Ramón Rosario Cortés, secretary of Public Affairs of La Fortaleza. (horizontal-x3)
Ramón Rosario Cortés, secretary of Public Affairs of La Fortaleza. (Archive/GFR)

WASHINGTON - The government of Puerto Rico made it clear yesterday that it will not wait for the endorsement by the US Department of Justice of the amendments to the plebiscite on status it has called for June 11 and that it intends on funding the consultation, wholly, with local funds.

When governor Ricardo Rosselló announced on April 14, to the US Department of Justice that they would amend the plebiscite law, he acknowledged that the US law from January 2014 required a period of 45 days for the Secretary of Justice to approve the definitions on status and the educational campaign from the State Elections Commission (CEE, by its Spanish acronym) before disbursing $2.5 million that would help fund the consultation.

That term has expired. The response is not in yet and it’s only a month, or 31 days, from June 11. The government –in spite of it having altered its plebiscite to include the territorial status in hopes of obtaining the endorsement by the US Justice Department and even considering postponing the consultation,- is not going to wait for a new response.

“We have not ruled out the possibility of obtaining the federal money before the consultation or after as a reimbursement. However, because we have already accepted the conditions of the Department of Justice over the definitions of status we will hold the consultation to solve the colonial problem of Puerto Rico. The local funds have been identified,” said yesterday Ramón Rosario Cortés, secretary of Public Affairs of La Fortaleza, in written answers to questions from El Nuevo Día.

The plebiscite law proposes a consultation between statehood, the current territorial status, and independence or free association. The entire political opposition, for various reasons, has decided to boycott the consultation, which could end up costing $5.3 million.

Under federal law, if US secretary of Justice, Jeff Sessions, determines that the amendments made in April to the legislation meet the constitutional, legal, and public policy norms, he should send a certification to the Appropriations Committees in Congress to request the outlay of the $2.5 million.

“The funds for the plebiscite cannot be demanded but only 45 days after the Department (of Justice) notifies the Appropriations Committees that it approves the CEE’s spending plans for the education of voters and the administration of the plebiscite, including the approval of the plebiscite’s ballot,” states the federal law.

The federal language never assumed the plebiscite would be binding on Congress – in spite of it being the federal government branch that could provide a concrete response,- but at least it sought the endorsement by the US Secretary of Justice over what the alternatives for status must be for Puerto Rico.

“It is evident that the government (of Puerto Rico) has been ineffective,” said former governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, who through Republican Senator Roger Wicker (Misisipi) and a letter to secretary Sessions has questioned that the plebiscite law complies with the federal mandate. Acevedo Vilá is convinced that the PNP government does not postpone the consultation in order to be able to hold it before the hard cutbacks ordered by the fiscal plan come into effect in July.

Rosario Cortés admitted that “the US Department of Justice has said it cannot ensure the process to release the funds for the consultation on time before June 11 because it includes the endorsement by various federal entities.”

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