The “Commonwealth” party president of Puerto Rico’s Elections Commission this week acted to prevent insular voters from choosing what the territory’s ultimate political status should be under a Federal law enacted in January.
Ángel González Román refused to accept the Federal authorization for the Commission to propose status options for a plebiscite to the U.S. Department of Justice. He claimed that the Commission did not have authority to propose the options — despite the committee of representatives of both houses of the Congress on the law agreeing with the Justice Department that the law provides for the Commission to make the proposal.
González took his position after the representatives of the “Commonwealth” and Independence parties on the Commission opposed the statehood party representative’s motion for the Commission to propose the options.
Statehood party President Pedro Pierluisi, the Commonwealth’s representative to the Federal government with a seat — but not a vote — in the U.S. House of Representatives, had called for the Commission to act.
Pierluisi also proposed that the plebiscite be on statehood.
He has led 132 members of Congress in proposing bills in both the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate that would require Federal action on making Puerto Rico a State if Puerto Ricans vote for the status again. They initially voted for statehood in a plebiscite under local law held along with the November 2012 elections.
The actions of González and the Commission’s “Commonwealth” and Independence parties’ representatives will not necessarily permanently prevent a plebiscite under the Federal law. 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 2012 lobbied against positive congressional action on the results of the plebiscite held along with the elections. The plebiscite soundly rejected territory status, the option supported in the plebiscite by now Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla, and chose statehood by a 2-1 margin over the two nationhood options — independence and nationhood in an association with the U.S. that either nation could end.
The Federal law provides for a plebiscite on options proposed by the Elections Commission that can resolve the question of Puerto Rico’s ultimate status and are found by the U.S. Justice Department to not conflict with the Constitution, laws, and policies of the United States. The possible options are statehood, independence, and nationhood in a free association with the U.S.
Puerto Rico’s current status, territory, cannot be an option because it cannot resolve the question of the Commonwealth’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 new “Commonwealth” status that Garcia Padilla and other ‘commonwealthers’ want also cannot be an option because it is impossible for constitutional and other reasons, according to the Obama, George W. Bush, and Clinton Administrations and congressional leaders of both national political parties.
The “Commonwealth” party has refused to accept the results of the 2012 plebiscite because it did not include this status proposal. Under the plan, 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.
Garcia publicly supported the new 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.
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 would be limited to proposals that are possible to implement, excluding a non-territory “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.
Because it is made up of representatives of Puerto Rico’s three status-based political parties parties, the Elections Commission can do what an assembly is proposed to do — but without the cost and time that would be required for an assembly.
The Commission proposing status options for the plebiscite to the U.S. Justice Department would also provide for the Federal-territorial dialogue on insular status aspirations that assembly proponents say they want.
Commission versus assembly proposal of the options would provide for the dialogue without raising the false expectations and causing a stalemate on the status issue that an assembly could raise and cause by adopting an impossible “Commonwealth” plan that the Federal government would not accept.
Pierluisi has pointed out that a statehood plebiscite would be fair because opponents and supporters of statehood would have an equal opportunity to express their views and that the “Commonwealth” party proposed a statehood plebiscite as late as 2010.
Party leaders now fear that a plebiscite under the Federal law will result in another resounding statehood victory.