House to consider status referendum bill Tuesday
SAN JUAN — The Puerto Rico House of Representatives will consider in next Tuesday’s Ordinary Session the status referendum bill, and the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) announced it will present several amendments to the bill, which was approved last week by the Senate.
Senate Bill 51 was approved in that legislative organism with 22 votes in favor, 21 of which came from the New Progressive Party (NPP), and another one from independent Senator José Vargas Vidot. Meanwhile, the seven senators from the PDP and Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) Sen. Juan Dalmau voted against it.
Tuesday’s ordinary session is scheduled to begin at 2:00 p.m.
David Bernier, PDP president and former gubernatorial candidate, said that his party’s legislative efforts are aimed toward improving the bill, since they claim that the approved language tends to favor statehood as an option.
“We are exhausting all our resources in the legislative route to transform the bill into a representative measure for all sectors in our society. Unfortunately, we haven’t found will in the legislative majority,” he stated in written declarations.
The PDP official said that if they accepted the amendments then his party’s delegation would vote in favor of the bill, but if not then they will vote against it and defend the right to participate of those who do not align with statehood or independence.
Last week the Senate didn’t accept any proposals from the PDP delegation, so they voted against it.
“A subject of so much importance for the country’s future needs to be framed within the broadest spirit of democratic participation; if not it will be doomed to fail,” affirmed Bernier.
The bill, presented by Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz, authorizes a plebiscite on June 11, in which voters will choose between non-colonial options, statehood and independence.
Commonwealth advocates such as former Governors Rafael Hernández Colón and Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, stated they will take their concerns to different forums in Washington, D.C., particularly the U.S. Justice Department, since they believe the bill doesn’t give equal treatment to the participating status options.
Neither commonwealth nor independence supporters approve of the bill as approved by the New Progressive Party (NPP) in the Legislative Assembly, because they consider it to be biased in favor of statehood, in order to achieve a fictitious majority in favor of that status option.
Former Senator Marco A. Rigau, who launched the “free association” option, said that “if the definition isn’t politically and judicially correct, it can’t participate.”
Pro-independence Senator Juan Dalmau, who voted against the bill, criticized that it defined independence and free association, or commonwealth, as the same, despite his understanding that they are different.
Dalmau also agreed that the bill favors statehood, “and it is riddled against sovereignty, plus, it allows the Popular [Democratic] Party to remain undefined because the option for free association included doesn’t represent them.”
However, although they voted against the bill, the PIP appears to be inclined to participate in the referendum and has already begun consultation with its base to finally announce its decision.
For their part, commonwealth supporters have proposed in the Legislature, unsuccessfully, a “developed commonwealth,” which they say would “perfect the relationship established by the Puerto Rico and United States constitutions.”
A second option they proposed is the “sovereign commonwealth,” described as a decolonizing option that acknowledges the island as a “judicial body with its own authority,” in agreement with the federal government.
They also proposed a fifth option for the ballots, “none of the above,” but the NPP legislative majority already blocked it.
PDP and PIP officials didn’t support the NPP’s legislative initiative because it defines independence and free association as interchangeable terms, apart from excluding other status options such as the ones presented by the PDP.
However, commonwealth advocators did not present a text that could back their proposals even though they were required repeatedly to do so by Rivera Schatz.
The senatorial leader stated that “with this bill’s approval and the consultation to the Puerto Rican people, our government is fulfilling another commitment it made to put an end to the political status problem […] we will begin with an immediate decolonization process that Puerto Rico so desperately needs.”
If statehood results victorious in the proposed referendum, the government will create a Transition Commission composed by seven members, who in turn will draft a Transition Plan that must be approved by Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, to request annexation to the federal government.
On the contrary, if sovereignty takes the majority of votes, a second plebiscite will be held on October 8, in which voters will decide whether they favor free association or independence.