06 October 2011

Puerto Rico Governor proposes 2012 political status referendum, Independence Party supports initiative

Island electorate to vote up or down on territory’s current status, and constitutional amendment to reduce bloated Legislature

Press Release
La Fortaleza

SAN JUAN, PR – Puerto Rico Governor Luis G. Fortuño today announced legislation that will enable the people of Puerto Rico to determine whether or not they want to change the island’s current status as a U.S. territory. 

“We must enable our citizens to resolve the most important and transcendental issue in Puerto Rico’s history, the island’s political status,” said the Governor.  “The island’s status is an issue that affects every aspect of our daily lives, including employment opportunities, health services, public safety, our children’s education and our very rights as citizens.”

The status referendum bill Gov. Fortuño will file tomorrow in the Puerto Rico legislature will provide for a two-step process, starting with an initial up or down vote on Aug., 12, 2012, on whether or not voters want to change the island’s current territorial status.  If a majority votes in favor of maintaining the current status, there will be no further action.

If a majority votes for a change, however, on Election Day 2012 (Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012), people will vote on their preference among Puerto Rico’s three non-territorial status options: statehood, independence or sovereign free association, Fortuño said.

As promised in Fortuño’s 2008 electoral platform, the Governor and the island’s sole elected representative in the U.S. Congress, Pedro Pierluisi, initially pushed in 2009 and 2010 for Congress to set into motion a fair process for resolving the island’s political status.  The Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2009, introduced by Pierluisi, was passed in 2010 by a strong majority of the U.S. House of Representatives, but was not voted upon by the U.S. Senate.

“Every day, it becomes more and more evident that the lack of resolution to the status issue is the primary obstacle we face in order for Puerto Rico to make further progress,” the Governor said.  “The current status provides us with neither the means nor the powers that are needed to achieve the growth we need in the years ahead.  That’s one thing we all agree on,” said the Governor.

Gov. Fortuño emphasized that the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status outlined three political status alternatives – statehood, independence or sovereign free association – that are recognized as Puerto Rico’s non-colonial, non-territorial status options, and which will be presented to voters if the referendum proceeds to the second stage. 

“This process is equitable, fair and transparent; and will give all our voters the opportunity to vote for the status option they prefer,” said Fortuño. 

The Aug. 12 up or down vote on Puerto Rico’s political status will take place the same day Puerto Rico voters will also cast their ballots on a constitutional  amendment to shrink the size of the island’s Legislature by more than 25 percent.  Fortuño promised action on both status and legislative reform in his 2008 campaign platform, and the measures enjoy the support of the majority of lawmakers in the Puerto Rico Senate and House of Representatives.

“We are fulfilling our pledge to cut down to size one of the costliest Legislative Assemblies in the entire United States,” Fortuño said.  The Governor indicated that the final version of the island’s legislative reform has already been approved by the Puerto Rico House of Representatives, and is expected to be approved by the Senate within the next week.

Puerto Rico’s legislative reform reduces the overall size of the territory’s legislature from 78 seats to 56 seats, a more than 25 percent reduction.  If voters approve the proposed constitutional amendment to reduce the Legislature, the Puerto Rico Senate would shrink from 27 to 17 members, while the size of the House would be reduced from 51 to 39 members.     

“From the beginning, our administration has had the courage to take on Puerto Rico’s toughest issues, and do what’s right by our people,” said Fortuño. 

“In less than two and a half years, we’ve gone from having the worst fiscal situation of any state or territory in the Nation, to one of the best,” he pointed out.  “We’ve also delivered on our promise to provide the people of Puerto Rico with the biggest reductions in individual and corporate income taxes in history,” he added.

“Puerto Rico can wait no longer. The moment has arrived for our people to decide on amending the Constitution in order to have a smaller, more efficient and less costly Legislature, as well as to act decisively to resolve Puerto Rico’s status issue once and for all,” the Governor said.

Puerto Rico Independence Party: fix status to cure social ills
October 6, 2011
Of the Daily Sun Staff
The heart of the infection that has caused many ills could very well be that the island’s status dilemma has yet to be resolved, Puerto Rican Independence Party President (PIP by its Spanish acronym) Rubén Berríos said Wednesday.
“Without a doubt, Puerto Rico’s fundamental problem that affects everything else, is the [island’s] colonial [status]. It has to be resolved because it’s the focus of the infection of many of our ills,” Berríos said at a news conference at PIP headquarters in Hato Rey.
Berríos said that he was satisfied with the ratification of the status project before the legislature indicating that “such an initiative in essence picks up the proposal that has been pushed by the PIP since 2005 and it’s the antidote that will initiate the cure for the terrible colonial disease that our country has been suffering from for the past 113 years,” Berríos said.
Berríos, who is also the honorary president of the international socialist movement, said that Puerto Ricans can’t continue being condemned to colonialism forever or to mere change, as has occurred during the past four decades — from Popular Democratic Party or New Progressive Party leaders and vice-versa — because on the contrary everyday problems will continue to be aggravated.
“Months ago the governor and I — after a number of substantive discussions — announced at La Fortaleza that a principal of understanding existed on how to face Puerto Rico’s colonial problem. That is where the legislative measure is headed … If approved, in its fundamental aspects, as it has been ratified, we will be heading towards decolonization,” Berríos said.  
Berríos insisted that resolving the colonial issue is indispensable to face all other immediate problems.
“Those who are opposed to the holding of this consultation, arguing that it’s of priority to deal with everyday problems, what they are really doing is using every problem as an excuse to keep us as a colony, which is what generates these problems. As if it was not as necessary to resolve the colonial problem as to solve every day problems. For the first time in 113 years the people of Puerto Rico will be able to express themselves as a majority against the colonial and territorial condition that exists at this time, opening the doors to decolonization,” Berríos added.
Meanwhile, PIP Vice President María de Lourdes Santiago said that the pro-independence political party will be challenging in court the legislative reform project as soon as lawmakers approve it.
Santiago said that the bill, as is, needs at least three amendments to be made to the Constitution. In addition, the way the measure was designed makes it quite difficult for PIP contenders to become lawmakers.
“Once the legislative reform is approved we will have the opportunity to refute it in court. We had already talked about this when the project was announced because we understand the proposal represents over three amendments being made to the Constitution, as you would have to alter the way in which the Senate and representative districts are composed and the number of lawmakers would also change,” Santiago said.

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