The Department of Justice Throws Massive Colonial Wrench at Puerto Rico’s June 11 Plebiscite

Apr 13, 2017
9:59 PM

The following letter dated April 13 from United States Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente to Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló essentially stated that an upcoming June 11 island plebiscite that included statehood and independence/free association as the only two options, must include Puerto Rico’s current commonwealth status as an option as well. The letter explained that the 2012 plebiscite results, where the status quo option (commonwealth) lost in the first part of the vote and statehood won in the second part, did not eliminate commonwealth from the upcoming June 11 ballot. In other words, all this push to get to an either/or option for Puerto Rico got muddied (yet again) by bringing back a territorial (and colonial) status already rejected in 2012, and clouding up (one more time) a very complicated issue.

News of the Boente letter didn’t sit well with the pro-statehood Democrat Rosselló, who has been promoting a statehood or independence/free association vote since he took office in January. Boente’s letter was significant, because the Department of Justice was refusing to authorize federal funds ($2.5 million) to help with the plebiscite. In fact, this money was already included in a 2014 omnibus spending bill.

Rosselló’s displeasure showed up on Twitter.

DOJ proposes changes to plebiscite law. It is unacceptable to include the colony in a process to decolonize PR.

The Trump Administration’s position goes against the will expressed by Puerto Rico: a rejection to continue with a colonial and worthless system.

Nonetheless, just hours after Rosselló expressed his anger, he suddenly changed his tune, agreeing to add commonwealth as a plebiscite option. Here is what his profile tweeted on Thursday night:

We won’t turn our back on Puerto Rico. We will modify the plebiscite so that it is in line with the federal government’s position.

There are no excuses. We are going with this plebiscite. Puerto Rico will be respected.

“Even though it is worthless that we offer Puerto Ricans the option of the colony to resolve the serious problems we are facing, the opportunity to have a plebiscite endorsed by the federal government is a step forward that will benefit of the people of Puerto Rico,” Rosselló said in a press statement originally written in Spanish.

“There will be modifications so that Puerto Ricans vote in the plebiscite for one of three options: independence, the territory or statehood,” Rosselló added in his press statement.

So the more things change, the more they stay the same?

And why does it even mean anything? Congress literally owns the fate of Puerto Rico, no matter how many plebiscites are held.