What a Minute Party does with an Oversized Voice
The President of the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP), Rubén Berríos, has proposed a “new” way forward on the status. In consultation with the presidents of the two major status parties in Puerto Rico—Gov. Luis Fortuño of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party (PNP) and Rep. Hector Ferrer of the pro-“Commonwealth” Popular Democratic Party—Berríos seeks to set up a new, three-step mechanism.
The first step, would force the federal government’s hand with a yes-or-no vote in which the Americans of Puerto Rico would ask for a status that is “plainly democratic, not colonial and not territorial.” Then, on the second step, which would occur on the same day of the first vote, the Puerto Rican electorate would vote on the process for solving the status, either a plebiscite (direct vote) or a constitutional assembly (delegated vote). Finally, in the third step, if the plebiscite form wins, the people of Puerto Rico would exercise its right to a direct vote on status, but if the constitutional assembly were to garner the most votes, then the Puerto Rico legislature would be required to vote by a three-fourths supermajority and “in consultation with the diverse promoters of said procedure” (Guess who? The PIP and the PPD) to authorize said constitutional convention. Further, if the legislature does not meet the three-fourths threshold, then it would be up to the next legislature (in 2013) to authorize the constitutional assembly—but only with a simple majority needed.
Recap: 1) pressure the feds with near Puerto Rican unanimity on the status; 2) let the Puerto Rican electorate decide between a direct vote plebiscite and a delegated constitutional assembly; and 3) force the current Puerto Rico legislature to convoke a constitutional assembly through a super majority vote, or the next legislative assembly with a simple majority vote.
The plan is simple and straightforward, and (primarily) unnecessary!
The independence movement in Puerto Rico seems at odds with reality. It commands the support of less than 3 percent of the population and yet it purports to be a power broker. The PIP wants a veto power despite its minute stature in Puerto Rican politics. Because it is such a minor party, with no hope for victory, it must stay “relevant” in some way. Let us remember their strategy is founded on inaction, and while the movement’s aggressive tactics have changed, their powerful rhetoric on behalf of self-determination is now a fading caricature of what it once was. It is the way of Puerto Rican independence. If they cannot win on a straightforward statehood-versus-independence direct-vote plebiscite, then they will continue to develop a way to change the plan.
The first step of the PIP-plan seeks to magnify the current level of consensus in the American island on the current territorial status and its unacceptability. Through a yes-or-no vote, as expected, the American citizens of Puerto Rico would attest to their displeasure with the current unequal status; simultaneously, the electorate would cast its votes in favor of a direct plebiscite or a delegated constitutional convention as the mechanism for solving the status.
The fact that the people of Puerto Rico are being asked to “choose” between doing something themselves and electing somebody else to do it for them should be questioned endlessly, particularly as it relates to the status. A direct vote is the most democratic tool available to the people. The PIP and Ruben Berríos know this; after all, their entire plan rests on the direct vote of the citizens in the territory. Nevertheless, this plan is an optical illusion because while it engages citizens in the direct election of ideas, those ideas steer the citizens’ votes to the establishment of mechanisms diametrically opposed to the democratic principle of direct vote, mainly the “constitutional convention” idea.
The main problem with the idea of a constitutional convention is the notion rests on a flawed premise: the future of the status problem is complex and the people need experts to deal with it. The idea also assumes the convention delegates would be there to “create” a solution, when in fact the solutions are on the U.S. Constitution and are immutable by a Puerto Rican Constitutional Convention. The (simple) solutions constitutionally mandated are statehood or independence, if neither, then perpetual territorial/colonial “Commonwealth” status with no “enhancements” under the U.S. Constitution’s Territorial Clause.
The third and last step of the PIP-sponsored plan is a gratuitous slap in the PNP face. In 2008, the pro-statehood PNP took control of the legislature with supermajorities in the House and Senate chambers. Therefore, in essence, the third step is a trigger meant to override the PNP-led legislature and completely marginalize La Fortaleza. The PNP should never consent to taking away from the people the direct vote of the plebiscite and replace it with a ridiculous constitutional circus. Note, reader, that this part of the plan rests on the hope that the PNP will lose many seats in the 2012 elections because without a massive electoral change there cannot be a simple majority vote in 2013 to establish a constitutional convention, which the electorate presumably would have supported though a direct vote.
If the PIP wants to use its oversized voice to continue territorialism and colonialism by default in Puerto Rico then let it, but if it wants to move Puerto Rico beyond second-class citizenship then it must begin to promote the true answer to the status issue: a direct vote by the people on a statehood-versus-independence plebiscite. No more, no less.