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Outstanding Constitutional and International Law Issues Raised by the United States-Puerto Rico Relationship

This Article touches upon some issues of fundamental importance to the several million nationally disenfranchised United States citizens that reside in Puerto Rico. I write with a modicum of uneasiness as a result of the uncertain terrain on which the United States-Puerto Rico relationship presently finds itself, firstly, by reason of two cases that are pending resolution by the Supreme Court of the United States—Puerto Rico v. Sánchez Valle and the consolidated cases of Puerto Rico v. Franklin California Tax-Free Trust and Acosta-Febo v. Franklin California Tax-Free Trust—which have already been argued and are awaiting decision, and secondly, because Congress is now considering legislation entitled the “Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act,” referred to by the uncomfortably inapt acronym “PROMESA”—“promise” in Spanish—pursuant to which the Government of Puerto Rico will be placed in virtual trusteeship by the U.S. government.

Each of these cases and this legislation hold the potential to drastically change the U.S.-P.R. scenario depending on which of several paths the Court chooses to take in resolving the basic questions the cases raise, and what it is that Congress eventually enacts to “assist” the people of Puerto Rico. The final product of the cases could run a gamut of results. What Congress will produce is anyone’s guess, but judging from the socalled “discussion draft” of PROMESA, it does not appear that Puerto Rico is about to be released from the colonial grip of the plenary powers that were authorized by the Insular Cases.4 Rather, it seems that Congress may tighten this grip to a virtual stranglehold. This Article addresses several matters that may serve as background when these cases are decided and Congress passes legislation.