Puerto Rico’s “Commonwealth” and Independence parties united in its Elections Commission yesterday to block action needed for the plebiscite on the territory’s ultimate political status provided for by a new Federal law.
Their representatives on the Commission opposed a move by the statehood party to take the first step towards the plebiscite: proposing a plan for the vote including ballot options that would resolve the status issue and not conflict with the Constitution, laws, and policies of the United States to the Federal Justice Department.
The Commonwealth’s representative to the Federal government, Pedro Pierluisi, had urged the Commission to propose the plan and suggested that the plebiscite be on statehood.
The “Commonwealth” and Independence parties’ opposition will not necessarily permanently prevent a plebiscite under the Federal law from taking place. The law’s provisions continue to be in effect and will be until after the next elections in Puerto Rico, which statehooders would sweep if held today, polls suggest.
The law was proposed by President Obama and passed by Congress in January because the “Commonwealth” party governor and Legislative Assembly majorities very narrowly elected in November 2012 lobbied against positive congressional action on the results of the plebiscite under local law held along with the elections. The plebiscite soundly rejected territory status, the option supported in the local plebiscite by now Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla, and chose statehood by a 2-1 margin over the two nationhood options.
Garcia Padilla and other ‘commonwealthers’ have refused to accept the results certified by the Elections Commission and hailed by Obama’s spokesman because the plebiscite did not include their proposal for Puerto Rico’s status. Under it, Puerto Rico would be a nation able to enter into agreements with other nations but the U.S. would be permanently bound to it and to an arrangement which would also empower Puerto Rico to nullify Federal laws and Federal court jurisdiction. The U.S. would, further, be obligated to give the Commonwealth a new subsidy, all current assistance to Puerto Ricans, free entry to any goods shipped from Puerto Rico, and citizenship to anyone born in Puerto Rico.
The Federal law’s possible plebiscite options are statehood and nationhood, either in an association with the U.S. that either nation can end or fully independent of the U.S. — the other options in Puerto Rico’s local plebiscite in 2012.
Territory status, sometimes misleadingly called “Commonwealth” after the formal name of the insular government, cannot be an option because it cannot resolve the question of Puerto Rico’s ultimate status. As long as Puerto Rico is a territory, its people, U.S. citizens by birth, can petition the Federal government for statehood or nationhood.
The Elections Commission includes one representative each from the statehood, “Commonwealth,” and Independence parties and a president appointed by the governor, who acts if the party representatives are in disagreement.
The president of the Commission appointed by Gov. Garcia is expected to also reject action to enable the plebiscite.
Garcia publicly supported the Federal law before it was enacted — but some of his representatives unsuccessfully tried to undermine it in congressional meetings. Their argument was that the Governor and the Legislative Assembly (controlled by their party) should plan the plebiscite instead of the Elections Commission (in which the statehood and Independence parties could have a greater say).
The Federal law, however, does not prevent Puerto Rico’s governor and legislature from enacting a law that the Commission would have to follow. In fact, an insular law would be needed to conduct the plebiscite, probably to provide funding in addition to the $2.5 million that the Federal law would grant and definitely to make other arrangements.
The Federal law establishes the Federal expectations that a further Puerto Rican status choice would be made by vote of the people and limited to proposals that are possible to implement, excluding “Commonwealth.”
Shortly after the law was enacted in January, Garcia said that he would propose a combination of its status choice process and the process that his party had said it would legislate if the Federal legislation were not enacted before January. The party’s process would call an insular government assembly on the issue.
The Legislative Assembly created a joint committee to plan the status assembly even before the December 31, 2013 deadline.
Garcia recently asked the legislature to consider the process provided for by Federal law along with an insular status assembly — but to not act before August.
Pierluisi, who has a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives with a vote only in committees, heads the statehood party, and was the top vote getter in the 2012 elections, gave several reasons for the plebiscite being on statehood.
- Statehood won the 2012 plebiscite.
- 132 members of the U.S. House and Senate have sponsored bills for a plebiscite on statehood and there is no Federal legislation for any other approach.
- A statehood plebiscite would be fair because opponents and supporters of statehood would have an equal opportunity to express their view.
- A statehood plebiscite would have a definitive result.
- Statehood meets the Federal law’s requirement for resolving the status issue.
- Statehood meets the law’s requirement for not conflicting with Federal law.
- The “Commonwealth” party proposed a statehood plebiscite as late as 2010.