The Puerto Rico Senate has delayed consideration of legislation calling for a federally-sponsored referendum on Puerto Rico’s political status. The bill, called “The Law for the Immediate Decolonization of Puerto Rico (S.B. 51), ” was introduced by Thomas Rivera Schatz, President of the Puerto Rico Senate.
The proposal originally set the date for the next Puerto Rico plebiscite as May 28, 2017, but that date appears to be slipping to early June. The options on the ballot in the legislative proposal would be statehood or independence. If independence was the people’s choice, a second vote in September would determine whether Puerto Rico would negotiate an Associated Free State agreement with the United States, or start again as a sovereign independent nation.
The Marshall Islands and Palau are examples of U.S. territories which became Free Associated States, while the Philippines and Cuba are former U.S. possessions which became independent nations. None have U.S. citizenship, and none receive federal resources at Puerto Rico’s current level.
Former governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla had promised to hold the federally authorized vote in 2016, but his party, the “commonwealth” party, was unable to come up with a definition of the “commonwealth” option which they were determined to keep on the ballot. The Department of Justice must approve all ballot options, and has already said that “enhanced commonwealth” is not a viable option under the U.S. Constitution. Influential U.S. decision makers and legal experts have affirmed over the years that “Commonwealth” is “unrealistic,” “deceptive,” “unacceptable, and “unattainable myth.”
S.B. 51, which includes only options approved by the U.S. Department of Justice as constitutional, was to have been considered on January 25, 2017, but the senate has now postponed the bill’s consideration indefinitely, according to Caribbean Business. The same source says that the current minority party, the “commonwealth” party, has demanded an opportunity to come up with a “commonwealth” option for the ballot, but that members of that party are complaining that there is no “real proposal to address Puerto Rico’s political reality in relation to the United States.”
The situation is reminiscent of the stalemate in 2014. The idea of “enhanced commonwealth” has been rejected over and over by the U.S. government, but the “commonwealth” party minority continues to insist that this option should be on the ballot. The U.S. government has already stated that the federally-funded plebiscite cannot include any options which are not consistent with the U.S. constitution.