A recent president of the ‘Commonwealth’ party used the holiday celebrating the independence of the United States Friday to reiterate his call for a plebiscite in Puerto Rico on the U.S. territory becoming a U.S. State.
Writing fellow ‘commonwealthers’ that, “Defeating statehood is our ideological goal,” Hector Ferrer advised that “As long as statehood is viable, the Development of the Commonwealth will be attacked by all sectors.” The “Development of the Commonwealth” is the party’s proposal for a new political status.
Under the proposal, Puerto Rico would be a nation but the U.S. would be permanently bound to it. The Commonwealth would have the powers to nullify the application of Federal laws and Federal court jurisdiction. It could also enter into international agreements and organizations that require nationhood. The U.S. would be obligated to grant a new subsidy to the Commonwealth and most of its land in the territory in addition to current aid to individuals. It would also have to continue to grant U.S. citizenship and free entry to goods shipped from Puerto Rico.
The Obama, George W. Bush, and Clinton Administrations and congressional committee leaders of both national political parties have rejected the proposal as impossible for constitutional and other reasons.
The ‘Commonwealth’ party’s current president, Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla, has opposed having a statehood plebiscite.
The principal proponent of a vote on statehood is the Commonwealth’s representative to the Federal government and statehood party president, Pedro Pierluisi. He has led 131 other members of the U.S. House of Representatives and three U.S. senators in proposing legislation for a statehood plebiscite.
Their bills would require the president of the United States to propose a plan for changing Federal spending and tax laws over a multi-year period to enable Puerto Rico to become a State if Puerto Ricans vote for the status a second time. The legislation would also pledge congressional approval of such a plan.
Puerto Ricans overwhelmingly chose statehood over nationhood in a plebiscite under local law held along with the 2012 elections after rejecting the current territory status, sometimes misleadingly called “Commonwealth” after the official name of the insular government.
A Federal law enacted in January already provides for a plebiscite on options that would resolve the question of the territory’s ultimate status. Statehood, independence, and nationhood in an association with the U.S. that either nation can end are the possible options that have significant support in Puerto Rico.
The plebiscite’s options are to be proposed by Puerto Rico’s Election Commission but the U.S. Justice Department must agree that the proposals would be possible to implement. The Commission is made up of representatives of each of Puerto Rico’s three political status-based political parties with a president appointed by the governor.
The Obama White House, which had supported the 2012 plebiscite and hailed its results, proposed the law. It was concerned that Governor Garcia’s lobbying against Federal action on the local plebiscite’s statehood petition would result in the Congress not acting on Puerto Rico’s self-determination decision.
Ferrer, who is also a recent ‘Commonwealth’ party leader of the insular House of Representatives, asserted that the plebiscite resulted in “an artificial majority for statehood” — a position in keeping with Garcia’s. The insular Elections Commission did not agree.
Garcia has wanted an insular government assembly on the territory’s status instead of a plebiscite. Commonwealthers hope that an insular government assembly would choose their Development of the Commonwealth proposal. A plebiscite under Federal law could not because the proposal cannot be implemented.
Although Ferrer was party president the second time that the U.S. House of Representatives voted by a wide margin against a ‘Commonwealth’ party-inspired amendment to require that the government of a State of Puerto Rico use English exclusively, he argued that it would not be able to use Spanish, the predominant language in the territory.
Currently, both English and Spanish are official languages of Puerto Rico. The State of Hawaii has two official languages, and many other States use multiple languages for some purposes.
Ferrer also charged that statehooders privatized Puerto Rico’s main telephone company and some health facilities and had not fought hard enough for the Federal government to continue a tax credit for income that companies in the States attributed to manufacturing in Puerto Rico to advance statehood.
In fact, Congress phased out the tax credit because companies abused it despite several Federal efforts to curb the abuse. They attributed income really earned in the States to the territory to be able to take the credit obtaining much more in tax credits than their employment and other economic contributions to the territory, with insular job creation having been the reason for the credit.