Bernier Makes Candidacy for Governor Official
During a colorful event at the Caguas municipal plaza on Dec. 20, ex-Secretary of State David Bernier made official his candidacy for governor for the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) ticket and promised that the issue of the future political relations between Puerto Rico and the U.S. from a soberanista, or sovereignty, approach would be a top priority for his administration.
Without going into details about his plan to deal with the thorny issue of Puerto Rico’s political status or the areas in that relationship that he would seek to change, Bernier said he would promote a noncolonial, nonterritorial commonwealth, which would give the island the powers needed to manage the current fiscal and economic crisis.
“This crisis has taught us that we have to once again reconsider our relationship with the U.S., looking to establish [a relationship] that is dignified, based on clear elements, and provides Puerto Rico with the necessary powers to find our solutions for this crisis,” Bernier said. “I believe in a noncolonial, nonterritorial commonwealth, with the bond of U.S. citizenship, based on respect and a search for the needed tools so that together, with unity of purpose, we can solve our problems.”
The soberanistas (pro-sovereignty) in the PDP advocate for developing the commonwealth outside of a federal territorial clause, with a maximum degree of autonomy regarding the federal government, in areas such as trade and international relations, among others. Meanwhile, the traditionalists within the PDP defend the current commonwealth relationship and call for changes in federal law in areas such as tax benefits and federal aid.
Attorney José Alfredo Hernández Mayoral, who until last week held the federal affairs secretariat of the PDP, has questioned the autonomist proposals because they don’t detail important facts such as where power would lie in fundamental issues such as U.S. citizenship as well as Congress’ powers related to Puerto Rico.
Hernández Mayoral’s recent resignation signals disgust with the pro-sovereignty position expressed by Bernier. Hernández Mayoral supports the traditional position of the commonwealth status with-in the current political-judicial framework with the U.S.
Meanwhile, New Progressive Party (NPP) Sen. Larry Seilhamer said the pro-sovereignty proposal shows that Bernier has a total lack of knowledge about the White House reports on the viable status options for Puerto Rico.
“A White House interagency report in 2011 already dismissed an improved commonwealth as an option to solve the island’s status due to constitutional defects. The report clearly defined the options to solve the status as state-hood, free association and independence,” he said.
For his part, Puerto Rican Independence Party Executive President Fernando Martín expressed skepticism about Bernier’s declaration and challenged him to take advantage of the next legislative session that begins in January to introduce a bill calling for a Constitutional Assembly on Status.
He added that Bernier’s proposal, mixing the Constitutional Assembly issue with a “Statehood yes or no” plebiscite, is a strategy to achieve nothing because the PDP will use the pro-statehood NPP as an excuse if his party doesn’t accept the initiative.
“The experience has been that the invitation to the NPP is [for that party] not to accept it, and then nothing will be done under the excuse that the NPP rejected participating in the process,” Martín said.
Defending his political proposal, Bernier said he is convinced the Constitutional Assembly on Status is the adequate mechanism to definitively address the problem of the island’s political status, although he was open to receiving proposals from other parties and sectors within his own party on a possible referendum in which voters would express their status preference.
In this sense, he said he is open to receiving the “Statehood yes or no” proposal “if there is space and the will to incorporate important amendments and define the ‘no’ [option].”
“If the electoral result would be in favor of annexation, it would have my complete backing and that of my government to obtain an answer from the U.S. in a determined timeframe,” Bernier said.
He added that if the “no” option were to prevail in the referendum, he would call for a Constitutional Assembly on Status to conduct direct negotiations with the U.S. government. The result of those negotiations would be submitted to the people of Puerto Rico for their ratification or rejection, as well as to the U.S. Senate.
Bernier didn’t explain the role, if any, of the U.S. president in that government, since today, the Puerto Rico governor is subordinate to the political and administrative figure of the president.
Meanwhile, he mentioned the 10 points that will guide his gubernatorial agenda, which include education, security and reforming the government to establish a more agile and efficient structure. He didn’t provide details or explain how he would do this.