In a change of strategy, Puerto Rico Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla has announced plans to hold a status plebiscite before the end of his current political term in 2016.
In the most recent plebiscite, held in November 2012, 54% of voters rejected Puerto Rico’s territorial status and a majority selected statehood from among the alternatives. Governor Garcia Padilla has disputed the vote on the basis that the ballot did not include all the “adequate alternatives to statehood – such as remaining a commonwealth.”
The governor’s Popular Democratic Party’s (PDP) platform calls for an “developed” or “enhanced” commonwealth, in which Puerto Rico would remain within the United States but have authority to reject Federal laws of its choosing and enjoy sovereign powers such as international trade and treaty authority, while also maintaining a common market and national security measures with the U.S., keeping U.S. citizenship and receiving Federal funding. The relationship would be guided by a “mutual consent” arrangement, the terms of which neither Puerto Rico nor the Federal government could change without the other’s agreement. There is a long history of Congress and Presidents of both major political parties determining that the arrangement impossible for both Constitutional and other legal and practical reasons.
Funding for the vote announced today was included in federal legislation enacted in January of 2014, which granted the territory $2.5 million for a plebiscite vote that includes status options to resolve the question of Puerto Rico’s ultimate status. Each option on the ballot, however, must first be determined by the U.S. Department of Justice to not be in conflict with the Constitution, law and policies of the U.S.
Under the parameters of the 2014 law, the next challenge for the governor and PDP will be in creating an option for the ballot that will meet with the approval of the U.S. Justice Department.