A view of the Puerto Rican Capitol building. Photo/AP Images

Puerto Rico leaders speak in U.S. Senate on referendum, island’s political future

The leaders of Puerto Rico’s top three political parties spoke in front of a Senate panel to discuss their voters’ preferences on statehood, commonwealth or independence for the island.

The meeting with the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources was a direct result of a plebiscite held in November 2012 regarding the current status of Puerto Rico. Voters were asked two questions: the first asked if people favored the current status as a commonwealth or not, and the second listed the alternatives. The status options included becoming a state, and total independence. The White House, however, said the vote was unclear because 466,000 people did not specify a preference on an alternative status, primarily because the current commonwealth option was left out.

Alejandro García-Padilla, the governor of Puerto Rico and a leader in the Popular Democratic Party, supports an augmented version of the island’s current commonwealth status.

The governor argued people did not support the enhanced commonwealth proposition because it was not explicitly listed on the ballot in November. He did not elaborate on the definition of said status after Sen. Ron Wyden, Sen. Murkowski, and Sen. Martin Henrich all asked him to explain how that system would operate. At the hearing, several senators questioned whether an enhanced commonwealth would give Puerto Rico the right to ignore certain federal laws.

“No one is trying to mislead you if they tell you we want to pick [laws] — the commonwealth option needs to be on the ballot and address the issue of a non-state jurisdiction,” Governor García-Padilla said.

Pedro R. Pierluisi, the Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico and President of the New Progressive Party, which advocates statehood, says Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens and deserve—and have demanded—a “democratic and dignified status in Congress.”  Pierluisi said any Commonwealth option should be excluded from future discussions.

“You cannot solve the problem of our status by including the very option rejected by our people,” Commissioner Pierluisi said. “… People were asked if they want Puerto Rico to have current status and responsed resoundingly, ‘NO.’ The options should only be statehood, free association, and independence.”

Rubén Berríos, the president of the Puerto Rican Independence Party, says although a majority of Puerto Ricans favored statehood, those who advocated for independence should still have their voices heard. He says a decision on Puerto Rico’s status should be made soon because people have been fighting for a change for decades.

“Inevitably, in any case, Congress will have to face its responsibility and make real determination possible,” he says. “Such demands an informed choice to our inalienable right to independence for our own nationality.”

He also called out Governor Padilla at the end of the meeting, saying his option cannot work for Puerto Rico.

“Mr. Chairman, nobody knows what Enhanced Commonwealth means,” he started. “They’ve been trying to define it for half a century. It is judicial hocus pocus.”

Senator Lisa Murkowski, the only senator born in a previous territory—Alaska— said now that a majority of Puerto Ricans have voted against the current commonwealth status, they must decide on whether or not the territory becomes a state or gains independence.

“It’s long been my position that the process for determining Puerto Rico’s preferred political status should come from Puerto Rico and not D.C.,” Murkowski says. “Just as the residents of Alaska and Hawaii did — as the last two states admitted to the union. It appears to me that a majority in Puerto Rico do not favor the current status.”

%d bloggers like this: