Former PDP governors reject decolonization project
SAN JUAN – Former Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Govs. Rafael Hernández Colón, Aníbal Acevedo Vilá and Alejandro García Padilla told the Legislature that decolonization Bill 51 is far from being the solution to the status issue because it excludes those who favor the developed-commonwealth option.
Hernández Colón said that the bill fails to comply with the federal government’s proposal as well as international law and also violates the voting rights of Puerto Ricans who support the developed commonwealth.
“Leaving the developed commonwealth off the ballot also constitutes a violation of the substantive due process guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States of America and the commonwealth’s Constitution. Not including this alternative in a voting process to exercise the right of self-determination is depriving hundreds and thousands of Puerto Ricans of their freedom to choose the alternative they prefer without granting them the due process of law of having their alternative compete democratically alongside that of other Puerto Ricans and allowing the future of the country to be decided by the majority of the vote,” Hernández Colón said.
The former governor cited various precedents by the U.S. Supreme Court that in his opinion consider the developed commonwealth as a constitutional status alternative for Puerto Rico.
“A plebiscite is nothing other than the expression of the will of a people channeled through their voting at the polls. Legislators: The moment Puerto Rico is going through should not be one to deepen the divisions that exist between us regarding the political status,” Hernandez Colón said.
Acevedo Vilá argued that Senate Bill 51 does not address the status issue with the seriousness it deserves “nor does it respect the most basic principles of democracy.”
“Because of the way it was inspired and written and based on the expressions and actions of the NPP government leadership, my position is that this bill is not amendable,” he said.
Acevedo Vilá pointed out that in the mainland U.S., there is resistance to grant statehood to Puerto Rico. “It is surprising and tragic that the new government has incurred in clear contradictions on this issue in less than a month in office and that after careful consideration Senate Bill 51 is nothing more than a repetition of the rigged processes held in 1998 and 2012, but on steroids. The process cannot be designed so that results are predetermined,” Acevedo Vilá said.
The former PDP governor explained that according to Senate Bill 51, it invokes federal law that says that in order to be considered, status solutions must be submitted to the federal Department of Justice so it can define if they are constitutional.
“If you open the process up so the PDP can go to the federal Department of Justice, we will go. What we will not do is submit a proposal that you have disqualified. If they provide an inclusive process I guarantee that the PDP will be there, united,” Acevedo Vilá said.
Meanwhile, García Padilla argued that Puerto Rico would lose more funds if it becomes a state. “Is it the intention of this Senate to distract public opinion regarding the elimination and reduction of employee benefits? If the commonwealth is so bad, put it on the ballot and defeat it in a fair fight. They should not be afraid of it. Our call is to initiate a process that is not exclusive, that does not do away with the electoral franchise of those who believe in the current formula, but developed, and allow pro-statehood, pro-independence and pro-commonwealth supporters to have their formula [featured] there,” García Padilla said.
Romero Barceló and Berríos Endorse the Bill
Former New Progressive Party (NPP) Gov. Carlos Romero Barceló supported the Senate’s decolonization bill, but suggested it undergo many amendments.
“We need an aggressive plebiscite law to help move Congress and the White House. To achieve this I have many observations and recommendations that would help improve the bill…. We must demand that Congress act quickly and that the legislative process be approved through the so-called fast-track system. After 100 years of depriving us of our right to vote and [to have] representation in our nation’s Congress, [taking] four years to approve the admission process and make it become a reality is more than reasonable. We have run out of patience with the colony. We cannot continue to let time go by and delay the solution,” Romero Barceló said.
The former NPP governor called the bill filed by Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón in Congress “absurd,” “because it postpones statehood to 2025.”
“I do not like the other bill because it says that this can take until 2025 and for me that is not acceptable. I do not believe that [González’s] House Bill was discussed with anyone. It’s a paper. It is not sacred. We cannot delay things,” Romero Barceló said.
Meanwhile, Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) President Rubén Berríos noted that Puerto Rico has to stand up to decolonize the island so he endorsed the Senate bill.
“Enough with ambivalence. This is a request to Congress to either dispose of the territory or integrate it. If you dispose of the territory then there are two options: Free association and the second is independence. This is a bill to move public opinion, there is no guarantee from Congress,” Berríos said.
Former PDP candidate for resident commissioner Héctor Ferrer Ríos, who spoke on behalf of PDP President David Bernier, said in his speech that the bill is anti-democratic.
“With this bill we are before another attempt to manufacture a majority. Our position is that this bill is not amendable. Real pro-statehood supporters should repudiate it because it is not statehood now,” Ferrer Ríos said.