SAYS STATEHOOD WOULD WIN VOTE ON THE STATUS
The Government of Puerto Rico would have ultimate control over radio and television standards, wages and labor relations, and the environment — replacing U.S. Government authority — under the latest political status proposal of the “commonwealth” party’s most influential leader on status issues for most of the past 45 years.
In an interview with El Vocero newspaper in the territory, former Governor Rafael Hernandez Colon also opposed a referendum on statehood. His reason? Puerto Ricans would vote for the status.
The three-term governor is now one of four leaders of his party charged by its Governing Board with reaching an agreement on a new definition of “commonwealth.” The proposal is being developed for a plebiscite on the territory’s future status under a Federal law enacted just over a year ago.
Under Hernandez Colon’s latest proposal, ocean freight shipping between Puerto Rico and the States would also be exempted from the laws requiring the use of U.S. built, owned, flagged, and crewed vessels. There would also be a procedure for the Commonwealth government to conduct international relations.
The former Governor said that the proposal could be called “Improved, Developed, or Perfected Commonwealth.”
Puerto Rico is treated as a State under Federal ocean shipping and international relations requirements as well as under broadcasting, labor, and environmental laws.
Proposal Last July Rejected
Hernandez Colon suggested a different new “commonwealth” in a speech to party leaders last July. Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla, the party president, then embraced it in his Puerto Rico Constitution Day address a week later, repeating what Hernandez Colon had said almost word for word.
There was enough opposition to that proposal in the Governing Board, however, that it was not adopted despite several efforts to win its approval. Although it had majority support, the number of opponents made clear that the proposal would not be able to pass in Puerto Rico’s Legislative Assembly.
The objections came from leaders such as former Governor Anibal Acevedo Vila, a former aide to Hernandez Colon who brought Garcia Padilla into political prominence.
The part of the proposal to which they objected would have left Puerto Rico partially subject to the broad power of each Congress to govern territories under the U.S. Constitution’s Territory Clause.
The proposal called for Puerto Rico to be exempted from this power as if it were a State. The opposed party leaders objected that Congress would still be able to govern Puerto Rico in other areas. This is an authority that Hernandez Colon himself has written is “undemocratic” because the territory does not — and cannot — have voting representation in the Congress.
Other parts of Hernandez Colon’s 2014 proposal would have:
- funded Puerto Rico equally with the States in Federal programs;
- exempted income that companies in the States claimed from manufacturing in the territory;
- limited the importation of foreign products into Puerto Rico, and
- empowered the Commonwealth government to determine international airline routes involving Puerto Rico.
As in his new proposal, ocean shipping between Puerto Rico and the States could be on foreign vessels.
Alternative Nationhood Proposal
Acevedo Vila and other leaders put forward alternative proposals often called Sovereign Associated Free State. They want Puerto Rico to become a nation but in an association with the United States that would include a guarantee future generations of Puerto Ricans would have U.S. as well as Puerto Rican national citizenship.
Hernandez Colon opposes this nationhood in an association with the U.S. proposal because he contends it would eliminate Federal assistance programs in Puerto Rico (even though the U.S. has continued some of these programs in the three parts of a Pacific islands territory that have become nations in free association with the U.S.).
U.S. Justice OK “Definite”
The former Governor asserted that his new proposal would “Definitely” be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Federal law for a status plebiscite requires that its options be found by the Department to not conflict with the Constitution, laws, and policies of the U.S.
He did not explain how this could be true as the transfer of powers and exemption obviously conflict with the Constitution, laws, and policies of the U.S., but two of his sons are Gov. Garcia Padilla’s lead representatives to the Federal government. Son Juan Hernandez is Director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs administration headquartered in the nation’s capital. Son Jose Hernandez Mayoral is Chairman of the “commonwealth” party’s Federal Affairs Committee.
Jose Hernandez recently admitted to El Nuevo Dia newspaper in Puerto Rico that he had met with U.S. Justice Department officials on the status issue, although he claimed that it was only to oppose a plebiscite on statehood.
U.S. Senators “Mistaken”
Although Hernandez Colon was sure that the U.S. Justice Department would approve his proposal, he held that the new Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate committee with lead jurisdiction over territories matters, Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and the senior minority party member of the Committee on Finance, Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), were “mistaken” in finding that there could not be a “commonwealth status” which would exempt Puerto Rico from Congress’ Territory Clause authority under the U.S. Constitution.
He did not note that their conclusion in this regard was the same as that of President Obama’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status or the judgments of the administrations of both Presidents Bush and President Clinton.
Hernandez Colon argued that Murkowski and Wyden were mistaken about the impossibility of a non-territory “commonwealth” status “because they have not thought about the reason for the Commonwealth.” He gave as the reason differences in the economies of the U.S. and Puerto Rico that he said make statehood and nationhood (the statuses of or similar to most of the rest of the world) economically problematic.
Plebiscite Before Statehooders Win
In his interview, Hernandez Colon also called for a plebiscite before the 2016 elections on four proposals: His “improved commonwealth” in addition to statehood, independence, and nationhood in an association with the U.S. that either nation could end.
He has said that the vote should be held during the term of government that ends with 2017 because statehood party candidates are likely to sweep the 2016 elections and try to move the territory towards statehood in 2017.
The statehood party members of both houses of Puerto Rico’s Legislative Assembly have proposed a statehood plebiscite.
Additionally, the territory’s Resident Commissioner in the U.S. House of Representatives, Pedro Pierluisi, who heads the statehood party, proposed statehood legislation in the last Congress that would have required such a vote. 132 other House members and three U.S. senators joined him in sponsoring the bill.
Pierluisi is expected to propose another statehood bill shortly.
Garcia Padilla’s predecessor as “commonwealth” party president, former Puerto Rico House of Representatives Minority Leader Hector Ferrer, has also proposed a plebiscite on statehood. Ferrer said that opposing statehood is the real ideology of the “commonwealth” party.
Statehood Won 2012 Plebiscite
Puerto Ricans rejected territory status (often misleadingly called the current “commonwealth status”) and three-fifths choose statehood among the alternatives in a plebiscite held under Commonwealth law along with the 2012 elections.
The Federal authorization for a plebiscite on an option or options that can resolve the issue of the territory’s ultimate status — an option or options other than territory status — was proposed by the Obama Administration and passed by Congress because Gov. Garcia disputed the results and lobbied against a positive Federal response to the voters’ petition for statehood.
Garcia and many “commonwealth” party leaders supported the territory status in the plebiscite. Some, however, advocated nationhood in an association with the U.S. that either nation could end. It got a third of the vote among the alternatives to territory status.