OPINION: Self-Determination for Puerto Rico With Less American Authority

Apr 29, 2021
3:27 PM

Last month, Representatives Nydia Velazquez, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Senator Bob Menendez introduced a 2021 version of the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act. Compared to the first version from 2020, this bicameral and bipartisan legislation would empower Puerto Ricans —according to them— to determine their own political future and relationship with the United States.

The revised order of the act orders Puerto Rico to create a semi-permanent body of delegates to debate and define different political relationships that will move Puerto Rico away from colonialism (page 4). Each different political relationship drafted must be accompanied by a transition plan. Once these steps are completed, the people of Puerto Rico will have a chance to choose what type of relationship they want with the United States. Compared to the 2020 version, this new legislation orders Congress to approve what the people of Puerto Rico elect.

But before Puerto Rico can obtain congressional approval, per pages 8 and 9 of the text, this bill creates a Bilateral Negotiating Commission. The Commission will have the “authority” to study, make findings, and recommend options relating to Puerto Rican culture, language, taxes, judicial and public education system, United States citizenship, and provide technical assistance on any constitutional matter during the status convention in Puerto Rico.

This is a distortion of a self-determination option for Puerto Rico. This bill empowers the Bilateral Negotiating Commission to keep ruling over Puerto Rico’s culture, language, taxes, judicial and public education systems while advising the Puerto Rican’s delegates with their future constitutional developments. Clearly, this is a true exercise of congressional powers over Puerto Rico by treating Puerto Ricans as colonized, uneducated subjects in their own constitutional convention.

Do you think the United States would have allowed a foreign colonial entity to advise them on their own culture, language, taxes, judicial and public education system, and provide technical assistance in drafting their declaration of independence and during their constitutional convention?

A true self-determination process allows the people of Puerto Rico to freely determine their political future and pursue their economic, social and cultural development by regulating their own commerce with foreign nations and among other states and by creating laws for the general welfare. Conversely, by keeping the authority to “advise” Puerto Rico even during their constitutional convention, this bill submits Puerto Rico into compliance before Congress can decide to “approve” what the people of Puerto Rico decide.

The people of Puerto Rico have the inherent authority and responsibility to decide what is best for their nation. They do not need a foreign country to “advise” them on their own culture, language, modes of taxation, judicial and public education system or even provide technical assistance during their own constitutional convention.

But Congress can assist by approving a joint, bilateral and bicameral resolution, like this one here, which recognizes Puerto Rico’s inherent right to be free and independent. Only after Puerto Rico becomes free then it can decide its relationship with the United States.


Antonio A. Camacho is an attorney from Puerto Rico, a former U.S. military officer and war veteran. The author does not have any financial or lobbying relationship with the subject discussed. Twitter: @ohcamaca.