In his budget speech to the Puerto Rican Congress this week, Republican and pro-statehood Governor Luis Fortuño closed his remarks with his most detailed public remarks about the colony’s political status question and the recent White House Report that presents the island’s options for a status plebiscite. What follows is an English translation of Fortuño’s remarks.
Governor Luis Fortuño’s Budget Address to Puerto Rican Congress, April 12, 2011
The White House report contains another issue of great importance, and even though it is not something that we think about every day, it affects ALL aspects of our lives… the issue of our status, or the issue of our relationship with the United States, a nation of which we are citizens.
For the first time in more than 112 years, the United States, through its President, has placed the route we must follow in black and white, and they are willing to accept, to resolve, once and for all, the issue of our political status. It is a HISTORIC opportunity we cannot miss.
In Puerto Rico we have already achieved a consensus that the status issue must be resolved soon. Every day we see more clearly that the status issue—which has so divided us as a people—is the main obstacle to move forward TOGETHER. For example, in recent days a group of non-partisan economic experts said that Puerto Rico has been in decline for the past 50 years. Forget about if our current status brought or not brought us benefits in the past, the fact is that today, during these time even those who have historically defended the Commonwealth, say it no longer serves us and must be changed. This is what they presented in their election platform during the last elections.
Those who want independence, obviously do not agree with our current status. And those who believe in getting all the rights and powers that we would have as American citizens under statehood, don’t either. In short, EVERYONE, including all political parties, agrees that we must change our status NOW. And you also know.
The main reason why our current status does not work is because we do not have the tools and powers that we need to move forward. On that we all agree. The White House report clearly states, on page 26 that our present political status is a United States territory, subject to the territorial clause of the federal Constitution. That means that we do not have the necessary powers to progress, or we would have if we were a state, nor that we would if we were a republic, either fully independent or in a relationship of free association.
These three alternatives—statehood, independence and free association—are the three alternatives that all nations of the world accept, and that the same White House Report recognizes as non-colonial and non-territorial. The report clearly says that only these three alternatives, and NO OTHERS, are those that would be available to us, and they would be granted, if we change what we have now. In fact, the report rejects outright the notion of an “improved” Commonwealth that has no place in the American constitutional system.
The report also says, however, that the people must be given the opportunity to vote for NO CHANGE. Also the report says that although our present Commonwealth status is that of a territory under the powers of the federal Congress, if that’s what the People of Puerto Rico want, they have the option to maintain it.
Many people in my party disagree with this. The Independence Party leadership also disagrees. They say that if the Commonwealth IS THE PROBLEM, it cannot be the solution and therefore should not be among the options that are submitted to the people. But like it or not, the White House report says clearly that the people of Puerto Rico have the right to choose “no change”, so let’s ensure that people can choose the Commonwealth as it is: a territory within the territorial clause of the federal Constitution, as the report states.
The report presents a series of options on how to consult with the people regarding this status issue status in a fair and transparent way.
One option, the report details in page 28, offers two consultations. In the first, you would have the opportunity to choose between three options for change of status that the White House report and international law recognize as non-colonial and non-territorial alternatives: statehood, independence and free association. Then in the second consultation, you can decide whether to change or to not change. In other words, you can choose the option to change status to win in the first consultation and the alternative of staying as we are, without any change, in the second consultation.
In summary, there are two consultations: the first would choose between three options for change of non-territorial and non-colonial status that United States would be willing to grant (statehood, independence or free association) and the second would choose if we want to change or remain as is.
After analyzing this and other options set out in the report, I have decided that this alternative is the fairest for everyone in Puerto Rico to express their will directly and transparently.
First, as recommended by the report, the two consultations will give the people the opportunity to exercise their right to vote directly and secretly, as we do during elections in Puerto Rico. The resolution of our status is a decision that should take you directly to the power of the vote not and not to and assembly composed of politicians meeting in dark rooms.
Second, as recommended by the report, consultations all eligible voters in Puerto Rico may vote. We are united by close ties with our Puerto Rican brothers living in the rest of the U.S. and other countries, but the report acknowledges that the decision on the future status of Puerto Rico is the responsibility of those living on the island.
Third, EVERYONE in Puerto Rico can vote for their preferred alternative: those who want statehood, those who want independence, those who want free association, and those who want that we stay as we are. ALL have the opportunity to choose the option they prefer.
Fourth, as recommended by the report, give enough time for towns to receive all information you need to make an informed and thoughtful decision. For this, we proposed that the first consultation to take place in November of this year and the second consultation by early 2013.
In recent days, leaders of the Popular Party and the Independence Party have spoken out against this proposal of consulting with the people on this important issue of status. This is not surprising. This is what some political leaders have done in the past: talk and talk that we resolve this issue, but find an excuse to pull back when the time comes to present a real opportunity to resolve it. As they think they cannot prevail, they prefer to procrastinate. Popular Party leaders complain that the Commonwealth will not be on the ballot. THAT’S NOT TRUE. In fact, the Commonwealth AS IT IS NOW, without changes” will be on the second consultation. But more importantly, free association or the associated free state (commonwealth)—as they themselves called it in the status proposal the submitted on their platform for the past elections—will be UNDER THE FIRST CONSULTATION. So both those who want a “free associated state ”as the Commonwealth is right now will have the opportunity to vote for their preferred option.
Popular Party leaders wants us to run the consultation in a way that does not represent independence or free association. That would not be fair because you are not giving the opportunity for people who prefer these alternatives to vote for these options.
For its part, Independence Party leaders want the first consultation to not be an option on status, but on how we will resolve the status: as a direct vote in a referendum or in an assembly status. The reason is obvious: they hope to win the assembly status to try to achieve something in a dark room which obviously cannot be accomplished at the polls. That is not an option: it would be a mockery of democracy.
Finally, leaders of both the Popular Party and the Independence Party have complained that the alternatives that we present to the people is too much time between the first and second consultations. Although it is desirable that the two consultations occur closer to each other, the truth is that 2012 is an election year in which we have three electoral events: local political primaries, presidential primaries and national general elections next November.
Despite these disagreements, we must make every effort to achieve consensus among political parties on the process to be followed so this fundamental status issue is resolved. Just as we did recently on the issue of electoral reform, which enables a dialogue process that resulted in consensus among the parties about the issues that were most in dispute, I am confident that a similar dialogue can result in a consensus that encourages greater voter participation possible in the consultations that we will have to decide our political status.
To do this, I am asking political parties to nominate one representative to a Dialogue Committee so that together—within 30 days—consensus through dialogue is reached. I make this call to dialogue with the utmost good faith, and confident that consensus is possible. However, it is clear, that if within 30 days of the formation of the Dialogue Committee, a consensus is not reached, I will have to submit the necessary legislation so that before the end of my four years here, we hold the first referendum for a definitive and permanent solution to the status problem.
Puerto Rico has waited too long, and we will not allow those who prefer inertia and breeching to deprive an entire people of their right to reach a final decision, non-colonial and non-territorial, to ensure our children a future of progress and wellness.
To this end, we are allocating the necessary resources in the budget for the next fiscal year to conduct such consultation BEFORE THE END OF THIS TERM. We promised the people and we are going to do it because we will continue to BE WITH PUERTO RICO.
Puerto Rican brother and sister, the time has come. Our country deserves that their daughters and children respond to the call. Puerto Rico has been more than patient. The island has waited decades for us, but it can not wait any longer. I ask that you evaluate the reliable and responsible patriotic opportunity presented to us in the White House proposal that I presented to you to resolve the status issue. For that we can finally see the day free from the obstacle that divides us. Let us walk together, like a united family, to the glory that the Creator has reserved for Puerto Rico.
God bless you… and God bless Puerto Rico!
Thank you very much.