Electoral participation for Puerto Ricans was limited to the legislature.

The Great Depression posed significant challenges to Puerto Rican society, which remained largely rural and dependent on agriculture. This precariousness provided a platform for the pro-independence Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico, first founded in 1922. After a brief period attempting to assert power through the island’s limited electoral structures, the Nationalist Party adopted armed struggle in its quest for liberation. Massacres by colonial forces in the towns of Río Piedras and Ponce in the 1930s were followed by an island-wide insurrection in 1950. The government crushed the uprising, declared martial law and expanded its persecution of the independence movement as the vote to ratify the Estado Libre Asociado approached.

On 1 March 1954, four Puerto Rican nationalists attacked the US Capitol, opening fire on representatives while they were discussing an immigration bill, injuring five people. The shooting cast a long shadow over discussions about independence, intensifying existing taboos regarding armed struggle in Puerto Rico. Conversations around violent resistance became rare even among pro-independence organisations.  


A symbolic act

From the mid to late 20th century the Estado Libre Asociado was able to bolster limited socioeconomic mobility through industrialisation and the expansion of public education. The annexationist New Progressive Party, founded in 1967, and the pro-Estado Libre Asociado Popular Democratic Party, founded in 1938, established a two-party dynamic with enough support to swap Puerto Rico’s governorship and legislature back and forth between them. Elections drew high levels of participation and those left behind by the Estado Libre Asociado’s limited accomplishments could migrate to the US in search of better opportunities. Indeed, Puerto Rico’s economic growth during the late 20th century occurred as the government established programmes that sponsored migration to the US. 

But in 2006 the government was plunged into crisis after it ran out of funds, resulting in a two-week shutdown. The collective loss of faith in the Estado Libre Asociado project that followed caused many Puerto Ricans to disengage from politics.

It is unlikely that the Puerto Rico Status Act will make it out of committee hearings in the US Congress. Though there was Republican representation in the bill’s drafting, the minority leader Bruce Westerman has made it clear that the Republican Party has no intention of changing its long-standing opposition to statehood for US territories. Some have also raised the possibility of eliminating the binding plebiscite from the Puerto Rico Status Act, making its effects symbolic yet again.


What’s in it for US?

Puerto Rico’s current situation benefits the US, which reaps billions of dollars by taxing imports to the island. American elites have begun settling in Puerto Rico to avoid federal income taxes. While exchanges on Puerto Rico’s political status are beginning to attract more media attention, it is very unlikely that authorities will change a dynamic that benefits the most powerful.

The Estado Libre Asociado lost a substantial portion of its powers with the imposition of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act in 2016. Most economic policy is now controlled by the Financial Oversight and Management Board, a group of unelected officials appointed by the US president. Consequently, Puerto Ricans have grown apathetic towards elections. Voter turnout is decreasing, even as the annexationist-pro Estado Libre Asociado’s two-party dominance is being challenged by the emergence  of new minority parties which seek to upset the status quo.  

Federal bills linked to Puerto Rico’s relationship with the US have always been designed to achieve specific political goals. Yet though political status is the most crucial factor shaping Puerto Rico’s future, the reality of daily life on the island was summed up by the band Fiel a la Vega: most Puerto Ricans ‘live to survive’. Some parts of the island face daily blackouts and water shortages, tariffs make groceries and other goods far more expensive than on the mainland, government negligence shows in roads and buildings and the majority of the jobs that are available are underpaid. Living in Puerto Rico is an act of everyday resistance.


Aura S. Jirau Arroyo is incoming assistant professor of History at Eastern Illinois University.

«Become the 51st state»: Puerto Ricans voted to join the US in the USA

«Become the 51st state»: Puerto Ricans voted to join the US — RIA Novosti, 06/12/2017 Puerto Rico voted in a referendum to join the United States as the 51st state. However, in order to «unincorporated organized … RIA Novosti, 06/12/2017






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in the world, Puerto Rico, USA

In the world, Puerto Rico, USA

MOSCOW, June 12 — RIA Novosti. Puerto Ricans voted in a referendum to join the United States as the 51st state. However, in order for the «unincorporated organized territory» to become a state, this decision must be supported by the US Congress.

May 17, 2017, 04:16 PM

Puerto Rican independence leader released after 36 years

In a referendum, Puerto Ricans were asked to choose from three options: a U.S. state, a freely associated territory status, or an «unincorporated organized territory» status, which the island retains for the moment.

Low turnout

According to RT, the vast majority — more than 97 percent of those who took part in the vote, or almost 503 thousand people — supported joining the United States as a state. Approximately 1.5 percent (about 8 thousand voters) supported the status of a freely associated territory. The option to maintain the current status turned out to be the most unpopular — only 1.32 percent, or about 7,000 people, voted for it. At the same time, the turnout was extremely low, with just over a fifth (23%) of the island’s residents out of 2.2 million eligible voters showing up at the polling stations.

The reason for the low turnout could be that the three parties that opposed turning the country into an American state boycotted the referendum. Opponents of inclusion in the United States fear that the inhabitants of the island may lose their national identity, and will also be forced to bear a heavier tax burden on a par with residents of other states.

What Washington will decide

The current decision of the Puerto Ricans does not mean that the territory will become a full-fledged American state. For final inclusion in the United States, the consent of the American Congress is required. However, as The Washington Post noted, there is unlikely to be any action from Congress, since the popularity of the idea of ​​​​giving Puerto Rico statehood among congressmen is negligible. In addition, the US Department of Justice did not support the holding of the current referendum.

July 1, 2016, 00:44

Obama signed into law to save Puerto Rico from technical defaultIt was previously reported that the US House of Representatives passed a bill that aims to overcome the financial crisis in Puerto Rico, which is on the verge of bankruptcy.

Puerto Rico is now an «Unincorporated Organized Territory» administered by, but not an integral part of, the United States. The supreme power in the country belongs to the American Congress, but the territory has its own system of self-government. All Puerto Ricans are US citizens by birth, but do not have the right to vote in presidential elections and do not pay taxes to the federal budget.

The question of changing the status of Puerto Rico has been raised for a long time — similar referendums were held in 1967, 1993, 1998 and 2012. At the last plebiscite, the decision to join the United States was supported, according to various sources, from 61 to 65 percent of those who voted, but Washington ignored these results.

However, regarding the current referendum, the governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosello, is confident that the US authorities will take into account its results.

«From today, the federal government will no longer be able to ignore the voice of the majority of American citizens in Puerto Rico,» Reuters quoted the governor as saying. At the same time, he added that it would be very contradictory for Washington to demand democracy in other parts of the world and not respond to the legitimate right to self-determination» on American soil.

Change of status as a way out of the crisis

Earlier, Rosselvo claimed that the change of status would help Puerto Rico to overcome the difficult economic situation.

March 27, 2017, 15:55

Shoulder or drum? Ex-Minister of Ukraine will «save» Puerto RicoWhat will Natalia Yaresko do in Puerto Rico? Yes, exactly the same as in Ukraine. Treat a country with a «junk» credit rating, and even with a nightmarish external debt. The recipe, of course, is Ukrainian. What, no one feels sorry for Puerto Rico?

Last year, Puerto Rican authorities said they would be unable to meet their obligations and pay their creditors another $2 billion by July 1 after a series of already overdue payments. In general, the country’s external debt amounted to about $70 billion. According to then Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla, the island’s authorities were unable to either restructure or find funds to resolve the debt crisis.

However, the country managed to avoid a technical default after the US Congress passed a bill aimed at overcoming the financial crisis in Puerto Rico, and President Barack Obama signed it.

At the same time, the situation in the country remains difficult. So, in May of this year, it was reported that due to the economic crisis, 184 public schools would be closed, and 27,000 students would be transferred to other educational institutions. In total, there were 1292 public schools in the country, in which about 365 thousand people studied.

Another serious problem for the island is the drug trade. Last November, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement intercepted a 1.5-ton shipment of cocaine in the municipality of Cataño, believed to have come from the Dominican Republic. And in February of this year, it became known that employees of the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and employees of the airport in Puerto Rico helped to smuggle about 20 tons of cocaine into the United States over 18 years.

Ukrainian experience

May 6, 2017, 01:43

Almost 200 schools will be closed in Puerto Rico due to the economic crisis

Puerto Rico authorities are looking for different ways out of the crisis. In March of this year, it was reported that it became known that the former Minister of Finance of Ukraine, a native of Chicago, Natalia Yaresko, would be engaged in the restoration of the country’s economy. As Jose Carrion, head of the Puerto Rico Financial Oversight Council, said at the time, Jaresko managed to carry out reforms in Ukraine that contributed to «restoring its economic viability» and returning investors. This, in his opinion, was what the island needed.

Jaresko herself wrote on Facebook that she was «honored» to take on this «critical position» in which she could restore financial stability to Puerto Rico. At the same time, it was reported that she would receive 625 thousand dollars a year.

However, some Puerto Rican politicians criticized this decision. In particular, the leader of the People’s Democratic Party of Puerto Rico, Hector Ferrer, said: «It is immoral that a person in just a few years will become a millionaire at the expense of ordinary Puerto Ricans.

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