Fantasy Island Revisited

Juan Hernandez Mayoral, head of Puerto Rico’s Federal Affairs Administration, has written a post on the Website of The Hill, a newspaper for the congressional community, asking readers to focus on improving Puerto Rico’s distressed economy instead of the political status underlying the territory’s economic problems.

Former “Commonwealth” party Senator Hernandez began by suggesting that proponents of statehood for Puerto Rico are “misrepresenting the outcome of the 2012 plebiscite” instead of working toward an improved quality of life for Puerto Ricans.

In the November 2012 vote, Puerto Ricans rejected the current territory status supported by Hernandez by 54% and chose statehood among the alternatives by 61.2%.  Nationhood in an association with the U.S. that either nation could end obtained 33.3% of the vote among the alternatives to the current territory status misleadingly called “Commonwealth” and full independence got 4.5%.

The “Commonwealth” party supported the losing territory status option in the plebiscite but objected to the vote because it did not include the party’s proposed “Development of the Commonwealth.”  Under the proposal, the U.S. would be permanently bound to a nation of Puerto Rico under an arrangement from which it could not withdraw — effectively making the U.S. a colony of Puerto Rico.

U.S. laws would apply but only to the extent agreed by the Commonwealth government.  It would be able to enter into international agreements as if it were a sovereign nation.  The U.S. would be required to grant a new subsidy to the insular government and transfer ownership of Federal land. It would also have to continue all programs benefitting Puerto Ricans , U.S. citizenship, and free access to products shipped from Puerto Rico.

Federal executive and legislative branch officials of both national parties have rejected the proposal as impossible for constitutional and other reasonsThe Democratic and Republican leaders of the committee responsible for the status of territories recently wrote to Puerto Rico’s political leaders reiterating that ” a majority of Puerto Ricans do not support the current relationship with the United States” and that “non-viable status options such as ‘enhanced commonwealth’ should not be considered.”

Having made this claim, Hernandez goes on to suggest that Puerto Rico’s real issue is the economy.  Puerto Rico’s economic woes are tied to Puerto Rico’s status, however. As the territory’s official representative to the Federal government, Pedro Pierluisi, who heads the statehood party,  explained in the U.S. House of Representatives:

As long as Puerto Rico remains a territory, deprived of equal treatment under critical federal spending and tax credit programs, forced to borrow heavily to make up the difference, and lacking the ability to vote for the president and members of Congress who make our national laws, the island will be in a position merely to manage, rather than to surmount, its economic problems. This is the only reasonable conclusion to draw from decades of empirical evidence.

Hernandez concludes that “Commonwealth status is the only option that allows the island to maintain its instrumental fiscal autonomy… while retaining its unique cultural heritage and strong national identity.”  Hernandez mistakenly believes that the Federal government cannot apply further taxes to the territory when, in fact, it can and has.  Puerto Rico’s “fiscal autonomy” is merely the local taxing authority that States have under the U.S. Constitution and Federal law has allowed all territories to exercise.

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