Former Puerto Rican Governor Rafael Hernandez Colon speaks with authority as a leader of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP). He served as the fourth governor of Puerto Rico over three terms (1973 – 1977 and 1985 – 1993) and has earned the title of statesman for his party – which is why his recent comments in a Caribbean Business interview were especially enlightening.
When asked about how to “perfect Commonwealth,” Hernandez Colon minced no words. “I think the minimum wage is a great evil to economic development,” he responded. Hernandez Colon went on to explain that Puerto Rico should be exempted from job safety and environmental laws as well as minimum wage laws.
Hernandez Colon is no longer running for office, but his party is on the ballot. Do current PDP candidates agree that Puerto Rico should eliminate federal wage, job safety and environmental protections? They have not renounced him. Will they?
There is a practical problem with the PDP priority on exempting Puerto Rico from federal laws — no one has articulated a strategy as to how to accomplish this feat. Numerous U.S. Senators and Representatives affiliated with the Tea Party movement have been elected to Congress based on similar promises. They have been unsuccessful despite the fact that they – unlike Puerto Rico – have a true voice and a vote in Congress.
The former governor also suggests that Puerto Rico can build political power under the “Commonwealth” through “representation in the Senate”. Article I, Section III of the U.S. Constitution explicitly states that, “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State.” The only way Mr. Hernandez Colon could achieve Senate representation – and gain the corresponding right for Puerto Rico to have a voice in appointing the federal officials who work in Puerto Rico, which he also mentions as being important – is by amending the U.S. Constitution, a long and arduous process requiring the support of two thirds of Congress and three fourths of the states. It may be easier for Puerto Rico just to become a State.
Hernandez Colon speaks in his interview about the “deficit of democracy Puerto Rico has today.” Again, current PDP candidates have not disputed this categorization of the territory. Will they?
The former governor is clear that not only is Puerto Rico experiencing a “democracy deficit” today, but that becoming a sovereign free associated state would make the situation even worse. “In practical terms, [sovereign free associated state] is like renouncing things we already have, and then ask for them in a future negotiation,” he explains. “It’s absurd.”