UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Puerto Rico - Foreign Relations

Puerto Rico cannot enter into treaties, issue money or passports, maintain armed forces, or exchange diplomats with foreign countries. Since the end of the nineteenth century, Puerto Rico had been essential to the geostrategic interests of the United States. Despite being able to serve in the United States military and peacekeeping forces, the people of Puerto Rico lacked representation in Congress, and could not vote for the President of the United States, who had the right to declare war.

The governor is the head of the executive branch of the Government. It has the power to veto any bill of the Legislature of Puerto Rico, it may also appoint members of its cabinet, and judges of the Supreme Court and all other courts of the Island. However, all appointments for which Empowered by law shall have the advice and consent of the Senate and the House of Representatives, in the case of the Secretary of State. The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico also establishes that the governor is the Commander-in-Chief of the militia; That is, the National Guard of Puerto Rico, which is part of the United States National Guard system.

In 1953, the United States made the United Nations remove Puerto Rico from the list of colonies. During the 2012 plebiscite, a majority of Puerto Ricans had called for the Territory’s integration as constituent state of the United States. Puerto Ricans had rejected their territorial status, with 53 per cent having chosen Statehood.

In May 1952, the Organization of American States’ publication arm, Americas, observed that the new Puerto Rican constitution “enhance[d] the international prestige of the United States as the defender of democracy, for under the island’s new status even an opportunistic political or a local poet could hardly call Puerto Ricans ‘colonials.’” The U.S. delegation to the United Nations reported in 1953 that Puerto Rico was now a self-governing territory, and convinced the UN General Assembly to pass Resolution 748, relieving the United States from reporting on Puerto Rico’s decolonization efforts.

The status of Puerto Rico had not been discussed in the General Assembly since its adoption of resolution 748 (VIII) in 1953. The resolution was adopted after Puerto Rico’s constitution entered into force in 1952. The General Assembly deemed the established political arrangement between the U.S. and Puerto Rico an expression of the island’s self-determination, and stated that the U.S. would no longer have to transmit information to the Secretary-General about the social and economic conditions in Puerto Rico.

Since 1962, the Special Committee on Decolonization had adopted 34 resolutions and decisions on Puerto Rico, which reaffirmed Puerto Rico’s right to self-determination and independence. Finding a definitive solution to resolving the colonial situation there continued remained a pending task of great priority for the Special Committee.

The adoption of resolution 1514 (XV) had seen the conclusion of a long, negative period during which the administering Power had managed to keep the colonial situation of Puerto Rico out of the purview of the United Nations. The Special Committee on Decolonization approved a draft resolution on 20 June 2016 calling on the Government of the United States to assume its responsibility to expedite a process that would allow the people of Puerto Rico to exercise fully their right to self-determination and independence. Approving the text without a vote, the Special Committee called on the United States to move forward with a process to allow the Puerto Rican people to take decisions in a sovereign manner, and to address their urgent economic and social needs, including unemployment, marginalization, insolvency and poverty. Also by the text, the Special Committee urged the United States Government to complete the return of occupied land and installations on Vieques Island and in Ceiba to the Puerto Rican people, and to expedite and cover the costs of cleaning up and decontaminating areas previously used for military exercises, with a view to protecting the health of their inhabitants and the environment.

One petitioner voiced support for Puerto Rico becoming the fifty-first state of the United States, saying its people rejected being governed as a colonial territory. The Special Committee could no longer ignore the fact that Puerto Rico was a colony, he continued, emphasizing that it should be placed on the General Assembly’s list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.

Governor Alejandro García Padilla of Puerto Rico pointed out that the United Nations recognized the political sovereignty of Puerto Rico as an autonomous political entity, adding that the posture of the United States Government was incompatible with what was said within the General Assembly. The United States had claimed that it was not necessary to submit any further reports on Puerto Rico to the United Nations as the Territory was now governed under a new bilateral agreement, the terms of which could not be changed except by mutual agreement. The United Nations had recognized the political sovereignty of Puerto Rico as an autonomous political entity, he said.

Other petitioners stressed that the sovereign state of Borinken did not recognize the legitimacy of the United States Government over the Territory’s people, describing all actions taken by the imperial Power there as illegal. One petitioner underlined that the state of Borinken should not have to wait another 30 or 40 years to have its due freedom, adding that action by the Special Committee could be a significant step forward that could lead to the end of Puerto Rico’s colonial status. The Borinken people requested that the Special Committee assume its authority to take drastic steps with regard to decolonization. Otherwise, the Borinken State would have no viable alternative but to push for a national liberation movement.

Coordinadora Mexicana de Apoyo al Estado Nacional Soberano de Borinken, said the Special Committee should request that the General Assembly give the sovereign state of Borinken the status of a United Nations Member State, based on the rights of which it had continuously been deprived by Spain and the United States.

Venezuela’s representative, associating himself with the Non-Alignment Movement, the statement to be delivered on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), and the representative of Cuba, said the independence of Puerto Rico was a cause shared by many who believed in freedom and democracy around the world. The status of Puerto Rico made it difficult for it to exercise its full autonomy as the colonial issue continued unbridled, without any attempt to conceal the true nature of the situation, which had a very negative impact on the society and economy of Puerto Rico.

Cuba's representative introduced a draft resolution titled “Decision of the Special Committee of 22 June 2015 concerning Puerto Rico” (document A/AC.109.2016/L.6) as well as the related report (document A/AC.109.2016/L.13), and noted the urgent call to the international community to take action in favour of all Puerto Rican people. “This is s a noble, principled fight,” he said, expressing confidence that Cubans and Puerto Ricans could overcome their respective current situations.

Iran’s representative, speaking for the Non-Aligned Movement, reaffirmed the right of the people of Puerto Rico to self-determination and independence on the basis of General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV). He recalled that the Special Committee had approved 34 resolutions or decisions on the topic, adding that they were in full agreement with the Movement’s traditional position on the question of Puerto Rico.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list