PDP to take status referendum controversy to federal court
SAN JUAN – The Popular Democratic Party (PDP) will challenge next week in the U.S. District Court for Puerto Rico the legality of the June 11 status plebiscite.
PDP President David Bernier told Caribbean Business that the complaint will be made under the claim that, as approved, the referendum is “in violation of the civil rights of thousands of Puerto Ricans who aren’t represented in the options they included.”
“I expect it will be filed in [the] Justice [Department] next week. There is no time to waste,” said Bernier as he affirmed that the complaint will be based on “solid” arguments, “making the prompt argument as to why the plebiscite that the current government approved violates civil rights.”
However, the PDP leader said his party still hasn’t developed a status proposal to introduce in the plebiscite, in the eventuality that they may be requested to submit one to be included.
Former Gov. Rafael Hernández Colón, the principal ideologist of the commonwealth status formula, said the referendum pushed by the New Progressive Party (NPP) administration is not only “discriminatory,” but also that “Commonwealth supporters won’t be able to vote in that plebiscite.”
Nonetheless, Bernier distanced himself from the former governor, saying “that is not the Popular [Democratic] Party’s recommendation. We haven’t decided yet, and it is possible that that may be the stance, but at the present time we don’t have a decision.” He indicated that all these suggestions are presented as individual recommendations, and not on behalf of the party.
The party’s governing board agreed Wednesday, among other things, to claim civil rights violations to the U.S. Justice Department; challenge the plebiscite in the federal court for these violations; and send a delegation to Congress to meet with U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan and Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to explain the matter regarding the exclusion of commonwealth supporters in the referendum.
Meanwhile, former candidate for resident commissioner Héctor Ferrer questioned Hernández Colón’s proposal for an “improved commonwealth,” arguing it excludes an important sector within the party that aims for a “developed Commonwealth” with greater autonomy.
For his part, Hernández Colón defended his proposal as he stated that the “improved Commonwealth” aims to stop the status referendum, rather than participate in it.
When the Law for the Immediate Decolonization of Puerto Rico was still Senate Bill 51, up for consideration in the Legislative Assembly, Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz –who authored it– asked PDP leaders repeatedly to submit a status formula to be included in the referendum, but they didn’t present options.
Former Gov. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá said back then that the definition of the “new commonwealth,” assigned to a status commission created by then-PDP President Alejandro García Padilla, prepared a bill, but the latter never convened the commission to discuss the document and approve it. The document has never been released, and its contents and location remain unknown.
Acevedo Vilá said his status definition for the commonwealth will include all the party’s inclinations, which range from a territorial affiliation with the United States, to a non-colonial political association giving the Puerto Rican government broad, sovereign powers