The constitutional evolution of Puerto Rico and other U. S. territories (1898-present)

por Gustavo A. Gelpí

Born and raised in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory since 1898, I grew up with the logical notion that the Island was an integrated part of the United States of America. After all, the U.S. flag hung from every government building, as well as in all of my classrooms. I learned the pledge of allegiance and the Star Spangled Banner when I was a toddler. The only passport I have ever possessed is a U.S. one. My late grandfather and most of his peers honorably served in our Armed Forces during World War II, while those from my father’s generation served in Korea and Vietnam. My grandmother was a U.S. Navy civilian employee for over four decades, stationed until her retirement in one of the many military bases in Puerto Rico.
At age seventeen I moved to Massachusetts to attend college, and later, law school. Until my twenty-sixth birthday, I was able to participate in national elections and exercise my constitutional right as a U.S. citizen to vote for our President, as well as the Senators from said State and the Congressmen from my district. Armed with a law degree and admission to the Massachusetts bar, I planned on remaining in there throughout my career. That would probably have been the end of this narrative. I was, nonetheless, selected for aclerkship with the Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court in Puerto Rico, and thus decided to head to my birthplace for one or two years, hence avoiding the New England Winter and being able to spend some time with my family. What better job, I thought, than one in a tropical paradise within the United States.
Little did I suspect at the time that my stay in Puerto Rico would prolong itself until the present. During this period, I have had the opportunity of developing a fascinating, unique, hands-on, legal as well as academic understanding and perspective of the intriguing relationship that has evolved between the Island and the United States of America for the past 120 years. That is the subject of this book.
Over the years, as a lawyer, federal judge and law professor, I have written and lectured on the juridical nuances between territory and metropolis and the indisputable fact that the U.S. Constitution does not fully follow the Flag here. Over four million U.S. citizens reside in several of the Nation’s overseas territories: Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Unlike their brethren in the fifty States, they are treated disparately by the federal government. These citizens, more importantly, lack the right to participate in National elections, and hence, are not represented in the White House, Senate or House of Representatives, where decisions that greatly impact their everyday lives take place.
This book is intended to provide the reader with a comparative perspective of the status and evolution of Puerto Rico and other U.S. Flag territories. It is not a book about politics, nor one that explores whether, moving forward, Puerto Rico or other insular areas should remain as territories, become States, or attain any form of sovereign status. Such determination lies in the hands of the U.S. citizens of the several non-state areas and the Congress of the United States. However, for those seeking a political solution, as well as those interested in learning about this most fascinating and controversial subject, this book is a starting point for what I hope will be an intellectually honest discussion.


Publisher: Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico (2018)

Pages: 241