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US Attorney General’s Role in Federal Plebiscite Law Praised

Puerto Rico’s representative to the Federal government noted that the U.S. Department of Justice under Attorney General Eric Holder had proposed a Federal law providing for a plebiscite on the territory’s political status.

The legislation enacted into law in January is for a vote on options that can resolve the question of the territory’s ultimate status.

Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi made the statement in response to Holder’s announcement that he would soon leave the job.

The statehood party president pointed out that “Attorney General Holder requested that Congress appropriate $2.5 million to enable Puerto Rico to conduct the first Federally-sponsored status vote in the territory’s history, to be held among one or more options that are consistent with the U.S. Constitution, Federal law and public policy.”

He went on to say that “This appropriation, which became law in January 2014, is the most important step that the Federal government has ever taken to resolve Puerto Rico’s political status.”

In a 2012 plebiscite under local law, Puerto Ricans rejected the territory’s current status, sometimes misleadingly called “commonwealth” by 54%, with 61.2% choosing statehood as the alternative.

The Commonwealth’s governor and majorities in the Legislative Assembly elected at the same time, however, dispute the plebiscite and have refused to honor the results. They had supported the losing current territory status in the plebiscite.

Fearing that their opposition would thwart the self-determination will of the people of Puerto Rico, the Obama Administration proposed a plebiscite under Federal law.  Congress, on a bipartisan basis, agreed.

The 2012 plebiscite was the fourth status vote that Puerto Rico has held.  The first was in 1967.

It was, however, the first plebiscite limited to possible statuses. The three earlier votes were confused by “commonwealth” proposals that Federal officials of both national political parties later said were impossible for constitutional or other reasons.

U.S. Justice Department will have to agree to the options for the Federally-authorized plebiscite to ensure that the proposals can finally resolve the territory’s status question and do not conflict with U.S. law and policy.

Pierluisi, a national Democrat, has led 131 other members of the U.S. House of Representatives of both national parties and three U.S. senators in proposing that the new plebiscite be a simple vote on statehood. His proposal has been endorsed by others, including Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.

Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla opposes the idea, however. He wants the new vote to be on all of the territory’s status options — including a new “commonwealth status.”

The U.S. Justice Department under Holder has advised that Puerto Rico would remain a territory under any “commonwealth” arrangement, so Garcia’s proposal would not meet the requirement of the Federal law that the options be able to resolve Puerto Rico’s political status issue.

So many leaders of the Governor’s “commonwealth” party want Puerto Rico to become a nation with the benefits of a U.S. status and oppose Garcia’s continued “commonwealth” territory status that the Legislative Assembly has not acted on his call for it to pass legislation for the plebiscite.


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