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‘Commonwealth’ Party Legislator Sponsors Statehood Plebiscite Bill; Party Split Three Ways on Ballot Question

A ‘Commonwealth’ party member of Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives today introduced a bill to have a plebiscite on statehood in the territory along with the 2016 general elections.

Carlos Vargas formalized the proposal of Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla’s predecessor as ‘Commonwealth’ party president. Former House Minority Leader Hector Ferrer left public life in 2012 amidst allegations that an investigation later found lacked sufficient evidence but recently said that he might challenge Garcia within their party for the gubernatorial nomination in 2016.

Garcia Padilla’s Secretary General of the ‘Commonwealth’ party, Jorge Suarez, said that the party’s Governing Board will consider Vargas’ proposal at a meeting originally scheduled for today but postponed until a date later this month still to be determined.

Garcia recently proposed that the territory have a plebiscite under a Federal law enacted in January. The law provided for a plebiscite on an option or options that can resolve the questions of Puerto Rico’s ultimate status and are found by the U.S. Department of Justice to not conflict with the Constitution, laws, and policies of the United States.

The Governor proposed that the plebiscite be on multiple options, including a new definition of “Commonwealth” proposed by former Governor Rafael Hernandez Colon that he endorsed. It would interpret rather than change the territory’s status.  The interpretation would claim that, although Puerto Rico remains subject to the broad powers of Congress to govern territories, Congress has given up the powers of all future Congresses to govern Puerto Rico on matters considered within the authority of States.

The proposal would also fund Puerto Rico equally with the States in all Federal social programs  and change the application of tax, trade, ocean freight, airline route laws to the territory.

Other party leaders want the “Commonwealth” option for a plebiscite or Puerto Rico Government status assembly to be a development of the party’s current definition of “Commonwealth.” Under it, Puerto Rico would become a nation but in a permanent arrangement with the U.S. in which the Commonwealth could limit Federal laws and court jurisdiction and enter into international trade and other agreements. At the same time the U.S. would be obligated to continue to provide Puerto Rico with U.S. citizenship, current program benefits for individuals, free entry to goods shipped from Puerto Rico, and a new budgetary subsidy to the local government.

Puerto Rico’s representative to the Federal government and statehood party president, Pedro Pierluisi, initially proposed having the plebiscite on statehood. The Commonwealth’s Resident Commissioner has led 131 other members of the U.S. House of Representatives and three U.S. senators in proposing Federal legislation for a statehood plebiscite.

The bills by Pierluisi and others would require the president of the United States to propose a plan for changing Federal spending and tax laws over a multi-year period to enable Puerto Rico to become a State if Puerto Ricans vote for the status a second time. The legislation would also pledge congressional approval of such a plan.

Puerto Ricans overwhelmingly chose statehood over nationhood in a plebiscite under local law held along with the 2012 elections after rejecting the current territory status, sometimes misleadingly called “Commonwealth” after the official name of the insular government.

Garcia has strongly opposed the statehood plebiscite idea.  He seems to be concerned that a statehood plebiscite would result in a second victory for the status.

Statehood, independence, and nationhood in an association with the U.S. that either nation can end are the possible options for the plebiscite that have significant support in Puerto Rico.

A “Commonwealth” proposal cannot be an option because it either cannot resolve the question of Puerto Rico’s ultimate status or would conflict with the Constitution, laws, and policies of the U.S.

The ‘Commonwealth’ party has made different proposals for an unprecedented political status it calls “Commonwealth” in every decade since the 1950s. Federal officials have rejected each one for U.S. constitutional and other reasons. So, a new “Commonwealth” proposal is unlikely to be found consistent with the Constitution, laws, and policies of the U.S.

The Obama White House, which had supported the 2012 plebiscite and hailed its results, proposed the Federal plebiscite law enacted in January. The White House was concerned that Garcia’s lobbying against Federal action on the local plebiscite’s statehood petition would result in the Congress not acting on Puerto Rico’s self-determination decision. Leaders of both national political parties in Congress agreed.










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