Este artículo no está
disponible en español.
THE SAN JUAN STAR
"More Evidence That Bilateral Compact A Myth"
by Guillermo Moscoso
PUERTO RICO'S RELATIONS
WITH THE UNITED STATES: DOCUMENTS FOR PUERTO RICO'S POLITICAL
SAN JUAN: THE OFFICE
OF PUERTO RICO'S OFFICIAL HISTORIAN, SECOND EDITION, MAY 1995,
PAGES 11-12. (PUBLISHED IN THE SAN JUAN STAR, FEBRUARY 12, 1995)
February 10, 2000
Copyright © 2000 THE SAN JUAN STAR. All Rights Reserved.
Popular Democratic Party leaders are saying that the approval
of a bill recently filed in the U.S. House of Representatives
by Rep. Elton Gallegly, R. Calif., changing the name of Puerto
Rico's resident commissioner in Congress to delegate and reducing
the term of office from four to two years, is against the law.
They say it violates the Federal Relations Act (U.S. Law 600)
and a bilateral pact under the law which, in 1952, created the
island's present commonwealth status.
It is also claimed that the pact can only be altered by mutual
consent. It is about time for the myth about the so-called "bilateral
pact" to vanish forever from our political scenario. I hope
to contribute to this objective with my perception of the "bilateral
pact," based on the following specific legal and historical
When in 1950 the bill that led to U.S. Law 600 was filed, the
House of Representatives Land Committee indicated that "the
project will not change the power of Congress to determine Puerto
Rico's political future."
Testifying at the committee hearings on March 4, 1950, then-Gov.
Muñoz Marín said: "This project does not change
the fundamental conditions of Puerto Rico of non-incorporation
and only permits Puerto Rico to develop its own self-government.
Testifying at a subsequent hearing of the committee the same
year, then-Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico in the U.S. Congress,
Antonio Fernós Isern said: "The project will not alter
the sovereign power of Congress over Puerto Rico obtained under
the Treaty of Paris."
The new political formula for Puerto Rico was more a matter
of form than substance. While relations between Puerto Rico and
the United States under Law 600 may have been "in the nature
of a compact," there was no binding bilateral pact.
It was established that Congress reserved its constitutional
right to "dispose of, or promulgate the rules and regulations
necessary to the territory or any property of the United States."
The political objectives sought in 1952 were not fully accomplished.
The self-government created was restricted by the fact that the
basic nature of our relations with the United States remained
Congress did not relinquish all its sovereignty over Puerto
Rico and there was no change in the applicability of federal laws
and federal jurisdiction in Puerto Rico, as we have seen by the
many laws unilaterally passed (and which continue to be passed)
by Congress, as well as by unilateral actions taken by the U.S.
government with respect to Puerto Rico.
The following are just a few examples of such unilateral action.
- Puerto Rico's Constitution was not drafted by the constitutional
assembly with absolute sovereign powers. It was subject to Congress'
approval and was, in fact, unilaterally amended by Congress.
- In 1953, then-President Eisenhower sent a message to the
United Nations saying he would recommend to Congress more or
absolute independence for Puerto Rico, if so requested by Puerto
Rico's Legislature. This revealed that Puerto Rico was still
under Congress' sovereignty.
- In 1974 and 1978, the U.S. government stopped then Gov. Hernández
Colón from entering into (on his own) agreements with
Saudi Arabia and Japan, respectively, on the basis that Puerto
Rico was not free to make international commitments without clearance
from the U.S. government. Apparently there was fear that such
commitments could affect U.S. foreign policy.
- In the case of Harris vs. Rosario (446 U.S. 651, 1980) and
in the case of Puerto Rico vs. Branstad, Governor of Iowa (June
23, 1987), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Puerto Rico never
ceased to be a territory under U.S. sovereignty and that "Congress
could treat Puerto Rico differently from the states of the union
provided there is reasonable basis to do so."
- In 1988, the U.S. District Court in San Juan ruled that Congress
intended to include Puerto Rico in the Omnibus Crime Control
Act, which is the controlling law for federal prosecution in
Puerto Rico (STAR, Jan. 14, 1988).
- On June 11, 1993, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta, Ga.,
ruled in the case of Puerto Rico vs. Rafael and Luis Sánchez,
that constitutionally, Puerto Rico is still a territory and Congress
continues to have sovereignty over Puerto Rico.
- On Oct. 25, 1993, Congress enacted a law making car jacking
a federal offense. The law was applicable to all states of the
union, Puerto Rico and other territories.
- On Sept. 14, 1994, President Clinton signed the Crime Law
providing that anyone charged with a capital crime faces the
death penalty if federal prosecution seek it. The law applies
to Puerto Rico even if Puerto Rico's Constitution rejects capital
- "Commonwealth" was a term adopted in Resolution
62 on February 4, 1952 by the constitutional convention as a
convenient (and requested by Congress) translation of "Estado
Libre Asociado," and it has no juridical significance nor
Considering these legal and historical facts, there should
be little doubt that the claimed "bilateral pact" is
just a myth, and the commonwealth status is a juridical limbo.
Puerto Rico continues to be a colony "with the consent
of the governed;" an unincorporated territory ("separate
and unequal"); it belongs to, but is not a part of the United
States for constitutional purposes; it has second-class U.S. citizens
with no voting rights; and is still governed by Congress at its
As one of the architects of commonwealth status, former Puerto
Rico Supreme Court Chief Justice José Trías Monge
said: "After 1952, Puerto Rico clearly continues confronting
a colonial status and Puerto Ricans have the distinction of having
the longest history of colonialism in the world."
"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for
good men to do nothing." (Edmund Burke)