The 2012 congressional candidate of Puerto Rico’s ‘commonwealth’ party said February 22nd that the current governing “system of the island has collapsed” and that it needs a complete “reinvention,” according to El Nuevo Dia.
“Our model simply failed,” said Rafael Cox Alomar, who was Governor Garcia Padilla’s unsuccessful running mate for Puerto Rico’s lone seat in Congress with a vote only in committees of the U.S. House.
Puerto Rico’s governing arrangement is known as ‘commonwealth’ after a word in the official name of the territorial government, but Puerto Rico is fully subject to the U.S. Constitution’s Territory Clause and the Federal government’s related broad authority to govern territories in national and local matters. In 1952, Congress chose to grant Puerto Rico authority to organize its own local government, which States already have the power to do under the Constitution.
Cox’s political party, considered the second largest in the territory to the statehood party, is known as the ‘commonwealth’ party. It has proposed an unprecedented “Commonwealth” political status to replace the current territory status. Under the proposal, the United States would be permanently bound to Puerto Rico and to required to grant all current assistance to individuals in the islands, new assistance to the insular government, free entry of goods shipped from Puerto Rico into the States, and continued U.S. citizenship.
Puerto Rico would also be empowered to nullify the application of Federal laws and Federal court jurisdiction and to enter into international trade, tax, and other agreements and organizations requiring national sovereignty.
Federal officials under Democrats and Republican presidents, including President Obama, and congressional committees under Republicans and Democrats have rejected the proposal as impossible for constitutional and basic policy and workability reasons. The ‘commonwealth’ party officially supports the current governing arrangement until the U.S. Government can be persuaded to change its position – although there is nothing to suggest it may do so.
Cox made the statements during a speech commemorating the birth of the founder of the ‘commonwealth’ party, who engineered the Federal and insular actions for the current Federal-territorial governing arrangement, and who initially proposed some of the autonomy now advocated by the ‘commonwealth’ party. In his address, Cox took aim at the governing arrangement crafted by his party’s founder more than 60 years ago as well as at the authority for many laws enacted by Congress.
Cox called for repeal of the Puerto Rican Federal Relations Act, the basic law outlining Federal-territorial relations. He also advocated Puerto Rico’s exemption from congressional authority under the Commerce Clause.
The Commerce Clause gives Congress broad power to regulate matters affecting commerce between the States and between the U.S. and foreign nations.
Other than the fundamental rights of individuals, provisions of the U.S. Constitution apply to Puerto Rico as determined by Congress or the courts.
In 1964, a Puerto Rico Supreme Court comprised of ‘commonwealthers’ judged that the Commerce Clause did not apply in cases involving Puerto Rico, but, in 1992, the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals held that the Commerce Clause does apply. Last year the Puerto Rico Supreme Court changed its position, agreeing with the Federal court.
Cox Alomar also reiterated a major theme of his unsuccessful congressional campaign: that ocean shipping between the States and Puerto Rico and between Puerto Rican ports be exempted from the Federal government’s ocean cabotage laws. The laws require that the shipping be on American built, owned, flagged, and crewed vessels. The U.S. Transportation and Defense Departments, congressional leaders, and U.S. ship builders and workers have opposed exemption of Puerto Rico from the laws.
Pedro Pierluisi, who defeated Cox in 2012, has asked the U.S. Government Accountability Office, a non-partisan arm of Congress to assess the impacts on Puerto Rico and the Nation of an exemption for Puerto Rican shipping. The study is expected to be completed in the coming months.