Section 3

The Question of Sovereignty

How the debt crisis has put Puerto Rico’s liminal political status under a microscope, making evident its non-sovereignty.

Two court cases relevant to the autonomy

of the Island were the Puerto Rico v. Sánchez Valle case, and the Puerto Rico v. Franklin California Tax-Free Trust case. These court decisions had meaningful implications for the Island’s policies on bankruptcy and debt restructuring. The former made clear that the Island is not fully autonomous and ultimately answers to the U.S. Congress; the latter determined that the Island does not have the power to authorize municipalities to seek debt restructuring.

These court cases, along with the imposition of The Fiscal Oversight Board, made many wonder whether the United Nations would reconsider its past decisions and recognize that Puerto Rico is, in fact, non-self-governing under international law. These events, which unmasked the Island’s non-sovereignty, were ironically contrasted with the Island’s sporting sovereignty: Mónica Puig won an Olympic gold medal while representing Puerto Rico.

In the context of the debt crisis, this victory united Puerto Ricans and allowed them to re-assert their national identity. Furthermore, in this critical moment, Governor Ricardo Rosselló determined that a plebiscite was required to solve the Island’s colonial condition and fiscal crises. Although statehood won, many opposition parties boycotted the election and the validity of the plebiscite was questioned by the federal government.

2016 SCOTUS cases

Puerto Rico v. Sanchez Valle

Mark Joseph Stern, “The Supreme Court Deals a Blow to Puerto Rican Sovereignty” Slate, June 9, 2016.

Christian Farias, “Supreme Court Deals Blow To Puerto Rican Government — And Gives Hope To Puerto Rico Huffington Post, June 9, 2016.

Supremo EE.UU. confirma decisión sobre Sánchez Valle,” El Nuevo Día, June 9, 2016.


Puerto Rico v. Sanchez Valle Supreme Court Opinions (2016).

SCOTUSblog coverage of Puerto Rico v. Sanchez Valle including links to briefs and other key documents (2015 – 2016).

Puerto Rico v. Franklin California Tax-Free Trust

David Dayen, “Will Congress Thwart Puerto Rico’s Best Chance for Relief?,” The American Prospect, June 2, 2016.

Eva Lloréns Vélez, “Supreme Court Rules Against Puerto Rico Debt Recovery Act,” Caribbean Business, June 13, 2016.

Vann R. Newkirk, “Puerto Rico’s Dream, Denied,” The Atlantic, June 14, 2016.


Puerto Rico v. Franklin California Tax-Free Trust Supreme Court Opinions (2016).

SCOTUSblog coverage of Puerto Rico v. Franklin California Tax-Free Trust including links to briefs and other key documents (2015 – 2016).

Puerto Rico at the United Nations

José A. Delgado, “Puerto Rico’s Case Before the UN,” El Nuevo Día, June 20, 2016.

Developments in the Law — The International Place of Puerto Rico,” Harvard Law Review (2017).

Puerto Rican Governor Asks UN to Support Self-Determination,” TeleSur, June 21, 2016.

Special Committee on Decolonization Refers to Post-Hurricane Plight of Puerto Ricans as it Approves Annual Self-Determination Text,” United Nations Meetings Coverage, June 18, 2018.

José A. Delgado Robles, “Aprueban resolución a favor de libre determinación e independencia,” El Nuevo Día, June 18, 2018.


United Nations, “Special Committee on Decolonization Approves Text Calling upon United States Government to Expedite Self-Determination Process for Puerto Rico” (2016).

VIDEO United Nations, “The governor of Puerto Rico Alejandro Garcia Padilla called on the United Nations decolonization committee to put the case of Puerto Rico to the General Assembly of the United Nations Organization and to the Human Rights Council.

Olympic Sovereignty

Jorge Castillo, “As Puerto Rico nears first-ever gold medal, a complicated Olympic history reemerges” Washington Post August 13, 2016.

Gene Demby, “How Monica Puig’s Gold Medal Complicates The Argument for Puerto Rico’s Statehood” NPR Code Switch August 21, 2016.

Leani García, “What Puig’s Olympic Gold Really Means for Puerto Rico” Americas Quarterly August 16, 2016.

Antonio Sotomayor, “Puerto Rico Olímpico: Soberanía, identidad y colonialismo.” Historia(s) Do Sport.

José Nicolás Medina Fuentes, “Béisbol, deporte y lucha anticolonial y antineoliberal” 80 grados April 7, 2017.

Blonds have more fun: Hair dye supplies running low in Puerto Rico as island supports baseball team” Associated Press March 22, 2017.

Yara Simón, “Ahead of May 1 Strikes in PR, This Poet Wants to Take the Power of Puñeta From Sports to Activism” Remezcla April 27, 2017.

Antolín Maldonado Rios, “Bajo amenaza el deporte profesional” El Nuevo Dia April 30, 2017.


Antonio Sotomayor The Sovereign Colony: Olympic Sport, National Identity and International Politics in Puerto Rico (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2016).

The 2017 Plebiscite and the Push for Statehood

Puerto Rico ¿elegirá independencia? en plebiscito de 11 de junio,” HispanTV, February 4, 2017. 

Julie Schwietert Collazo, “Debt Crisis Gives Urgency to Puerto Rico’s coming Statehood Vote” Americas Quarterly June 08, 2017.

Julio Ricardo Varela, “Will US Honor Results of Puerto Rico’s June 11 Plebiscite Vote? DOJ Official Declines to Comment,” Latino USA, May 31, 2017.

Frances Robles, “23% of Puerto Ricans Vote in Referendum, 97% of Them for Statehood,” New York Times, June 11, 2017.

Puerto Rico votes on statehood: Polls and protests,” The Conversation, June 12, 2017.

Lyanne Meléndez García “En secreto la asignación de fondos al Plan Tenesí” Metro June 06, 2017.

Benjamín Torres Gotay, “La perfecta excusa para no actuar,” El Nuevo Día, June 12, 2017.

Alianzas y Boycott:

Alianza de cara al plebiscito” El Nuevo Día March 15, 2017.

Alejandra M Jover Tovar “El PIP cambia de posición y anuncia que no participará del plebiscito” Primera Hora April 17, 2017.

Gloria Ruiz Kuilan. “Hernández Colón: “Ese Plebiscito no vale na” El Nuevo Día April 17, 2017.

Leysa Caro González, “El Partido del Pueblo Trabajador se une al boicot al plebiscito,” El Nuevo Día, May 29, 2017.


“Ley para la Descolonización Inmediata de Puerto Rico de 2017”

Department of Justice Letter to Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló

Enmiendas a la ley del 3 de febrero de 2017

Papeleta modelo 2017


VIDEO: Sana Saeed, “Should Puerto Rico Become The 51st State?,” AJ+, June 4, 2017.

VIDEO: “Foro Abierto – Puerto Rico: Plebiscito en medio de gran crisis fiscal,” HispanTV, May 26, 2017.

VIDEO: De La Nada (feat. Wabbapals), “Plebuchito Plebiscito,”Tripletapr, June 10, 2017.

AUDIO: “THE 51ST STATE?” The 1A show, WAMU, June 13, 2017.

MEMES: “Memes sobre la estadidad en P.R. inundan las redes” Metro June 07, 2017


Frances Negrón-Muntaner, “Introduction,” in None of the Above: Contemporary Puerto Rican Culture and Politics (Palgrave Macmillan,  2007).

Cynthia López Cabán,”Historic journey of the Plebiscite,” El Nuevo Día June 11, 2017.

David Stebenne, “Statehood for Puerto Rico? Lessons from the last time the US added a star to its flag,” The Conversation June 9, 2017.

Ángel Israel Rivera, “¿Quiénes son los libre asociacionistas?,” 80 grados, June 9, 2017.

Luis Gutiérrez, “El Congreso jamás concederá la estadidad,” El Nuevo Día, February 10, 2017.

Benjamín Torres Gotay “Un triste desenlace,” El Nuevo Día, June 11, 2017.

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