PUERTO RICO REPORT
Governor Ricardo Rossello (New Progressive Party/PNP) ... sign(ed) into law... a bill that he supported which would hold a plebiscite in the islands between statehood and nationhood under a 2014 Federal law...
The vote would be conducted June 11th. If statehood wins, the Government of Puerto Rico would conduct a major campaign to convince the U.S. Congress to grant the status.
If nationhood wins, there would be a another vote October 8th between independence and “free association.” Under free association, one nation allows another nation to exercise some of the first nation’s sovereign powers on the condition that either nation can end the association. There are a small number of such free associations around the world.
The U.S. is in free association with three island groups with very small populations in the Pacific. Under these associations, the U.S. has full powers over the defense of the islands, has extended some domestic programs to them, has temporarily granted substantial government subsidies, and permits their citizens to enter the U.S. without regard to immigration restrictions other than those involving security. The “freely associated states” are fully self-governing and have their own international relations that cannot conflict with U.S. security.
The 2014 Federal law provides for Puerto Rico to have a plebiscite on options that would resolve the question of the territory’s future status and that are found by the U.S. Department of Justice to not be incompatible with the Constitution, laws, and policies of the U.S.
The 2014 law was enacted because the Popular Democratic Party (PPD) officials who narrowly won control of Puerto Rico’s government in 2012 disputed a plebiscite held under local law on the same day. That vote rejected continuing territory status, often misleadingly called “commonwealth status,” and, then, choose statehood with 61.1% of the vote, compared with 33.3% for “Sovereign Free Associated State,” and 5.6% for independence.
The PPD argued that the plebiscite was unfair because Puerto Rico was not a territory and because the party’s “commonwealth status” proposal was not on the ballot. All three branches of the Federal government regard Puerto Rico as a territory, and the Obama, George W. Bush, and Clinton Administrations and congressional committee leaders of both national parties and in both houses of Congress have rejected the PPD’s “commonwealth status” proposal for constitutional and other reasons.
Last year’s Federal law on Puerto Rico’s finances, PROMESA, explicitly stated that the islands are a territory and stated that it would not interfere with the territory choosing its future status. The U.S. Supreme Court last year also reaffirmed Puerto Rico’s territory status, prompted by the U.S. Justice Department, at least in part because of the Obama Administration’s desire to obtain enactment of a law like PROMESA.
The PNP won the 2016 elections on a platform of aggressively seeking statehood. The status is the top priority of Rossello, the PNP’s two-thirds majority in each house of the Legislative Assembly, and Resident Commissioner in Washington, DC, Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon (R/PNP), who has a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Statehood or nationhood are necessary for Puerto Ricans to have equal voting representation in the government that makes their national laws and for Puerto Ricans to be treated equally under national laws. PNP leaders make the case that this equality within the U.S. is necessary for Puerto Rico’s failing territory economy to be substantially improved.
One of the first bills that Gonzalez-Colon introduced in the U.S. House would make Puerto Rico a State in 2025 if statehood wins a plebiscite under the 2014 Federal law. In the interim, equal treatment in Federal laws would be phased in according to a plan determined by the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status.
The 2016 Republican National Platform called for the Congress to enact statehood legislation if statehood wins a vote under the 2014 Federal law. Earlier, President Trump said during his campaign that Congress should consider the status for Puerto Rico if it wins a referendum.
In the past, Democrats in Congress have demonstrated more openness to statehood than Republicans.
The PPD has not decided yet what to do about the plebiscite. Some leaders want to say that it is unfair because it does not include the federally-rejected “commonwealth.” Others have advocated free association. Some suggested a boycott.
A proposal to hold a status plebiscite vote on June 11, 2017 has been enacted into law in Puerto Rico. The stated goals of the new law are to establish the “[i]mmediate decolonization of Puerto Rico,” and implement a 2014 federal law that provides $2.5 million to support a vote on status with options pre-approved by the U.S. Justice Department. According to the 2014 law, those options much be “final, permanent, neither colonial nor territorial, compatible with the Constitution, laws and policies of the United States and with international law[.]”
The options on the ballot will be as follows, with the specified wording:
With my vote, I reiterate my request to the Federal Government to immediately begin the process fro the decolonization of Puerto Rico with the admission of Puerto Rico as a state of the United States of America. I am aware that the result of this request for Statehood would entail equal rights and duties with the other states, and the permanent union of Puerto Rico with the United States of America. I am also aware that my vote claiming Statehood means my support to all efforts towards the admission of Puerto Rico as a state of the Union, and to all state or federal legislation aimed at establishing equal conditions, Congressional Representation and the Presidential Vote for the American Citizens of Puerto Rico. I am aware that Statehood is the only option that guarantees American citizenship by birth in Puerto Rico.
With my vote, I make the initial request to the Federal Government to begin the process of decolonization through:
(1) Free Association: Puerto Rico should adopt a status outside of the Territory Clause of the Constitution of the United States that recognizes the Sovereignty of the People of Puerto Rico. The Free Association would be based n a free and voluntary political association, the specific terms of which shall be agreed upon between the United States and Puerto Rico as sovereign nations Such agreement would provide the scope of the jurisdictional powers that the People of Puerto Rico agree to confer to the United States and retain all other jurisdictional powers and authorities. Under this option the American citizenship would be subject to negotiation with the United States Government;
(2) Proclamation of Independence, I demand that the United States Government, in the exercise of its power to dispose of a territory, recognize the national sovereignty of Puerto Rico as a completely independent nation and the the United States Congress enact the necessary legislation to initiate the negotiation and transition to the independent nation of Puerto Rico. My vote for Independence also represents my claim to the rights, duties, powers, and prerogatives of independent and democratic republics, my support of Puerto Rican citizenship, and a “Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation” between Puerto Rico and the United States after the transition process.
The bill specifies that blank ballots, ballots with more than one option chosen, and ballots with notes or markings outside of the official area will not be counted.