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Gubernatorial Candidates Differ on Status’ Priority

By on June 17, 2016

SAN JUAN – While gubernatorial candidates agree that economic development is a priority, some say Puerto Rico must redefine its political status in order to deal with its fiscal problems while others say the status debate should be left on the back burner to focus on economic development.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that Puerto Rico does not have sufficient sovereignty to prosecute a person for a crime that a federal court has already convicted them for.   

Popular Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate David Bernier said during a recent forum at the Marketing, Industry & Food Distribution Chamber, or MIDA, that he was going to discuss the process to redefine the island’s status at a PDP governing board meeting Friday.

“We must deal with the status issue so we can plan our economy from a clear scenario…. I have said we have to move to a non-colonial, non-territorial status…. I am willing to talk about it and we must also move on a procedural mechanism,” Bernier said.

Answering a question about Puerto Rico’s lack of powers and current maritime shipping laws, Puerto Rico Independence Party gubernatorial candidate Sen. María de Lourdes Santiago said any candidate who says economic development issues can be dealt with without addressing the island’s political status issue is lying.

Tote Maritime Puerto Rico provides service between the ports of Jacksonville, FL, San Juan PR, and Fort Lauderdale, FL.

Tote Maritime Puerto Rico provides service between Florida ports and Puerto Rico.

She said Puerto Rico’s maritime shipping laws, which require U.S.-flagged vessels to transport goods to the island, are an example of the island’s political inferiority because those laws are there to protect ship builders and the maritime industry. “This is a poor country that is virtually subsidizing a rich country,” she said.

Santiago also provided as an example a First Circuit Court of Appeals ruling some 15 years ago repealing the need for a Health Department permit that allows the building or modification of facilities to provide health services, which she said has caused the proliferation of Walgreens locations all over Puerto Rico to the detriment of local pharmacies.

New Progressive Party gubernatorial candidate Pedro Rosselló has also insisted that Puerto Rico must deal with its status issue to be able to work on economic development. He also blames the economic problems on Puerto Rico’s large government and is proposing a cut to the island’s 118 agencies by allowing cities, nonprofit groups and the private sector to provide services currently handled by the central government.

Independent candidates Manuel Cidre and Alexandra Lúgaro, however, believe Puerto Rico’s social and economic issues should take precedent over the political status. Lúgaro said the island will not be able to pursue independence or statehood unless it focuses on its economic development and ensures economic and food sustainability.

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