Forthcoming Schism Presents Existential Threat to the “Commonwealth” Party
On August 2, La Chuleta Congelá’ commented on the feud that occurred between state senator Antonio Fas-Alzamora and state representative Jorge Colberg-Toro as the Popular Democratic Party leadership and membership were trying to compose the party’s platform on the various policy problems facing the island-territory. The Fas-Alzamora vs. Colberg-Toro dispute, we stated, is illustrative of a forthcoming schism in the PPD; a divide that will finally bring down the curtain on the almost-sixty-years-old farce they named the “Commonwealth” status.
Today, we bring you more up-to-date information on the continuing battle between the two camps represented by Fas-Alzamora and Colberg-Toro: Soberanistas and Autonomistas (respectively).
Let us, first, get some facts straight:
The Autonomistas represent what the Popular Democratic Party in Puerto Rico has always wanted since the founding of the “Commonwealth”: unequal territorial status with more local autonomy (without describing any real constitutionally viable status option). They are the so-called establishment wing of the party. The Soberanistas represent a growing movement within the party that seeks to gain international autonomy for Puerto Rico through (real) sovereignty. Both wings wish to retain perpetual American citizenship, and claim not to want independence (per se) for Puerto Rico. There are two “pacts” circulating within the PPD. The first—the Autonomistas’—is the official (work-in-progress) party platform, el Pacto de Futuro (Pact for the Future), and Autonomista Colberg-Toro is in charge of its assembly; the second—you got it, the Soberanistas’—is the 52-page treatise put forth by Soberanista Fas-Alzamora, el Pacto de Asociación (Pact of Association) [see “Must-Axxess Files” box below].
Moreover, the only permanent and sovereign status forms the U.S. Constitution accepts (according to the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status 2005 and 2007 reports) are statehood and independence. Of these two, the only status option that guarantees permanent American citizenship—not only to the current inhabitants of the island, but also their children—is statehood. Whether an independent Republic of Puerto Rico wished to enter into what is called a Pact of Free Association is up to the presumed president and congress of Puerto Rico and their counterparts in the United States of America. Nevertheless, “Free Association” means independence first, association later—like some current pacts currently in force, mainly the pact between the U.S. and the Republic of Palau.
Now, with those facts in mind, let us proceed to the feud at hand.
The intra-party war began when Soberanista-in-Chief Fas-Alzamora raised his newly penned Pact of Association for consideration into the PPD’s platform, the Pact for the Future. The Fas-Alzamora Pact is the result of outside pressures asking for definitive answers from the PPD on what it considers an acceptable definition to its status option, one that is both sovereign and permanent. Soon after the Soberanistas presented their document, Autonomista state representative Jorge Colberg-Toro, a member of the PPD’s internal Junta de Gobierno and point man in the crafting of the party platform, came out predicting that the Pact of Association stood no chance of being accepted as part of the party platform because the document resembled the Palau treaty and did not guarantee American citizenship perpetually. Fas-Alzamora and the Soberanistas criticized Colberg-Toro and the Autonomistas and asserted that nobody could predict what the party would accept as part of the platform. The Soberanistas also claim their document does, in fact, protect perpetual American citizenship and incorporates the “17-point PPD Autonomista program on status.”
All that before the PPD met!
Finally, on August 17, the PPD met. As the party committee met, supporters of both camps rallied for their causes. One of the verbal shots fired from an Autonomista was captured by El Nuevo Dia: “The word ‘sovereignty’ is [in Puerto Rico] associated with ‘separation’ and we cannot separate from the United States. If [the Soberanistas] want sovereignty, they can go to Panama, the Dominican Republic, to Haiti and see what sovereignty does.” Harsh!
Another PPD member, this time a Soberanista, stated that “Sovereignty is not in play; we are 800,000 strong.” (An overwhelmingly telling exaggeration.)
Earlier that same morning, Fas-Alzamora delivered scathing criticism against his party’s secretary for federal affairs, Autonomista Jose A. Hernandez-Mayoral for dismissing the Soberanistas’ Pact of Association during the intra-party deliberations. Hernandez-Mayoral claimed that the Pact of Association was but a “plagiarized” version of the pact between the U.S. and the Republic of Palau. Fas-Alzamora was indignant and went on a rant about Hernandez-Mayoral’s political past and even characterized him as a coward who was offered the party leadership on a “silver platter” and “ran” at the thought of it. Ouch!
The PPD civil war has already escalated to threats of secession from the Soberanista side, threats of exile from the Autonomista side, and personal insults between the two—and by now the “meeting” was not even over. The five-hour, marathon-long meeting between the two camps shows that the argument over citizenship is an irreconcilable difference. It is important to note that a large portion of Independentistas (of course, independence supporters) in the island, who suffer from extremely low popular support, have allied with the PPD in the past, but now have began to talk about pulling all support for the party. They claim the PPD has reneged on the principles of autonomy and sovereignty that it has sold for the past 60 years.
Subsequently, after the meeting ended and the PPD party platform (el Pacto de Futuro) was voted on, the cleavage was even more pronounced.
Remember how Colberg-Toro, Hernandez-Mayoral, and the Autonomistas warned that the party would not accept the Soberanistas’ Pact of Association? Moreover, how Fas-Alzamora and the Soberanistas derided the Autonomistas’ prognostications? Well, turns out, now the Autonomistas claim that they have accepted and incorporated “most” of the Soberanistas’ Pact, while the Soberanistas now claim their plan was “wholly” ignored (as predicted by their enemies on the other side)! Both sides claim the other has not “read” their document.
What is going on? Each side is claiming that its respective “pact” incorporates the other side’s ideas; while the “other” side claims it was ignored. Well, both sides cannot be right, and it turns out they are both wrong!
One the one hand, the Soberanista Pact of Association is acceptable under the U.S. Constitution as a permanent, non-territorial, sovereign form of government for Puerto Rico—but it does not guarantee American citizenship in perpetuity—if it did, it would be incompatible with the U.S. Constitution. The Pact of Association only guarantees American citizenship to those who already have it and their children. However, after a generation or so, all persons born in Puerto Rico will be regarded Puerto Rican citizens. Therefore, the wishes of the American people in Puerto Rico for a permanent status solution that perpetually and universally guarantees American citizenship have been ignored by Fas-Alzamora and the Soberanista camp.
On the other hand, the Autonomista platform (the Pact for the Future) does guarantee American citizenship in perpetuity, but it does not afford the Americans of Puerto Rico an equal, sovereign status; instead, the Autonomista plan seeks to “enhance” the unequal “Commonwealth” status while simultaneously keeping the territorial (unequal) status quo.
While the intra-party war has remained low-key outside the Popular Democratic Party, there are some hints that a completely new Puerto Rican status political party may be in the works.
[It is important to note that Puerto Rico currently has four parties: three “status” parties and a (more recent) policy-only party. The Popular Democratic Party (PPD) is the party of the territorial “Commonwealth” status quo, the New Progressive Party (PNP) advocates for statehood, the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) advocates, of course, for independence, and the Puerto Ricans for Puerto Rico Party (PPP), the policy-only party, forgets about the status and delves into policy—mainly environmental policy. The PPP has been less successful than the PIP in getting the people’s vote.]
In a piece published in El Nuevo Dia, Nika Estrada Resto contends that a new Soberanista party is in the works. “We will have to wait,” states Resto in the opening line of her piece, “until later in the year to see if Puerto Rico will count with a Soberanista party. A real one.” The reason Resto talks about “a real one” is because for almost 60 years the PPD has campaigned for “sovereignty” and “autonomy” while achieving none. Their promises have been so forceful in the past that even some portions of the independence movement have formed ad hoc coalitions with said party, and this coalition has been instrumental to many island-wide PPD victories.
With the specter of a new status party forming out of the PPD’s own viscera, the Independentistas breaking the ad hoc coalitions of the past due to their dissatisfaction with broken promises, the Estadistas (statehooders) gaining more and more support as status politics reach critical mass, and Washington asking more detailed questions about the PPD’s status alternative, the PPD finds itself barraged from all sides.
The demise of the PPD and its notion of the territorial “Commonwealth” is always good news to supporters of self-determination, but the PNP better watch out!
Puerto Rico’s territorial status is different from all other past American territories (albeit those that became states) in one crucial way: Puerto Ricans have more than one option. In other words, when the territories of Oklahoma, Arizona, New Mexico, Alaska, and Hawaii (to name but a few) sought a change in their territorial status, all they had to do was vote, basically, “statehood: yes or no,” but in Puerto Rico there is also the possibility of independence and even though the party enjoys only marginal support, independence is a real option that offers Puerto Rican sovereignty—though it cannot guarantee American citizenship. Therefore, between statehood and independence Puerto Ricans have their future cut out for them; all they have to do now is make a choice.
However, and this is the reason the PNP must be careful, a plebiscite that counts three options (or more) will only help perpetuate the territorial “Commonwealth” status because it is very had to get a simple majority in support of one option; it is even harder to get the insanely high (75 percent plus) numbers that have been reached in the aforementioned territorial votes. For example, Hawaii voted 90 percent in favor of statehood, and Alaska was right up there too. Consequently, how does Puerto Rico get to those levels of support (not just for statehood) for any one option?
Simple. The plebiscite must be a two-option plebiscite: independence or statehood. But what about the Soberanistas who may want free association? Well, considering that free association is independence first with a pact later, they can vote for independence and later on (if their party were to win) they could ask the United States of America to sign a pact of free association with the Republic of Puerto Rico.
If, however, a plebiscite were to include three (or even four) options, then Puerto Rico can be guaranteed another one hundred years of colonial rule because the U.S. Congress will not accept any vote that predicts a potentially divided state of Puerto Rico with half of the population having vote against statehood. This would be good news for the PPD—whole or broken off. This was one of the Puerto Rico Democracy Act’s (H.R. 2499) most striking shortcomings. H.R. 2499 proposed a three-way race between statehood, independence, and free association. In other words, statehood was competing against two forms of independence!
In conclusion, whether a new status party is established in Puerto Rico or not, the demise of the PPD’s “Commonwealth” is inevitable because it cannot deliver what Americans in Puerto Rico want: perpetual and universal American citizenship. However, the party currently in control of all important levers of governance in Puerto Rico (the pro-statehood PNP) must make sure that the voters in Puerto Rico are aware of their choices. For example, do Puerto Ricans know that statehood is the only permanent status option that can protect their American citizenship? Do they understand that anything other than statehood is independence, which does not carry the rights, duties, and priviledges of American citizenship? Do they understand what “free association” means for their future?
No matter what happens within the PPD this year, the PNP must show leadership and determination in designing the right kind of plebiscite to settle the 112-year status question in Puerto Rico.