Still a Threat to Puerto Rico’s Democratic Equality
Over a year ago, on May 28, 2009, Rafael Hernández-Colón wrote a column for CaribbeanBusiness.com criticizing Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi’s bill in the U.S. House of Representatives (H.R. 2499: Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2009), which seeks “to provide for a federally sanctioned self-determination process for the people of Puerto Rico.” First, the former governor lays out—with omissions, but accurately—the process in the Pierluisi bill (before being amended by the House through the Foxx Amendment, but more on that later). Gov. Hernández-Colón stated:
“The bill authorizes the Legislature of Puerto Rico to provide for two plebiscites. The first one would have us choose between two options:
1. Puerto Rico should continue to have its present form of political status;
2. Puerto Rico should have a different political status.
If a majority votes for a different political status, a second plebiscite will be held where the options would be:
1. Independence: […]
2. Sovereignty in Association with the U.S.: Puerto Rico and the U.S. should form a political association between sovereign nations that won’t be subject to the territorial clause of the U.S. Constitution;
3. Statehood: […]”
Then the former governor goes on to make disparate arguments about the legislation. He begins by arguing that this legislation “misses the point of why we should have a federally authorized plebiscite” because there is not a commitment that Congress will follow the results of the plebiscite. Mr. Hernández-Colón, the point of the plebiscite is to tell Congress what it is that the people of Puerto Rico want to do; the Congress’ commitment is implicitly shown by the passage of the bill itself. (By the way, it should be noted that the governor agrees that the current status is not acceptable, since he is so concerned with making sure the Congress will act according to the wishes of the people of Puerto Rico.)
His second argument is that this bill leaves the so-called Commonwealth option out, which will “deprive Commonwealth supporters of their right to vote.” That would be true if the facts did not say otherwise. The complaint can be defeated in two ways. If by “Commonwealth” the former governor means the status quo, the first question of the plebiscite (see above) addresses that option for the “supporters” of whom he speaks. If they are satisfied with the Commonwealth status, then let them vote appropriately: they should choose answer number 1. If, however, by Commonwealth he means true Free-Associated Sovereignty, the second question of the plebiscite (again, see above) addresses that question. Nevertheless, the governor does not talk about the former or the latter definition of Commonwealth; instead, he is talking about a third definition for Commonwealth, one that defines it as “a relationship in permanent union with the U.S. based on irrevocable U.S. citizenship” (emphasis added).
Let us get this straight, the governor is asking for complete independence from federal mandates and simultaneously asking for statehood in citizenship: The Republic of the State of Puerto Rico. Mr. Hernández-Colón, your “definition” of Commonwealth is not a constitutionally viable option under the American system of government. It will never be. You cannot continue to sell the misguided idea of “the best of both worlds.” The purpose of the self-determination process is to rid Puerto Rico of the current territorial status it has with the United States, and you and the Popular Democratic Party of Puerto Rico cannot continue to derail the process by inventing new definitions for the already-over-defined word (i.e. Commonwealth).
It is a fact that Mr. Pierluisi took your party’s definition of Commonwealth straight out of its 2008 platform. Now, you say you never asked for Free-Associated Sovereignty. Which is it? You are correct to point out that Commonwealth is a “legitimate status option for the people of Puerto Rico as recognized by the U.S. and the United Nations”; it has been so since the constitution of 1952. However, that does not make it a sovereignty granting option; it is territorial in nature. The problem is that you are confusing the Puerto Rican definition of Commonwealth with the U.S. Constitution’s (territorial) definition of it. Currently, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is really the Territory of Puerto Rico (there is no Free Association), and you cannot argue with that—that is why Puerto Ricans want a plebiscite in the first place.
Further, your Public Law 600 “evidence” that there is a “compact” between the people of Puerto Rico and the United States is false. This so-called “compact” did not suspend the Congress’ plenary authority over the territory of Puerto Rico. Public Law 600 was only a way to provide the people of Puerto Rico with the means to form a local structure of governance for themselves with a path toward full sovereignty—through statehood or independence. Those who quote from the law in question always like to refer to that one word, “compact,” but always fail to mention important sections in the House and Senate reports that expressly address what the law did not do:
“[Public Law 600] would not change Puerto Rico’s fundamental political, social and economic relationship to the United States. Those sections of the Organic Act of Puerto Rico concerning such matters as the applicability of United States laws, customs, internal revenue, Federal judicial jurisdiction in Puerto Rico, representation in the Congress of the United States by a Resident Commissioner, et cetera, would remain in force and effect.
The sections of the Organic Act which [Public Law 600] would repeal are concerned primarily with the organization of the insular executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the government of Puerto Rico and other matters of purely local concern.” (emphasis added)
(S. Rept. 81-1779, p.3-4)
Mr. Hernández-Colón, there was no “compact,” as you characterize Congress’ actions in 1950, which is to say the Congress was working with Puerto Rico as an equal partner. For these reasons, your fears that passage of H.R. 2499 into law would put “Puerto Rico in political limbo and the juridical structure of Commonwealth […] in a precarious situation” are baseless and intellectually dishonest, for Puerto Rico has been in limbo for over 500 years, and the so-called “ELA-Commonwealth” is to blame for the past 57 years.
The original H.R. 2499 must be supported!