Commonwealth (U.S. insular area): Wikis


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In the terminology of the United States insular areas, a Commonwealth is a type of organized but unincorporated dependent territory.

Commonwealth term definition as per current U.S. State Department policy (as codified in the department's Foreign Affairs Manual) reads: "The term "Commonwealth" does not describe or provide for any specific political status or relationship. It has, for example, been applied to both states and territories. When used in connection with areas under U.S. sovereignty that are not states, the term broadly describes an area that is self-governing under a constitution of its adoption and whose right of self-government will not be unilaterally withdrawn by Congress".[1]

There are currently two United States insular areas classified with the status of commonwealth, the Northern Mariana Islands and Puerto Rico.


Current commonwealths


Commonwealth of Puerto Rico

Of the current U.S. insular areas, the term was first used by Puerto Rico in 1952 as its formal name in English ("Commonwealth of Puerto Rico") since a strict translation of its name in Spanish would have been unacceptable to the U.S. Congress. The formal name in Spanish for Puerto Rico is "Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico," which translates literally as "Associated Free State of Puerto Rico" or as Free Associated State (a state in "free association").

Despite the Spanish translation of the term "commonwealth", Puerto Rico's relationship with United States is not a Compact of Free Association (which is the case for the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, and the Marshall Islands). As sovereign states, these islands have full right to conduct their own foreign relations, while the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico has territorial status subject to United States congressional authority under the Constitution's Territory Clause, “to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory belonging to the United States.”[2]

The territory was organized by the Foraker Act in 1900, which was amended by the Jones-Shafroth Act in 1917. The drafting of the Constitution of Puerto Rico by its residents was authorized by Congress in 1951, and the result approved in 1952. Puerto Rico does not have the right to unilaterally declare independence, but several referendums have been held, with the option for full U.S. statehood or full independence. At the last referendum (1998) the narrow majority voted for "none of the above", which was a formally undefined alternative used by commonwealth supporters to express their desire for an "enhanced commonwealth" option.[2]

Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands

In 1976, Congress approved the mutually negotiated Covenant to Establish a Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) in Political Union with the United States.[3]

Representation in Congress

See: United States House of Representatives#Apportionment

Former commonwealths

Commonwealth of the Philippines

The Commonwealth of the Philippines was an insular area that held commonwealth status from March 24, 1934 until July 4, 1946. The United States recognized the future independence of the Philippines in 1934 but called for a transitional period from 1934 until 1946[citation needed] when the Philippines became fully independent.

See also



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