711C.02/7–1453: Airgram

The Secretary of State to the Embassy in the United Kingdom


A–132. The receipt is acknowledged of the Embassy’s despatch No. 6270 dated June 30, 1953 and despatch No. 263 dated July 14, 1953,1 transmitting the views of Her Majesty’s Government on the matter of cessation by the United States Government of the transmission of information to the Secretary General of the United Nations on the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in accordance with Article 73(e) of [Page 1447] the United Nations Charter. The Colonial Office, while indicating that it is in entire and full agreement with the United States on the latter’s complete freedom to cease to submit information on Puerto Rico, has posed informally three questions, the answers to which would serve to fortify the British in supporting the United States position.

The Officer in Charge is requested to inform the Colonial Office in general terms and in regard to the three specific questions substantially as follows:

The Department is appreciative of the careful study which the United States documentation on Puerto Rico has received in the Colonial Office. It is gratified to know that the United States Government may count on the support of Her Majesty’s Government when this matter comes up from consideration in the General Assembly’s Committee on Information from Non-Self-Governing Territories. It is particularly grateful to the Colonial Office for setting forth in advance the three fundamental questions because answers to them are basic in establishing the limits to which, according to the United States view, this matter may be appropriately discussed by the United Nations.

The United States method of handling the case of Puerto Rico in the Committee on Information from Non-Self-Governing Territories has not been worked out in detail and it is believed essential to maintain a flexible approach and to strive to create a harmonious and cooperative atmosphere for the discussions. To try to achieve this end the United States Delegation will provide straightforward explanations to questions seeking information in regard to the documentation transmitted to the United Nations by the United States. It cannot itself, however, engage in discussions as to the propriety of United States laws. Moreover, if extended attempts at such discussions are made by other Members, the United States Delegation may be obliged to seek to have them ruled out of order. It is believed important in this connection to keep the amount of documentation placed before the Committee at a minimum in order to avoid in so far as possible discussions and debate on United States constitutional and legal instruments. Therefore, the United States Government does not intend at this time to place before the United Nations any additional documentation but will present orally such additional information.

Basic to the United States position on Puerto Rico is the contention that each administering member of the United Nations is responsible for determining the constitutional position and status of territories under its sovereignty and that the decision with respect to reporting under Article 73(e) on specific territories rests solely with the administering member concerned. The United States recognizes, however, that the United Nations will be interested in discussing the Puerto Rican case and that the General Assembly under its broad powers to discuss and recommend under Article X of the Charter, may not only wish to consider the case of Puerto Rico but probably also to adopt a resolution on the subject. The United States considers that it was fully justified in ceasing to report on Puerto Rico and would vigorously oppose any resolution that states the contrary view. The United States would, however, vote for a resolution commending its action.

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The reply of the Colonial Office’s first question, in which it asks to know our attitude toward the possible discussion by the United Nations of the constitutional instruments concerning Puerto Rico which have been transmitted for information, is contained in the general discussion, above.

The second question asks what arguments are expected to be used if complaints are raised that Puerto Rico is not guaranteed the right of secession. The United States Delegation will point out in this connection that the question is not germane to the discussions in as much as the right of secession is not a requisite of a full measure of self-government as set forth in Chapter XI of the Charter, as the legislative history of Article 73 will reveal. The United States Delegation will further point out that reference to the history of the development of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico will reveal that the present constitutional relationship with the United States is in keeping with the freely expressed wishes of an overwhelming majority of the people of Puerto Rico. In the local Puerto Rican elections which were held on the issue of the future status of Puerto Rico the alternatives to “commonwealth status”, i.e. “independence” or “statehood” were fully presented to the people by political parties standing on those platforms. Thus the majority decision of the people of Puerto Rico was made in cognizance of the possible alternatives.

The third question asks what arguments will be used if the matter of Puerto Rican representation at the center of government is raised. Here again the United States will stress the fact that the type of representation the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico has in an elected Resident Commissioner who represents the Commonwealth before the Federal Government and holds a non-voting seat in the House of Representatives conforms with the wishes of the people of Puerto Rico. In enumerating the positive advantages to Puerto Rico of its special status as a “freely associated state” within the Federal Union, the United States Delegation will elaborate upon the role and position of influence of the Resident Commissioner in relation to Federal Government policy and administration. It will also point out that Puerto Rico-could obtain full legislative representation in the United States Congress only if it were a State like one of the 48, subject to all pertinent provisions of the Constitution of the United States. In that case, however, the people of Puerto Rico would lose the fiscal advantages which they now enjoy as a result of their present relationship to the United States. The Constitution of the United States would require this result. The people of Puerto Rico are exempt from Federal income taxes on the income they derive from sources within Puerto Rico and from all other internal revenue taxes. The proceeds of United States internal revenue taxes collected on articles produced in Puerto Rico and shipped to the United States are covered into the Treasury of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Also, the proceeds of tariff and customs collected on foreign merchandise entering Puerto Rico are deposited into the Puerto Rican Treasury for appropriation and expenditure as the Puerto Rican Legislature may decide. These arrangements constitute substantial fiscal advantages of particular benefit to an area such as Puerto Rico whose natural economic resources are not, as yet fully developed. The admission into the Union under the terms of the-Constitution of the United States, would entail the loss of these advantages and that the taxpayers of Puerto Rico would have to contribute [Page 1449] over one hundred million dollars annually to the United States Treasury, a sum which represents ten per cent of the national income of Puerto Rico and nearly sixty per cent of its budget.

Although Her Majesty’s Government is fully aware that under the American System of Government the Executive Branch cannot interpret what may be the will later on of the United States Congress and the decision of the Courts in regard to the future status of Puerto Rico, there is substantial evidence available in support of the view that any subsequent change in the status of the Commonwealth may be determined only by joint action of the United States and Puerto Rican Governments.

  1. Neither printed (711C.02/6–3053 and 711C.02/7–1453, respectively).