An editorial in Puerto Rico’s main local newspaper, El Nuevo Dia makes some strong points about Puerto Rico’s status. While some commenters have suggested that Puerto Rico would be better off delaying the question of status until the economy is back on track, the editorial points out that, “Like never before since 1952, the political leadership in Puerto Rico and the US Government (Congress as well as the White House) are coping with the unavoidable need to work together and in all earnestness, in order to design and enforce a mechanism to ensure the final determination of political relations between the Island and the United States.”
Puerto Ricans of all political persuasions have been frustrated by the inaction of Congress on the status question after each referendum and every Congressional hearing. Now, things have changed. El Nuevo Dia says, accurately, that “this debate is at a point where it won’t stand political and partisan games—which have hindered the solution of this hundred-year-old dilemma—any longer. On the contrary, current circumstances require, or rather demand, an understanding on behalf of Puerto Rican and United States political leaders to bring to an end what the most recent decisions and actions at the federal level (judicial, executive and congressional) have defined as a clearly colonial situation.”
For the first time since the ratification of Puerto Rico’s constitution in 1952, leaders on the Island and in Washington can expect “cooperation from those supporting the Commonwealth, many of whom acknowledge the clear frailty of the status quo.”
The continued insistence of the “commonwealth” party that Puerto Rico had a special non-territorial status, in spite of the federal government’s statements to the contrary, has delayed action on the first federally-funded referendum. The funds for this plebiscite were set aside in 2014, and the inability of the current Puerto Rico government to define a viable status option for their party has kept that vote from taking place.
“The ultimate decision on the Island’s political status quo should be made by Puerto Ricans through their votes,” the editorial states. “However, the federal government is also responsible for establishing the base—via non-territorial, non-colonial and permanent options—on which the Puerto Rican people may express their will, entirely of their own volition, to emerge from this colonial trap.”
The editorial goes on to list events that have made it clear that delay is not an option.
“The first development involves Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, who in January—within the framework of congressional proposals looking for a legislation to help Puerto Rico out of its severe fiscal crisis—stated that the current territorial status did not provide the Island adequate tools for getting out of this situation and rebuilding its economic development. This was a hard knock on the conscience of our local political elite—a knock that should have reached political leaders and executives in Washington—regarding the importance of dealing with political status.”
Next “came a historic decision from the US Supreme Court in June: a ruling which set a precedent to the effect that Puerto Rico’s sovereignty resides in Washington, and that the US Congress is the ultimate source of authority over the islands. In June, the US Supreme Court also ruled that Puerto Rico’s territorial government does not have the authority to approve, as the Governor and local Legislature had, a local bankruptcy code for its public corporations.”
The editorial described these Supreme Court rulings as “an affront upon our dignity that is the continuity of a colonial state as a system of government in this day and age.” While these decisions were merely a clarification of the reality that Washington had reinforced over and over, for many “commonwealth” leaders, they seemed to come as a surprise.
The editorial concludes, “In short, the Island’s structural problem is based on the political, judicial and economic relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States. It’s time for a definitive solution, to make possible the Island’s economic development and our people’s dignity.”
El Nueva Dia makes a strong case that it is not time to kick the can down the road again. The decisions being made by the oversight board and the task force, both set up by PROMESA, must be solutions that will make sense for Puerto Rico’s eventual political status. After all, it is not possible to make plans that will work equally well for an independent nation, a state, and a territory. The decision on status is in inherent part of any practical decisions on Puerto Rico’s economic future.