The president of the Puerto Rico Senate, José Luis Dalmau, commemorated Constitution Day by demanding changes to the Puerto Rico Status Act, which is currently being considered in the Natural Resources committee of the House. He wants to include the “enhanced commonwealth” option, which the federal government has clearly said is not possible under the U.S. Constitution.
According to El Nuevo Día, Dalmau said, “The new Commonwealth of Puerto Rico will be united to the United States through a formal pact of political autonomy. Said pact will have the character of a permanent relationship and will establish, as a public policy of the United States, that any modification to the relationship between the two peoples must be approved by the people of Puerto Rico through a referendum.”
The only permanent relationship possible between Puerto Rico and the United States is statehood. The current territorial status is a longstanding but temporary arrangement which could be changed at any time to statehood or independence. If Puerto Rico chose independence with free association, the treaty of free association would not be permanent, and could be changed or ended by either nation at any time. That is the “free” part of free association.
Senate companion bill
A Senate companion bill for HR2757, the Puerto Rico Status act, is expected to be filed soon I n the U.S. Senate. There is also talk of Sen. Roger Wicker’s competitive bill being refiled. Wicker filed a competing Puerto Rico Status Act , including the current territorial relationship under the name of “commonwealth,” last year. Dalmau hopes to influence Wicker to change his legislation to include the “enhanced commonwealth” description.
Dalmau wants the definition of the commonwealth option to include permanent guaranteed U.S. citizenship (which Puerto Ricans do not currently have) for people born in Puerto Rico, as well as language specifying the application of federal laws and benefits.
He would also like to see changes in the definition of statehood in the Puerto Rico Status Act. For example, he wants it to specify that Puerto Rico could not participate separately in the Olympics, although this is actually not a decision made by Congress. He also wants it to include details about federal financial support for a state of Puerto Rico and federal payment of Puerto Rico’s debt. Apparently, his goal is to make the statehood option, the most popular choice, seem less appealing to voters.
Statehood Party representative José Aponte said that the Dalmau proposal had “no logic.”
“On the one hand they tell the federal government, ‘give me a permanent union, full citizenship, funds, but I decide which federal law applies to me and which does not.’ A congressman can buy that by offering fundraising events knowing that it will not happen. In reality, what this proposal does is try to freeze the ball, the public discussion,” said Aponte.
In previous plebiscites, there have been options on the ballot which could not be supported by the U.S. Congress. “Enhanced commonwealth,” which has been declared unconstitutional and not viable by all three branches of the federal government, is the most obvious example. When voters have made this choice, Congress has been unable to implement it.
The current Puerto Rico Status Act is a compromise among leaders of varied political persuasions. Its object is to allow Puerto Rico voters to choose among non-territorial options which could be put into action. Giving voters a chance to vote for an option which is not possible under the Constitution is meaningless and pointless.