Top leaders of Puerto Rico’s “Commonwealth” party are sending letters to U.S. senators to discourage Federal action on making the territory a State even if Puerto Ricans vote for equality in the U.S. for a second time.
The letters from Governor Alejandro Garcia-Padilla and others respond to a Senate bill to require the president of the United States to propose statehood transition legislation if Puerto Ricans vote for statehood in a “Yes” or “No” plebiscite. The bill would also pledge the Congress to pass statehood transition legislation.
The bill sponsored by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) mirrors one introduced by 130 members of the U.S. House of Representatives led by Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner, Pedro Pierluisi, who heads the territory’s statehood party.
Puerto Ricans rejected their current territory status by 54% in a plebiscite held along with Puerto Rico’s quadrennial elections in November 2012. Territory status is sometimes called “Commonwealth“ after a word in the formal name of the insular government. Voters also chose statehood among the alternatives by 61.2% .
The letters to all other members of the Senate are inconsistent with requests of the “Commonwealth” party to Congress as late as 2010 to pass a bill for a Statehood: “Yes” or “No” plebiscite.
Garcia-Padilla wrote February 27th that the Senate should instead pass a bill increasing funding to prevent drug trafficking through Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The Governor also asserted that the Federal government should otherwise “be solely focused” regarding Puerto Rico on the drug trafficking and stimulating the territory’s economy. This excludes any of the territory’s other needs. He characterized the bill as “untimely.”
Garcia-Padilla’s letter contended that drug trafficking and the territory’s failing economy “are inextricably linked.” He did not explain how.
The Governor, additionally, wrote that the 2012 plebiscite excluded “the Commonwealth,” although that reads as a reference to the territory’s insular government rather than to a status option. The plebiscite’s first question was “Yes” or “No” on the territory’s current status.
The word “Commonwealth” can also refer to the unprecedented governing status that the “Commonwealth” party really wants. It would permanently empower Puerto Rico to nullify the application of Federal laws and Federal court jurisdictions and to enter into international agreements and organizations while obtaining greater benefits than at present from the Federal government. This “Commonwealth” proposal has been conclusively determined by Federal authorities of both national political parties to be a legal and practical impossibility and was, therefore, not included on the plebiscite ballot.
Garcia-Padilla claimed that the percentage of the vote for statehood in the plebiscite was 44.4%, although Puerto Rico’s tripartisan Elections Commission reported the percentage was 61.16%. The Governor counted non-votes in the result. The Commission and Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court, however, have said that only votes count in plebiscites as well as in elections.
Puerto Rico House of Representatives Speaker Jaime Perello-Borras wrote U.S. senators a day later, characterizing the Heinrich-Wyden bill as requiring a plebiscite on statehood. The bill’s only requirement, however, is for the president of the United States to propose statehood transition legislation if Puerto Ricans vote for statehood in a “Yes” or “No” plebiscite. The decision of whether to hold the plebiscite is left up to the Government of Puerto Rico.
Perello-Borras also wrote that Puerto Ricans had “never … voted to make Puerto Rico a state.” The official result of the 2012 plebiscite was that 61.16% of voters chose statehood.
The territory’s House speaker also contended that the congressional legislation would “deprive voters the right to elect their own system of government,” and that “that some voters would “be willfully excluded” from voting in the plebiscite.” In fact, however, voters could as easily vote against statehood under the bill as vote for it. Additionally, the bill contains no language that would disenfranchise any Puerto Rico voters.
Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration Director Juan Hernandez went further in a letter to senators, contending that the bill “excludes the majority of Puerto Rican voters” from its plebiscite. Again, the bill contains no language that would disenfranchise any Puerto Rico voters.
Hernandez as well wrote that “statehood has never garnered a majority of votes in Puerto Rico.” The vote for statehood in the 2012 was 61.16%.
He additionally asserted that the current status “prevailed every time it has been on the ballot” even though it was rejected the two times that it appeared — in 1998 as well as in 2012.
The letters from all three suggested that the Heinrich-Wyden bill (and, therefore, the bill by 130 U.S. House members as well) is incompatible with the legislation enacted into Federal law in January for a plebiscite on a status option or options that can resolve Puerto Rico’s status –even though Pierluisi and Wyden were principal advocates of the law and statehood is a possible option for the new law’s plebiscite.
The letters were also interesting because representatives of the “Commonwealth” party leadership quietly tried to discourage enactment of the new law, which was proposed by President Obama.