Some federal officials uninitiated in Puerto Rico status politics seem surprised that the local political party advocating perpetuation of the current status is now colluding with the local independence party in an anti-statehood alliance. The expedient purpose of the alliance is opposition to a new federal law to sponsor a status vote on options defined by the Puerto Rico Election Commission and confirmed as legally valid by the U.S. Attorney General. That was the joint message of the two anti-statehood parties in a recent Election Commission hearing.
In defense of the current status, the commonwealth party long has opposed any status votes that limit options to those recognized under federal law as compatible with the U.S. Constitution. That is because the platform of the commonwealth party seeks to perpetuate the current status by holding out an unattainable “enhanced commonwealth” that combines features of statehood, independence and territorial status. The “enhanced commonwealth” doctrine repeatedly has been rejected by Congress as unconstitutional and impossible for practical reasons.
Collaboration between the commonwealth party and the independence party in an effort to block a federally authorized referendum, approved in a bill passed by bipartisan vote in Congress signed by the President, seems anti-democratic to many observers. But the independence party position seeking to impede further self-determination on terms approved by Congress comes as no surprise to anyone who heard the independence party panelist at last February’s conference on the future status of Puerto Rico hosted by the Harvard Law School.
Professor Carlos Gorrin Peralta made the long-standing independence party position quite clear when panel moderator and HLS professor Richard Fallon proposed that supporters of commonwealth, statehood and independence agree to participate in a local status assembly to develop a status proposal to be approved by voters and presented to Congress. When asked if the independence party would respect the result if a local assembly led to a majority vote for statehood, Gorrin Peralta answered adamantly, “Of course not.”
By way of explanation Gorrin Peralta stated that independence is an “inalienable right” of all peoples “subjected to colonialism,” so that even a democratic vote for statehood would constitute being “forced to join a nation which is not their own.” Gorrin Peralta then asserted that even if a majority vote led to admission as a state the people would retain a separate sovereign right to “on going self-determination,” and would “keep fighting for independence” regardless of what the majority of the people want.
The independence party spokesman argued that because “American constitutionalism is not designed for a multinational society” even democratic self-determination is trumped by separatist ideology. Referring to the American Civil War, in which the right to secede in favor of independence was denied, Gorrin Peralta said, “We don’t care” because that is a “constitutional problem of the United States.” In making these arguments Gorrin Peralta asked if Congress really believes it is viable to bring “another nation” into the union based on a 51% majority, or even a 65% majority, when 1/3 to 1/2 of the people will oppose and resist statehood.
Taken together Gorrin Peralta’s statements ignored the historical facts that Texas was an independent republic when it was admitted to the union, New Mexico was majority Spanish speaking, and that several states would not have been admitted if majorities greater than the 51% to 65% range he views as insufficient had been required to establish consent of the governed to statehood.
Nevertheless, the independence party now has aligned itself with commonwealth party tactics to prevent another vote that might confirm the 2012 vote in which statehood was chosen by 61%. To stop statehood the new alliance of strange bedfellows has the purpose of blocking any federally sponsored vote on options approved by the U.S. Attorney General.
The U.S. Congress also provided a $2.5 million federal grant to conduct a vote to confirm the results of the 2012 locally conducted referendum. But if the anti-statehood agenda of the party tied to the status quo and the independence party prevails there will not be another status vote in the territory any time soon.
*The author served as lead counsel in the White House National Security Council and provided advice and counsel on territorial status affairs during the Reagan administration. The views expressed above are his personal opinions only and do not necessarily represent the views of the Puerto Rico Report. This is the first in a three-day series of articles.