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Puerto Rico Leaders to Testify at the U.N. Today

In an extremely rare demonstration of common concern and international outreach, the top leaders of all six of Puerto Rico’s current political factions are testifying to the United Nations decolonization committee today.

The uncoordinated appearances of the four factions that have substantial influence on the government of the territory were prompted by the Obama Administration-U.S. House of Representatives bill to establish a board that can control insular government finances, overruling the territory’s elected officials, including in planning forced debt reduction, S. 2328, known as PROMESA, and the two U.S. Supreme Court rulings during the past week and a half related to the legislation. The four factions are —

  • The Popular Democratic Party’s (PDP) wing that believes Puerto Rico is a “commonwealth” and not a territory and that the insular government has complete control over local government matters — positions that the U.S. Government and the other Puerto Rican factions reject. Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla will testify for this faction.
  • The party’s nationalist (‘sovereigntist’) movement, which will be represented by San Juan Mayor Carmen Cruz and others, including Representative Luis Vega Ramos;
  • The PPD itself, for which gubernatorial candidate David Bernier will appear.
  • The pro-statehood New Progressive Party (NPP), for which gubernatorial candidate Ricardo Rossello will testify.

The Independence Party and, separately, advocates of independence that do not believe that the fundamental question of Puerto Rico’s ultimate status can be resolved through the political process will also appear at the hearing, as they do annually.

Late Friday, Bernier and PDP congressional candidate Hector Ferrer caused some dissension in the party’s two wings by leading the PDP Governing Board to approve 19-9 a status plan that would have a vote on statehood in January and a government assembly to seek another non-territory status if the U.S. Government does not grant statehood after some time.

Bernier yesterday dismissed the opposition as reflecting a fear that Puerto Ricans would vote for statehood, which he acknowledged was likely as of now. A opponent of his plan confirmed this, saying that he had not seen a poll indicating otherwise.

Opposition from Gov. Garcia Padilla’s wing also insists — contrary to the U.S. Government and the other factions — that there can be  a non-territory “commonwealth” status. Others interpret the Bernier-Ferrer proposal as an effort to win votes from NPP supporters of Resident Commissioner in the U.S. House of Representatives Pedro Pierluisi, whom Rossello just defeated in the NPP gubernatorial primary.

Rossello, who has led Bernier in the polls, reacted to the PDP status plan with a revised one of his own. He called for a plebiscite between statehood and nationhood to be held along with this November’s elections, which would require PDP approval. He also declared that the elections for public office would be a referendum on statehood if the PDP does not call the plebiscite, and he reiterated that he and Resident Commissioner candidate Jenniffer Gonzalez would seek statehood if elected.

Gonzalez, the House Minority Leader, is expected to lead PNP legislators in sponsoring a bill for a statehood vs. nationhood vote at the time of this year’s elections.

In a plebiscite held along with the 2012 elections, Puerto Ricans rejected the current territory status and chose statehood over nationhood with a 61.2% majority. Support for pure independence was 5.5% and the vote for nationhood in an association with the U.S. that either nation could end (free association), as advocated by the PDP sovereigntist wing, was 33.3%.

The PDP’s “commonwealth” faction boycotted the vote claiming that Puerto Rico is not a territory now and that the plebiscite should have included a new “commonwealth” proposal rejected by the Clinton, Bush, and Obama Administrations and congressional leaders of both national political parties as impossible for constitutional and other reasons. Polling, however, has suggested that statehood would have won at least as big of a majority if the PDP “commonwealthers” had voted on the statehood and nationhood options.

In 2014, the Republican Congress passed legislation proposed by President Obama for a plebiscite on an proposed status option or options submitted by Puerto Rico’s Elections Commission, which includes equal representation of all of the territory’s political parties but has a president named by the governor, that would resolve the question of the territory’s ultimate status and is or are found by the U.S. Justice Department to not conflict with the Constitution, laws, and policies of the U.S.

Gov. Garcia asked the Legislative Assembly to call the plebiscite but it did not because of the split between the PDP’s “commonwealth” and sovereigntist wings.

Saturday, a man with a banner with the call “Rise-up Puerto Ricans, the time has come to defend our homeland. Long live a free Puerto Rico!” threw a explosive device at a business in Salinas, Puerto Rico. The act was apparently related to the recent Federal acts confirming that Puerto Rico does not have as much local self-government as the PDP has claimed.

One of the two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions held that Puerto Rico does not have the authority to enact a local bankruptcy law. The U.S. Justice Department intervened in the other case to ensure that the Court found Puerto Rico to continue to be subject to Federal governance on a local matter to further substantiate its territory’s status and to validate PROMESA. S. 2328 would provide an alternate process for government bankruptcy, although the Constitution requires that bankruptcy laws be uniform throughout the U.S. The Constitution also, however, grants the Congress the power to treat territories differently than States.

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