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Copyright (c) 2007 Harvard Latino Law Review 
Harvard Latino Law Review

NOTE: Commonwealth Status: A Good Deal for Puerto Rico?

Spring, 2007

10 Harv. Latino L. Rev. 263


Johnny Smith *


All of these islands are very handsome and very good earth, but this one seemed to everybody the best. 2

--Christopher Columbus

Above is Christopher Columbus's description of Puerto Rico in 1493. Columbus first stumbled upon the island while en route to Hispaniola, where he intended to establish the first European settlement in the Americas. 3 Columbus's discovery initiated a period of colonialism in Puerto Rico that has lasted for more than five centuries. Spain occupied Puerto Rico for four centuries, and the United States has now claimed Puerto Rico as its territory for more than a hundred years. While this U.S. presence has prevented Puerto Rico from acquiring complete autonomy, as Ambassador Kirkpatrick noted above, Puerto Rico's commonwealth status has also afforded many benefits to the island's people. This Note will first trace Puerto Rico's history of colonialism, and will then move on to examine various proposals for changes in the island's status. This Note concludes that while Puerto Rico's current situation is far from ideal, the current commonwealth status is preferable to the alternatives.


Puerto Rico's strategic location and natural bounty has attracted a succession of colonizing cultures for millennia. Although information on Puerto Rico's history before Columbus's arrival is limited, it appears that at least four different Arawak Amerindian tribes populated Puerto Rico prior to Spanish conquest. 4 The recent discovery by archaeologists of the Angostura and Maruca open-air habitation sites has demonstrated that the initial peopling of ...
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