U.S Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday told the U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee that funds the Justice Department the department’s budget legislation to provide for a plebiscite to finally determine the political status aspirations of the citizens of Puerto Rico “reflects” the President’s “commitment to work with Congress to provide a mechanism for the people of Puerto Rico to decide their own fate.”
“That is our view,” he added, providing his own endorsement for the proposal before the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations.
Under the measure, $2.5 million would be appropriated to the Justice Department to give to the Puerto Rico Elections Commission for a plebiscite on options to “resolve” the “future” status of the territory. The monies would be used for voter education and a public vote on the issue if the attorney general finds the education materials and plebiscite options do not conflict with the Constitution, laws, and policies of the United States.
The plebiscite could be on one or more options among statehood, independence, and nationhood in a free (non-binding) association with the U.S., which would resolve the issue of the territory’s ultimate status, as well as, possibly, the current territory status, which could not.
The Justice Department review as to consistency with Constitution and Federal laws and policies is required because Puerto Rico’s “commonwealth” party has proposed governing arrangements that Federal officials have said conflict with the Constitution and Federal laws and policies and the party continues to do so.
Even before Holder’s appearance, Justice Department officials had begun to brief Subcommittee members on the appropriation.
Holder’s explanation was made in response to statements by Subcommittee member Jose Serrano (D-NY), the most senior member of Congress of Puerto Rican origin and a champion of democracy for the territory.
Serrano noted that the budget measure “is an important response to a ballot question that was on the ballot last November in Puerto Rico, whether the people of Puerto Rico wanted to remain in their current status or to change to something different” and that the “Puerto Rican people on that day clearly voted for change.”
In the November plebiscite under local law, 54% cast ballots against the current territory status and more than 61% of the vote was for statehood. But the governor and legislature majority narrowly elected at the same time disputes the plebiscite.
The White House recognized that this would stall Puerto Rico’s statehood petition in Congress. So, it decided to put the question of the territory’s future status to voters again under Federal auspices so that the results could not be disputed by key Puerto Rico elected officials.
Serrano added that the “funding is the logical next step” in the process and that, “after 115 years, is it time to resolve the political status of Puerto Rico.”
Representing a district with a large percentage of people of Puerto Rican origin, Serrano also pointed out that the “funding is an important step to me and to millions of Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico and in the 50 States in defining a process that will allow Puerto Rico to truly determine the constitutional relationship that it wants to have with the United States.”