Puerto Rico Faces a New Political Landscape

Senators from the main political parties agree on the need to reconsider relationship with the U.S.

By Rebecca Banuchi

The decision from the U.S. Supreme Court denying that the principle of dual sovereignty applies to Puerto Rico establishes a new political landscape for the island, and it drives for the redefinition of a new relationship between both nations that will bury the current territorial status.

That was the general consensus among some of the members of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) majority in the Senate, and the delegations of the New Progressive Party (NPP) and the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) during an extensive debate, at the close of the session, in which they discussed the implications of the ruling of the Supreme Court on the case of the Commonwealth Of Puerto Rico v. Sánchez Valle.

Although less categorical in his arguments than the minority leaders, the President of the Senate Eduardo Bhatia pointed out that the ruling deserved serious consideration, and that he believes it allows to establish certain parameters to discuss the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States.

“This case poses some fundamental questions for us as a nation. Do we want to be subject to the exclusive will of Congress? And the answer for anyone with dignity would have to be ‘no,’ ” stated the Senate leader during his turn in the debate.

“The greatest legacy this generation can leave is to not pass on the topic of Puerto Rico's status without resolution to future generations, because it is a subject that divides our people, holds us back as a nation. It's a topic that makes us cannibalize each other, when we have so much to give to our country,” Bhatia maintained.

A Coffin for the Commonwealth

Senator María de Lourdes Santiago, spokesperson for the PIP in the Senate, recalled that the Supreme Court ruling, denying that the island has any self-government regarding the double jeopardy clause, did not happen in a vacuum. It was issued on the same day the House of Representatives approved H.R.5278, which would impose a Federal Oversight Board with broad powers over the government of Puerto Rico.

But for the also PIP gubernatorial candidate, the intention of the U.S. judicial branch was to establish a legal base for those who attempt to challenge the faculties of the proposed fiscal entity.

“The problem is not the board; and those who are outraged by the board, yet are satisfied with the Commonwealth, suffer of—to quote colonialist leader Luis Muñoz Marín— ‘a serious spiritual mess.’ The board exists because the Commonwealth and its advocates allow it,” stated Santiago, who urged for an immediate start towards a decolonization process for the island.

“This is the last nail in the coffin for the Commonwealth. Colonialism has been laid bare today by those who created it, by the United States... The Executive Branch, the Legislative Branch, the Judicial Branch (of the U.S.) have already spoken. It is written on the wall: the Commonwealth is a colony, and it will always be one,” the legislator asserted.

For NPP spokesperson Larry Seilhamer, no one should be surprised by the Supreme Court ruling, and he explained that those who support statehood have been arguing for decades that the approval of the Constitution of the Commonwealth in 1952 did not end the colonial situation on the island.

Seilhamer urged members of the PDP clamoring for sovereignty to adopt a discourse in favor of free association, because, according to him, the possibility of an “enhanced” Commonwealth has no place in the current political climate.

“The 2011 interagency report from the White House clearly acknowledges it. The options to solve the status in the island are statehood, free association, and independence. Demanding a sovereign or enhanced Commonwealth is not viable, since it suffers from constitutional defects. The alternatives are on the table, and those of us supporting statehood and independence are clear. Now it's up to the PDP to make up their minds, because the model of Commonwealth they've been supporting has simply died,” stated the NPP Senate leader.

 

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