The Governing Board of the ‘Commonwealth’ party, which narrowly won control of Puerto Rico’s local government in 2012, yesterday agreed to the plebiscite to resolve the question of the territory’s ultimate status authorized by a Federal law enacted in January.
According to Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla, the party president, the decision will lead to a proposal of various status options for the plebiscite ballot to the U.S. Department of Justice as required by the law. The Department is to ensure that the options do not conflict with the Constitution, laws, and policies of the United States.
As U.S. House of Representatives Member Jose Serrano (D-NY), a Puerto Rico native who was a pivotal figure in the enactment of the Federal law, observed today, U.S. statehood, independence, and nationhood in an association with the U.S. that either nation can end (free association) are the known possible options. The ‘Commonwealth’ party, however, intends to propose an unprecedented alternative political status for the plebiscite.
Four of the 26 Board members present voted against the decision: San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz; Commonwealth House of Representatives Majority Leader Charlie Hernandez; ‘Commonwealth’ Party mayors association president Josean Santiago; and Representative Luis Vega Ramos. The four are not only key leaders of the party but leaders of the wing that wants Puerto Rico to become a nation in an association with the U.S.
They wanted Puerto Rico to hold a government assembly on status instead of a choice by the people among the various status options. The party had pledged to call an assembly if the Federal government did not act before 2014 in response to a plebiscite held under local law along with the 2012 elections. The Federal law was enacted just two and a half weeks after the deadline.
The opposition of the four Board members was echoed later by two other party leaders: Garcia’s unsuccessful running-mate in the 2012 elections, Rafael Cox Alomar, said that ‘Commonwealth,’ referring to the current territory status, “does not work.” Rep. Manuel Natal, who won a special election among party members for his House seat over Garcia’s candidate, said he would continue to fight for the assembly.
A nationhood in an association with the U.S. proposal was recently introduced in the insular Senate by 13 of the 18 ‘Commonwealth’ party members, including Vice President Jose Luis Dalmau and Alternate Majority Leader Rossana Leon Lopez.
Party leaders have felt that it would be easier to have a status proposal they want adopted in an assembly they call than in a plebiscite among Federally approved options.
Disagreement among party leaders on whether to try to address the status issue under the Federal law or through a local assembly is why it took six months for the party to make a decision.
Federal officials have rejected ‘Commonwealth’ party status proposals in every decade since the 1950s. The current proposal has been rebuffed by the Obama, George W. Bush, and Clinton Administrations and congressional committee leaders of both national political parties for constitutional and other reasons.
Under the proposal, Puerto Rico would be a nation but the U.S. would be permanently bound to it. The Commonwealth would have the powers to nullify the application of Federal laws and Federal court jurisdiction. It could also enter into international agreements and organizations that require nationhood. The U.S. would be obligated to grant a new subsidy to the Commonwealth and most of its land in the territory in addition to current aid to individuals. It would also have to continue to grant U.S. citizenship and free entry to goods shipped from Puerto Rico.
Garcia said that he would try to have the party unify behind a single ‘Commonwealth’ status proposal still to be developed. He did not describe its parameters other than to say that, under it, Puerto Rico would not be subject to governing authority of Congress under the U.S. Constitution’s Territory Clause but that it would not be free association.
That would require U.S. statehood or independence … unless the party can devise an unprecedented alternative. President Obama’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status reported in 2011 that Puerto Rico would remain subject to Territory Clause authority under any “Commonwealth” arrangement.
The Governor also did not say when the plebiscite would be held. It was understood, however, that it would be this term of Commonwealth office, which ends as of 2017.
Statehood party leaders reacted to the plebiscite decision by saying that the ‘Commonwealth’ party should have accepted the decision of a plebiscite under local law held along with the 2012 elections. The vote chose statehood by 61% over nationhood in free association with the U.S. and independence. It also rejected the current territory status, sometimes misleadingly called “Commonwealth” after a word in the formal name of the insular government, by 54%.
Statehood party President Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico’s elected representative to the Federal government who had lobbied for the Federal plebiscite law, reiterated that the plebiscite should be on admitting Puerto Rico as a State of the U.S. He has led 131 other members of the U.S. House of Representatives and three U.S. senators in sponsoring legislation to require the president of the United States to submit a plan to change Federal laws to enable Puerto Rico to become a State if Puerto Ricans vote for the status a second time and to pledge that Congress will pass such a plan.
Party activist Ricky Rossello said that another plebiscite was not needed because of Puerto Rico’s 2012 statehood choice but that he would fight for statehood in a plebiscite with multiple status options under the Federal law.
Independence Party leaders, who hoped to reach an agreement with the ‘Commonwealth’ party on an insular government status assembly, reacted harshly to the plebiscite decision. Party President Ruben Berrios charged that the ‘Commonwealth’ party “wants to repeat the farce of 1967 or include a colonial ‘Commonwealth.’” In 1967, a ‘Commonwealth’ party-controlled Government of Puerto Rico called a plebiscite won by a ‘Commonwealth’ proposal Congress and President Ford later rejected.
The Obama White House, which had supported the 2012 plebiscite and hailed its results, proposed the federal plebiscite law. It was concerned that lobbying by Garcia against Federal action on the plebiscite’s statehood petition would result in Congress not acting on the self-determination decision of the people of Puerto Rico.
Garcia, who supported the losing territory status option in the plebiscite, has disputed the vote because it did not include the ‘Commonwealth’ party’s status proposal repeatedly rejected by Federal officials.
This is indeed an attempt to repeat the 1967 farce.
Two posible scenarios. …
Assuming Eric Holder of the Justice Department upholds the constitution and rejects “enhanced commonwealth”.
Commonwealth party will boycott the plebiscite. Statehood will win with over 90%,but just like 2012, will be questioned.
Assuming Eric Holder ignores the constitution and ok’s “enhanced Commonwealth” …..
49% Enhanced Commonwealth
“Enhanced Commonwealth will be declared VICTORIOUS by plurality by the same Commonwealth party that denied statehood’s 61% /”45%” plurality win. In the PDP party, only commonwealth may win by plurality.
Once Congress rejects Enhanced Commonwealth, 50 more years of status quo.
Commonwealth party wins.