Puerto Rico Votes on Status: A Primer on Sovereign Commonwealth

Puerto Rico Votes on Status: A Primer on Sovereign Commonwealth


As the second installment of my discussion on the three non-territorial options available for Puerto Rican voters on Election Day, we turn to what some deem the “independence-light” option called “Sovereign Commonwealth” (Estado Libre Asociado Soberano) or “Sovereign Free Associated State.” As we have mentioned before, Puerto Rico will hold a plebiscite on its political status with the United States that will pose two questions to the electorate. The first question is whether or not voters want to continue the current territorial relationship. The second question is which of the three non-territorial options does the voter want: Independence, Statehood or Sovereign Commonwealth. Regarding Sovereign Commonwealth, or Sovereign Free Associated state, the official definition of this option, as printed on the ballot, will read:

Sovereign Free Associated State
Puerto Rico should adopt a status outside of the Territory Clause of the Constitution of the United States that recognizes the sovereignty of the People of Puerto Rico. The Sovereign Free Associated State would be based on a free and voluntary political association, the specific terms of which shall be agreed upon between the United States and Puerto Rico as sovereign nations. Such agreement would provide the scope of the jurisdictional powers that the People of Puerto Rico agree to confer to the United States and retain all other jurisdictional powers and authorities. If you agree, mark here:

While the notion of a associated republic like the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of Palau and the Marshall Islands has existed in Puerto Rico for decades, it was not until former governor Anibal Acevedo Vila championed it in his 2008 re-election campaign, including it in the Popular Democratic Party’s platform (PPD for its Spanish acronym), that the idea entered the political mainstream. While the PPD reversed its support for this option in 2012, instead calling on its supporters to reject the referendum by voting to keep the current territorial relationship (ie. a YES vote), a group call ALAS has taken to the task of promoting this option for the plebiscite.

Under this option, the U.S. and Puerto Rico would enter into a voluntary bilateral agreement, in which they (as sovereign nations) would decide which areas should be delegated to the U.S., and which will be handled solely by Puerto Rico. For example, it could adopt an agreement similar to the Federated States of Micronesia and allow for Puerto Rican citizens to serve on the U.S. Army without requiring citizenship or residency in the U.S. Puerto Rico could “buy in” into federal services such as the U.S. Postal Service and other telecommunications services already working in Puerto Rico.  However, either government would be free to end the agreement at any time they see fit. Additionally, Puerto Rico would certainly not be entitled to the nearly 4-1 ratio of federal funds to state funds currently spent in the Island.

Opposers of this option claim it is a veiled independence, aiming to break the century-old bond Puerto Rico has with the U.S., and threatening to eliminate the benefits earned by Puerto Ricans through federal programs. They (opposers) argue that this option tricks voters into thinking that they are merely voting for an enhanced commonwealth that increases local autonomy while maintaining the current relationship with the U.S. (in other words, federal funding and citizenship). The PPD has officially disavowed this option, much to the dismay of the “pro-sovereignty” (soberanistas) members of the party such as Carmen Yulin and Charlie Hernandez (the latter who received a sanction from his party by refusing to keep his opinions to himself, and publicly backing a NO vote and a vote for this option).

This option, like independence, places Puerto Rico on the side of free nations, with the benefits and risks that may entail. Stay tuned for the next entry, where I will discuss the option of the 51st state.


  1. Sovereign Commonwealth is nothing but a gobbledygook fantasy instigated by pro-statehood and pro-independentist people to kill the true commonwealth option that stands for autonomy. A so called “sovereign commonwealth” is nothing but a sovereign republic that chooses to associate with another. For example: the United Kingdom, a sovereign country who chooses to ally and associate with the United States. A true autonomy is a nation of peoples that is associated with another to whom they delegate political sovereignty and keep some controls internally in their affairs, for example: Scotland or Cataluña. Now, some people will tell me, “hey, Scotland and Cataluña hate their lack of sovereignty and now want their independence!” Yes, that’s true. But at least they got to develop their autonomy with the UK and Spain, respectively, to the fullest extent possible. Unfortunately, that has never happened in Puerto Rico; those sore losers who have never won a referendum for statehood or independence have historically blocked every effort to develop the autonomous condition of Puerto Rico, and now pretend to kill it with the gobbledygook of a Sovereign Commonwealth fantasy. I contend that, since the pro-statehood party does not have the guts to hold a referendum to decide “Statehood Yes or NO” and instead they are excluding the Commonwealth party that always beats them in the ballot, statehood may for the first time win a referenduma, albeit a fictitious one. I contend that if that happens, that mandate is disrespected by all believers in the Commonwealth. If democracy is not good enough for those who have won the referendums of 1967, 1993 and 1998, it shall not be good enough for those who mold a victory.

    • The existing Estado Libre Asociado might be considered gobbledygook. A colony by any other name would stink as much. There is only one improvement to a colonial status: grow out of it. Obviously, I prefer full freedom for my country and being able to negotiate treaties with the USA and other countries as an equal. But, for the sake of argument, the status of being part of a commonwealth in its true sense (mancomunidad de naciones) might be an improvement.

    • I used gobbledygook first, so please try to be a little more original when fighting back from your 2% soap box. A commonwealth system like those enjoyed by the nations of the United Kingdom was actually the vision in 1952–there was not other example to mimic. But your independentis cronies have helped the pro-statehood losers for hte past 44 years to prevent that from happening, and that is why today we have a system that, while it is not officially a colony, it reaks just like one. We have to thank the people you support for that. Remember: la calentura no está en la sábana (the problem is not the Commonwealth system, but the sabotaging of the system by those who refuse to accept the fact that they have lost all three referendums.

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