Political Status of Puerto Rico

2016 Book of Resolutions, #6057

The United States Congress, other entities of the United States government, and different groups in Puerto Rico have long been studying the relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico. This topic is a hot and divisive issue in Puerto Rico with many diverse and strong opposing views. The Church enters into this discussion because of its mandate to be a prophetic voice that intends to assist in finding ways that are in accordance with the values of the reign of God. There are certain principles that need to be emphasized:

  1. We believe that all human beings are God’s creatures and therefore of equal value and dignity.

  2. We recognize that the church must take into consideration the following historical facts as it develops its theological thinking regarding the political status of Puerto Rico:

a. Puerto Rico officially came to be subject to the United States of America as result of the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898, through which Spain surrendered its colonies to the United States. At that point Puerto Rico began to be governed by United States military authorities.

b. The Foraker Act approved by the US Congress in 1900 put an end to the US military government of Puerto Rico. The President of the United States appointed a governor of Puerto Rico and the administration of the island came to be under the US Department of the Interior.

c. In 1917 the Jones Act was approved by the United States granting United States citizenship to all Puerto Ricans.

d. In 1947 the United States Congress approved a law allowing the people of Puerto Rico to elect their own governor.

e. The United States authorities have persecuted and acted against the Puerto Rico pro independence movements all along. There was even a period when it was forbidden to raise the Puerto Rican flag or to display the shield of arms that served as an emblem of Puerto Rico or to speak of advocating for the independence of Puerto Rico.

f. people of Puerto Rico, as permitted by the appropriate United States authorities, approved in 1952 the constitution of the “Commonwealth of Puerto Rico” known in Spanish as “Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico.” The relationship is described as a pact. The people of Puerto Rico continue to be subjugated to the authorities of the United States of America.

The present economic crisis in Puerto Rico has served to highlight how problematic is the territorial or colonial condition of Puerto Rico in subordination to the United States of America. The government of Puerto Rico approved a local bankruptcy law to enable public authorities to have a mechanism to work in an orderly fashion with their lack of funds to cover all their financial obligations. The Federal Court, District of Puerto Rico ruled that the law approved by the government of Puerto Rico was unconstitutional given that federal laws cover bankruptcy situations. The government of Puerto Rico appealed to Boston and the aforementioned court affirmed the determination of the Federal Judge in Puerto Rico. The government of Puerto Rico then tried to be covered under the US bankruptcy laws, but this was not accepted, leaving Puerto Rico without the possibility of bankruptcy protection for the public authorities.

The present status of Puerto Rico as a nonincorporated territory of the United States, with a clear subordination to the United States, moves us to take the following position from a moral and ethical perspective according to the traditions and teachings of our Church:

  1. We firmly believe in self-determination for all peoples. Clearly Puerto Rico is a country with its own idiosyncrasy, cultural expressions, and that treasures its Spanish language which has survived under the remnants of a colonial system.

  2. We believe that Puerto Rico’s political problem is not just a problem for Puerto Ricans; but also a problem for the people of the United States of America, and therefore, the United States should act to facilitate a real self-determination process that is in agreement with criteria accepted by the international community. The active participation of different social and political entities in the United States is needed to solve the problem.

Therefore, we call upon the churches to be educated about the political situation of Puerto Rico without promoting a particular political partisan perspective. We affirm that truth will set us free. We affirm that God has created us equal and with the same dignity. The subordination of a people by another people is contrary to our Church’s teachings.

As a Church we confess that for too long we have kept ourselves uninvolved in this and other important issues for the sake of avoiding conflicts and divisions. Now we recognize that this is contrary to the prophetic tradition of our faith.

We call upon the authorities of the United States government to foster a true process of self-determination for the people of Puerto Rico in which the United States Congress participates in working out alternatives and definitions that achieve a nonterritorial formula. The United States government should clearly define which are the vested rights of Puerto Ricans as United States citizens that will not change regardless of the political formula selected to solve the territorial problem.

We also call upon the United States government to free the Puerto Rican political prisoners in United States prisons and to drop pending charges against other persons related to their struggle for the independence of Puerto Rico. It is important for the United States to show that the era of persecution has come to an end and that we are at the beginning of a new journey where there will be space for dialogue with all the groups representing different ideologies.


See Social Principles, ¶ 165A, B, D.

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