Three and a half months after the Government of the United States enacted a law providing a process for Puerto Ricans to choose their preference among options that can resolve the central issue of Puerto Rico for almost 116 years — the territory ’s ultimate political status — the Governor formally proposed delayed consideration.
In his State of the Commonwealth Address this evening, Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla proposed to the Legislative Assembly controlled by the “Commonwealth” party he leads that it consider in a session beginning in August the process for choosing the Federal government provided in January along with the process his party said it would pursue if the Federal government did not act on the issue before January.
The process provided for by Federal law would be a plebiscite on a status option or options that could resolve the issue proposed by the Commonwealth Election Commission and found by the U.S. Justice Department to not conflict with the Constitution, laws, and policies of the United States.
The Elections Commission includes representatives of the statehood and Independence parties as well as of the “Commonwealth” party.
The plebiscite options could be statehood, independence, or nationhood in an association with the U.S. that either nation could end (free association).
Territory status, as at present although sometimes misleadingly called “Commonwealth,” could not be an option because it cannot resolve the issue: as long as Puerto Rico remains a territory, its people can still seek statehood or nationhood.
The “Commonwealth status” proposal of the “Commonwealth” party cannot be an option because it conflicts with the Constitution and other policies of the U.S.
Under the proposal, Puerto Rico would be called a nation but the U.S. would be permanently bound to it and to an arrangement under which Puerto Rico could nullify the application of Federal laws and Federal court jurisdiction and enter into international agreements as if it were a sovereign nation. The U.S. would also be permanently obligated to grant all current assistance to Puerto Ricans, a new subsidy to the Commonwealth government, and U.S. citizenship to Puerto Ricans.
The status choice process pledged by the “Commonwealth” party if the Federal government did not act in 2013 in response to a November 2012 plebiscite under local law would call a “Constitutional Assembly on Status” under local law.
The assembly would be able to consider the “Commonwealth” party’s new Commonwealth status proposal as a solution to the status issue even though Federal officials have said that it is an impossible proposal.
Puerto Rico’s November 2012 plebiscite rejected Puerto Rico’s current territory status by 54% and choose statehood among the alternatives by 61.2%. Nationhood in an association with the U.S. got 33.3% of the vote and independence, 4.5%.
Garcia Padilla, who was elected at the same time, unsuccessfully urged votes for the territory status option. He and his party’s majorities in the Legislative Assembly also elected then have refused to accept the plebiscite’s results because the plebiscite did not include their impossible Commonwealth status proposal.
Because their opposition threatened to prevent action on Puerto Rico’s self-determination decision, President Obama’s White House proposed the status choice process the Federal government provided for in January. The Obama Administration supported the plebiscite and the President’s spokesman hailed its results.
Congress, under the leadership of House Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA), Representative Jose Serrano (D-NY), and Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner and statehood party president, Pedro Pierluisi, among others, agreed to the Obama proposal for the same reason.
Garcia publicly supported the Obama proposal but congressional staff reported that his representatives criticized it. Shortly after it was enacted into law, he said that he would propose a status choice process that would compatible with both the Federal law and his party’s alternative process.
In asking the Legislative Assembly’s Joint Committee on Status Issues to prepare legislation on the two status choice processes for consideration late this year, Garcia also asked it to keep in mind the territory’s economic and fiscal problems and to evaluate the potential impact of the status options on these problems. This seemed to follow his party’s contention that a report by the Congress’ Government Accountability Office last month showed that statehood would be bad for the territory’s economy because of increased Federal taxation — ignoring that additional Federal program benefits would be greater than the taxation by billions of dollars a year.
Puerto Rico’s economy has been in recession for seven of the last eight years and only grew .1% in the year it was not. In his address, Garcia also proposed the Commonwealth government’s first balanced budget in decades, requiring substantial spending cuts. It has borrowed to enable its spending during this period and the excessive borrowing, combined with a shrinking economy, has caused its debt to be downgraded to ‘junk’ status by all three of the major national credit rating agencies.