“Commonwealth” party leaders trying to agree on a new party political status proposal for Puerto Rico should abandon “commonwealth status” proposals that have failed in Congress, a “commonwealth” party senator has written.
Senator Ramon Luis Nieves wrote in an update of a book he originally authored in 2009, “The Free Associated State We Want,” that the ‘development of the Commonwealth’ should be nationhood in an association with the U.S.
Six months ago, the “commonwealth” party’s Governing Board tasked four former party presidents with drafting a new status proposal for the party to offer in a plebiscite authorized by a Federal law enacted 13 months ago.
The Board gave the assignment to the former party presidents after many of its members refused to go along with the status proposal of the current president, Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla. The opposition made it clear that the Legislative Assembly would not approve his plan.
Garcia Padilla’s “commonwealth status” would have supposedly exempted Puerto Rico from the authority of Congress to enact policies regarding territories but only in some areas. It also called for: the Federal government to fund the territory equally with the States in all social programs; exempting from Federal taxation earnings that companies in the States attribute to manufacturing in Puerto Rico; an exemption from ocean freight laws; and trade protection for Puerto Rican agricultural products.
All are “commonwealth” proposals that the Federal government has repeatedly rejected — prime examples of the failed proposals that Nieves said the party should abandon.
Nieves and a substantial minority of the Governing Board want Puerto Rico to become a nation in “free association” with the U.S. Under free association, nations share governing authority with each retaining the right to end the association.
Newspaper Primera Hora quoted Nieves as saying that a territory status as at present “is not enough to address the economic and social problems that we have in this country,” already referring to the territory as a nation, as is common in the “commonwealth” party. It reported that he emphasized a need to “design a new country,” however.
The Board was only able to agree on one aspect of a new status proposal: that it guarantee future generations of Puerto Ricans U.S. citizenship. Such a provision, however, would be inconsistent with the nationhood required for free association.
In an interview with El Nuevo Dia newspaper, Nieves pointed out that it would not be unconstitutional for the U.S. to grant its citizenship to all citizens of a nation of Puerto Rico. He did not, however, address the many U.S. Government policy objections to all citizens of another nation being U.S. citizens.
According to El Nuevo Dia, Nieves argued that the free association the U.S. would establish with Puerto Rico would be different from the free associations it has entered into with three former parts of what was a Pacific islands territory. One reason he gave was that citizens of that territory had not been U.S. citizens. Another was that the economies of the U.S. and Puerto Rico are “much more intensely integrated” than were the economies of the U.S. and the Pacific islands territory — although this claim of his is debatable.
The “commonwealth” party needs to come up with a new definition of “commonwealth status” because the Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama Administrations rejected its current proposal for “the development of the Commonwealth” as impossible for constitutional and other reasons. Additionally, Garcia Padilla has called for a plebiscite under the Federal law enacted 13 months ago.
The Federal law provides for a plebiscite limited to options that would “resolve” the question of Puerto Rico’s ultimate political status and would not conflict with the Constitution, laws and policies of the U.S.
It was enacted because Garcia and the “commonwealth” party majorities in each house of the Legislative Assembly also very narrowly elected in November 2012 refused to accept the results of Puerto Rico’s first plebiscite limited to possible status options held at the time they were elected.
The 2012 plebiscite rejected Puerto Rico’s current territory status and chose statehood among the alternatives. Garcia supported the losing territory status option in the plebiscite.
The current territory status could not be an option for the plebiscite provided for by Federal law because it cannot fulfill the requirement of being able to resolve the Puerto Rico status question: Puerto Ricans would continue to be able to petition for statehood or nationhood.
The “commonwealth” party’s main objection to the 2012 plebiscite was that it did not include a proposal like its current status plan. Such a plan also could not be an option for the plebiscite provided for by Federal law because it conflicts with the Constitution, laws, and policies of the U.S.
Neither Garcia’s nor Nieves’ status proposals could also be options because of their conflicts with the Constitution, laws, and policies of the U.S.
Despite six months of talks, the four former “commonwealth” party presidents are not close to an agreement.
The four came from different sides on the Governing Board. Former Governor Rafael Hernandez Colon (1973-6 and 1985-92) is the apparent author of Garcia’s “commonwealth” territory proposal. Former Governor Anibal Acevedo Vila (2005-8) is a nationalist who wants the U.S. to assume the $73 billion in debts of government in Puerto Rico.
According to Primera Hora, Acevedo declared that Puerto Rico needs nationhood in an association with the U.S. — but with the U.S. citizenship incompatible with nationhood — “to give us the tools to solve economic crisis today and those that may arise during the next 10 or 15 years because all countries have crises, they need is to have the ability and the tools to address the crises that may arise.”