NPP Determined to Hold Status Plebiscite
SAN JUAN – The New Progressive Party (NPP) is certain the political-status plebiscite will take place in June 11, with or without U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions‘ permission to use $2.5 million assigned by Congress to hold the referendum.
Federal law provides that eligibility of the funds is subject to the U.S. Justice Department’s approval of the plebiscite’s political status options. The recently approved Law for the Immediate Decolonization of Puerto Rico, which sets the terms and conditions for the referendum and its follow-up measures, only includes the “statehood” and “independence/free association” options, leaving out “commonwealth” because it is considered a territorial alternative.
Over the weekend, Puerto Rico Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz, who authored the plebiscite bill (Senate Bill 51), reiterated that the vote will take place regardless of the U.S. Justice Department’s opinion, which has until April 18 to declare its stance on the referendum and its options. Were the federal agency not to emit an opinion, the local government will assume it has no issues with the referendum.
This week, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló echoed the Senate president’s statements when saying, the “Justice Department request is merely to have access to funds. We are going forward with the plebiscite. Let there be no doubt about it,” he said Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Popular Democratic Party (PDP) leaders, who haven’t decided how they would participate in the status referendum, reiterated their opposition, arguing that a referendum that isn’t endorsed by the U.S. Justice Department demonstrates changes in the NPP’s stance, and represents unnecessary spending.
PDP President David Bernier advocates for an inclusive process, “with the participation of all the status alternatives that have federal ties.”
“Any other mechanism would be pointless,” said Bernier, who will cede his party’s presidency on Feb. 28.
“It is evident that Rosselló and Rivera Schatz know that the vote they want to impose on the people is unconstitutional and does not comply with U.S. laws and public policy. They were the ones who called for the use of the federal law, and now they are reversing course,” said former Gov. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, who has already presented his stance to the U.S. Congress.
For his part, Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) Sen. Juan Dalmau supported the administration’s decision to proceed with the referendum and to exclude territorial options from the ballot, since it in tune with the PIP.
“That was what I requested from the governor on several occasions, and I believe that if the attorney general doesn’t respond or responds by imposing colonialism as a ballot option, the government must be defiant and carry out the plebiscite under the approved conditions and definitions,” Dalmau said.
Dalmau stressed that doing otherwise would promote immobility, which Rosselló’s administration has vowed against.
Moreover, the pro-independence legislator said that with its reluctance to participate in the plebiscite, the PDP is “simply looking for an excuse to not define its status formula outside the territorial clause.” Thus, he stated that the party’s opposition is only “an excuse” propagated by PDP leaders “who don’t want anything to happen.”