In December 2017, word spread quickly via social media that the United States intends to return the territory of Puerto Rico to Spain after a report detailing such a plan was published in the Puerto Rican newspaper El Nuevo Día.
The report said the plan was the result of secret negotiations between the United States and Spain (translation ours):
A hundred and nineteen years after the Treaty of Paris, which enabled the transfer of ownership of Puerto Rico from Spain to the United States, Madrid and Washington have virtually finalized an agreement to return the jurisdiction of the Caribbean island to the European country, endi.com sources have confirmed.
The deal, which has been negotiated in secret for at least two years, is not yet official, but it has the approval of Presidents Donald Trump of the United States and Mariano Rajoy of Spain and certain technical details are all that remain to finalize.
An announcement was expected before the end of the year, but it is possible that the emergence of last-minute complications will delay approval of the transfer until the first days of 2018. The agreement has to be approved by the US Congress, which was occupied until the last hours of his last session by federal tax reform and did not have time to address this issue.
It was reported that the agreement has overwhelming support in Congress. “This has long been done. Moreover, the United States should never have taken possession of Puerto Rico. It was a mistake. Puerto Rico has cost us too much, ” said Alabama Republican Sen. Luke McCullen.
Whatever surface plausibility the article may have had stemmed from strained relations between the United States and Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in September 2017. The territory was devastated by the storm, which left millions without power and basic necessities for months. The Trump administration was criticized by many inside and outside Puerto Rico for what was termed an inadequate, too-slow response to the crisis. President Trump said the government’s response compared favorably to that in past hurricanes and told Puerto Ricans the effort had thrown the federal budget “out of whack.”
Although El Nuevo Día is a reputable daily newspaper, a number of clues point to the information being false. For one, no such plan has been reported by any mainstream news outlets anywhere in the world but El Nuevo Día. For another, the agreement has not come up for public debate or voting in Congress, despite the claim that it “enjoys overwhelming support” there. Additionally, there is no U.S. Senator from Alabama (or any other state) named Luke McCullen. (The article also names a fictional U.S. Ambassador to Spain, “Cletus Ryder.” The actual ambassador, confirmed by the Senate in November 2017, is Duke Buchan.)
A disclaimer at the bottom of the article revealed that the story is, in fact, a prank:
Nota del editor: esta historia no es verídica. ¡Feliz Día de los Santos Inocentes!
[Tr: “Editor’s note: This story isn’t true. Happy Day of the Holy Innocents!”]
The Day of the Holy Innocents (28 December) is a holiday celebrated in Spanish-speaking countries on which it is customary to play pranks and spread hoaxes, similar to April Fools’ Day in the U.S. and elsewhere.