The Smoke and Mirrors of Puerto Rico’s Status Game Continue

EDITOR’S NOTE: In response to congressional approval of a $2.5 million federal education program for a future vote about Puerto Rico’s status and calls by the island’s pro-statehood Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi saying that such a decision would force a final binding “yes or no” vote on Puerto Rican statehood, Jorge Galva provides a different perspective.

Last week Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner, Pedro Pierluisi, loudly publicized that Congress had approved $2.5 million dollars to educate about and fund a future plebiscite to “resolve Puerto Rico’s future political status.”  Pierluisi claims that this provision occurs as a result of the anti-Commonwealth results of the 2012 plebiscite.  He also claims that this action is a breakthrough in Puerto Rico-USA status relations.

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Truth is the first casualty of war.

The same can be said of Puerto Rico’s status politics.

Pierluisi’s triumphalist statement is wholly emblematic: disingenuous at best, a deliberate lie at worst.  The historic record shows that this year’s congressional status resolution is no breakthrough at all and that it doesn’t even come close to previous congressional attempts to solve the status question.

On January 17, 1989, Puerto Rico’s political parties petitioned President George H.W. Bush and Congress’ leadership to enact legislation providing for a binding status resolution plebiscite. The House unanimously approved a binding plebiscite including three status choices; the House bill was killed in the Senate on a tied committee vote two years later. On January 23, 1997, the Legislature of Puerto Rico adopted a concurrent resolution calling upon Congress to authorize a binding status plebiscite. Representative Don Young filed bills in two Congresses allowing a vote between statehood, existing Commonwealth and independence. HR 856 was referred to the Senate but didn’t make it to the floor. Again, Congress failed to act.

The historical record belies Pierluisi. Dramatic congressional action took place in 1989 and 1997 without a prior plebiscite denying the existing Commonwealth. The status resolution mechanisms of 1989 and 1997 were defined from their inception; the contrast with the non-committal statement in the Consolidated Act could not be greater. Pierluisi is engaging in a game of smoke and mirrors to make the people of Puerto Rico believe that something of consequence has happened. In fact, the wording of that provision virtually guarantees that little of consequence will ever happen.

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Pierluisi’s sham does not, obviously, make Congress’ own sham good. The federal legislature has twice failed to fix the colonial mess it has condoned for so long. Its latest status solution is but a shameless punt.  But this is matter for another comment, another day.

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Jorge Galva lives in Vega Alta, Puerto Rico. You can follow him @JorgeEGalvaR.

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