Thomas Rivera Schatz (horizontal-x3)
Thomas Rivera Schatz (Archive / GFR Media)

They questioned the United States' demand to include the current territorial status in the status consultation, some even called the procedure "unworthy" and "disgusting," but even so at the end of the day the New Progressive Party (PNP by its Spanish acronym) delegation would have approved last night the amendments to the law that regulates the holding of the plebiscite to meet the requirements of the federal government.

After 10:00 pm and following an extensive debate, several members of the Upper House had still not issued a statement on Senate project 427, which had the opposition of the popular minority and independentist Juan Dalmau.

According to the PNP delegation, the measure addresses the demands of United States Justice Department deputy acting Attorney General, Dana Boente, as outlined in a letter sent last week.  However, for the popular Eduardo Bhatia, the landscape is a different one and he did not hesitate to say that the federal authorities would reject the project once again.  

"Those are not the right amendments and the Justice Department will turn them right back... and it will make us all look bad," stated Bhatia, insisting that all the letter does is open the doors for negotiation. 

Prior voting, the PNP delegation held a caucus that began at 3:00 pm. Until then, apparently, a large number of PNP legislators were not agreeing to include the current territorial condition in the project. However, only Senator Luis Daniel Muñiz had publicly stated his dissatisfaction, but later gave his "yes" to the measure by means of an explanatory vote. Others also expressed themselves.

"Given the circumstances, voting against these measures puts the (federal) allocation of $2.5 million at risk, to hold the consultation," he said. 

According to the legislation approved by the Barack Obama administration, the federal Justice Department would allocate $2.5 million for the guidance campaign for a status consultation in Puerto Rico, contingent to the Attorney General endorsing the definitions contained in the plebiscite.

"What the United States are doing to Puerto Rico is disgusting. I am completely disgruntled by the measure, and will vote in favor if my party votes in favor, out of discipline to the party, but completely unsatisfied because this is a total outrage against the people," sentenced Senator Abel Nazario.

Date unchanged.

During a session with the media, the Secretary for Public Affairs of Fortaleza, Ramón Rosario Cortés, explained the changes included in the new version. 

Immediately, he explained, the four concerning aspects for Federal Justice were collected during the presentation of the grounds for the draft legislation that would amend the consultation. 

They are that although the government of Puerto Rico does not agree with "including the territorial and colonial status as an option," they will harness "the historical opportunity to conduct the first consultation endorsed at the federal level to solve the status issue."

Another point of consensus is that freedom of association is "a modality of independence, and that it raises further controversy around citizenship."

"We agree with the United States Justice Department's position that Enhanced ELA is not possible and that it can only continue with the current territorial status that has allowed inequality in federal programs, the imposition of the Oversight Board and the conditions of poverty and bankruptcy that force hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans to move from Puerto Rico," said Rosario Cortés.

With that basis, the amended project establishes changes in the key dates to give way to the plebiscite.

He explained that these aspects have been coordinated with the Secretary of State, Luis Rivera Marín, and with the president of the State Elections Commission (CEE, by its Spanish acronym), Liza García.

He added that the option of statehood was redefined as a vote "to immediately begin the process for the decolonization of Puerto Rico and the admission of Puerto Rico as a state of the union of the United States of America." 

Thus, the phrase regarding the fact that annexation was the only option to guarantee the right to American citizenship by birth on Puerto Rico was eliminated. 

The option of free association/independence also underwent changes. The expression regarding American citizenship stating that "under this option, American citizenship would be subject to negotiation with the Government of the United States" was eliminated. Moreover, a detailed description was added, stating that "free association is complete and total independence."

Lastly, the officer said during interviews with the press, that the definition of the "current territorial status using the 2011 White House reports" was included.

Meanwhile, it was decided to hold the second consultation in the event that free association/independence would win by October 8th, 2017. 

Rosario, who stated that the consultation date remained unchanged, delivered a copy of the letter sent by the Governor on April 14th to the federal Justice Department, where four concurrent aspects are acknowledged. In the letter, apart from requesting to work expeditiously on the assessment of the changes introduced in Act 7 of 2017, he summons a meeting. 

Yesterday, the federal Justice Department had no comments around the letter delivered by Rosario. 

"It does not exist"

After the changes made, Governor Ricardo Rosselló stated that the "excuses" for the members of PPD not to participate in the consultation are over. 

"The demands of all those who supported the colony are being addressed. They will have the colony in its current territorial form to defend. They will have the same formula they advocated for in 2012, it is exactly the same formula," said the first executive. 

He said it "wasn't too clear" to see how, if back in 2012 they defended a formula and requested this intervention before the federal government, now they don't want to uphold that alternative. 

When asked why the Free Associated State (ELA) was not included, Rosselló stated that ELA does not exist and referred to the federal Sánchez Valle case that determined that "the source of power of ELA emanates from the United States Congress and not from the Government of Puerto Rico, therefore our Island is not a sovereign entity."

A small step forward

Although Dalmau was in favor of participating in the original version of the consultation, he condemned the acceptance of the federal government's demands when in the early stages, Rosselló had rejected the possibility.

He indicated that after receiving the letter, the governor expressed his rejection to the content of the same. Not long after, everything changed.

"Minutes later he was saying he would hold the plebiscite, that he would bow his head, include the colony and circulate the project," he pointed out.

To Dalmau, one of the "most humiliating" amendments is that the title "Act for the Immediate Decolonization of Puerto Rico" was changed to "Act for a Status Plebiscite."

His popular counterpart Cirilo Tirado won't participate either. The legislator did not issue tailor-made amendments, but rather filed Senate Project 429 to repeal Act 7 and establish the Puerto Rican Act for the Decolonization of Puerto Rico.  "It is unacceptable to intend to have a simple territorial status definition that does not solve the colonial situation," said Tirado. 

Reported José A. Delgado assisted in the writing of this article. 

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