On March 18, 2021, two bills aimed at ending Puerto Rico’s colonial status were introduced in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. The bills, S. 865 and H.R. 2070 (the “Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act”), purportedly seek to allow Puerto Ricans the exercise of their “natural right to self-determination,” through a process that would feature a status convention. The members of the convention would work in coordination with a Congressional Commission.

The convention must propose “self-determination options,” which must be “outside” the Territory Clause of the United States Constitution. That is, none of the options to be presented to Puerto…


U.S. House members Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Nydia Velázquez.

On August 25, 2020, representatives Nydia Velázquez and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introduced H.R. 8113 (https://www.congress.gov/116/bills/hr8113/BILLS-116hr8113ih.pdf), a bill aimed at arriving at a solution to Puerto Rico’s current colonial status. That is the first congressional bill ever to propose the mechanism of a status convention.

At the moment of publication, that bill has not been submitted in the current, 117th Congress. However, its authors have already expressed their intention to do so in the following days.

The bill raises a myriad of questions and issues. This article is the first of a series analyzing that bill and related matters.

Power Asymmetry and…


Workers in Washington, D.C. (1942)

In August of 2019, the law journal of the InterAmerican University of Puerto Rico Law School published an article I penned, titled Racism, Culture, Law, and the Juridical Rhetoric Sanctioning Inequality and Colonial Rule. [1] The sources consulted for the article provide a fairly thorough picture of American political, cultural and legal history, and of the forces that have shaped what is called the American people. They also implicitly lay bare the deficiencies of legal education, particularly the teaching of American constitutional law and history.

The Role of Ideas

The article emphasizes the historical and cultural aspects of what we…


Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico.

A la memoria de Vicente Géigel Polanco (1904–1979), quien denunció la farsa del Estado Libre Asociado mientras se representaba

La actual «relación» política entre Estados Unidos y Puerto Rico se resume a menudo en la frase «el Estado Libre Asociado». En este artículo, proveo mi respuesta a qué es el «Estado Libre Asociado».

Los cimientos del estatus de Estado Libre Asociado: 1898–1950

La evidencia histórica demuestra que los actores políticos estadounidenses del siglo 19 ambicionaban quedarse con Puerto Rico. Incluso antes de que estallara la Guerra Hispanoamericana, y antes de que se implantara la decisión de invadir a Puerto Rico…


La Fortaleza, in Old San Juan, is the residence of the colonial governors since the 1500s.

To the memory of Vicente Géigel Polanco (1904–1979), who denounced in real time the farce of commonwealth status.

The current political “relationship” between the United States and Puerto Rico is often summed up in the phrase “commonwealth status.” In this article, I summarize my answer to what commonwealth status is.

The foundations of commonwealth status: 1898–1950

Overwhelming historical evidence shows that 19th century American political actors craved Puerto Rico. Even before the Spanish-American War broke out, and before the decision to invade Puerto Rico was implemented during that conflict, the U.S. government intended to grab Puerto Rico from Spain, one…


La subordinación de Puerto Rico a Estados Unidos siempre ha confligido con principios morales, políticos y jurídicos llamados a informar y limitar el ejercicio del poder. Se ha encontrado significativo que los puertorriqueños no participamos en los procesos políticos de Estados Unidos. A su vez, hay dudas sobre el impacto real que tendría tal participación.

Aquí exploro cómo un juez federal confrontó la antinomia de no participar en el gobierno que recluta a jóvenes a la milicia, la cual se hizo aguda dadas las circunstancias que tuvo ante sí: un joven puertorriqueño, acusado de negarse a ser reclutado en las…


A Darcy Brum, In Memoriam

Pablo Picasso, Muerte de Casagemas (1901).

Hoy tengo la imagen de este hombre de 35 años, consciente de que su muerte es inminente. En su lecho de agonía, seguramente contempló su corta existencia e hizo las paces con la mano que le tocó en el juego de naipes que es la vida.

La probabilidad de que cada ser humano nazca como tal es infinitésimamente baja. No importa lo defectuoso de nuestros pensamientos, no es difícil aceptar el hecho de que -antes de ser concebidos, de nacer, y de desarrollar autonomía intelectual y de sobrevivencia- hay nadie a quien preguntarle si quiere…


U.S. District Judge Hiram A. Cancio

(This article was originally published by Enclave Magazine on November 3, 2020).

The Vietnam War (1964–1975) was a horrible mess. Almost 60 thousand American soldiers died, while Vietnam’s government estimated that 3 million Vietnamese perished, including 2 million civilians –among them, women, children and elders. The ecological devastation was also staggering, courtesy of American bombs, chemical weapons, and napalm.

Thousands of young Puerto Ricans were inducted to fight in that war. Many resisted the draft, including Edwin Feliciano. Young Mr. Feliciano was charged and tried in the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico, where a jury…


Uncle Sam, the dominant. A cartoon, c. 1900

(This article was published by Enclave Magazine on September 1st, 2020, under the title “The Consent of the Colonized”).

The most salient feature of the regime that keeps Puerto Rico subordinated to the United States is its longevity. What accounts for the acquiescence of Puerto Ricans to that regime? How has that consent been reproduced for generations, up to the present day?

Here, I examine the usefulness of the concept of hegemony in explaining the consent to American domination over Puerto Rico. My contention is that the explanation lies, not in the domination strategies emphasized by theoreticians of hegemony, but…


The most salient feature of the regime that keeps Puerto Rico subordinated to the United States is its longevity. What accounts for the acquiescence of Puerto Ricans to that regime? How has that consent been reproduced for generations, up to the present day?

Here, I examine the explanatory power of the concept of hegemony to account for the consent to the American presence in Puerto Rico. My main contention is that the explanation lies, not in the domination strategies of the empire, but in the historic and cultural circumstances of the subordinated nation.

Hegemony and the Satisfaction of Needs

Efrén…

Roberto A. Fernández

Writer, amateur saxophonist, lawyer. My book “El constitucionalismo y la encerrona colonial de Puerto Rico” is available at the libraries of Princeton and Yale.

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