SAN JUAN – Gov. Luis Fortuño announced Monday that he wants to call Puerto Ricans to the polls twice in the space of a little more than a year to vote on the island’s status, but the details of his plan were immediately rejected by the opposition.
In the first plebiscite, probably in December, Puerto Ricans will be asked if they want U.S. statehood, independence or an undefined free association with the United States.
On the second ballot, in early 2013, voters will choose between the winner of the first plebiscite and Puerto Rico’s current status as a U.S. commonwealth or, as it is officially known, Free Associated State.
Both the main opposition PPD, in favor of maintaining the current status, and the small Puerto Rican Independence Party, rejected the formula Fortuño chose after analyzing recommendations made earlier this month by the White House Task Force on Puerto Rico’s status.
Fortuño, of the pro-statehood PNP, said that he hopes the initiative serves once and for all to resolve Puerto Rico’s political status and that Washington understands it as a demand that something be done about the island’s colonial status.
Appointed by President Barack Obama, the task force essentially endorsed the idea of a two-stage referendum on political status. In the first phase, residents of Puerto Rico would be asked to choose between independence and remaining part of the United States.
If Puerto Rico’s residents opted to maintain the link with the United States, the second round of voting would be on the nature of that association: whether to remain a commonwealth or to seek full statehood.
PPD gubernatorial hopeful Alejandro García Padilla said Monday that Fortuño has opted for an alternative that mentions the White House recommendations but “in a way that distorts them.”
Fortuño, according to Garcia Padilla, wants to exclude the commonwealth option from the first plebiscite in the hope of spurring a large vote in favor of statehood to boost the incumbent’s chances of re-election in 2012.
While the PIP complained that the referendums amount to useless demagoguery that will only strengthen colonialism.
“The PNP succumbed to the blackmail of the Obama Report and enthrones the colony (commonwealth) as a privileged alternative in a second round of voting to be held after the 2012 elections,” PIP leader Ruben Berrios Martinez said.
Puerto Rico came under Washington’s sway in 1898 and island residents were granted U.S. citizenship in 1917, yet they cannot vote in presidential elections, though Puerto Ricans living in the continental United States can.
Since 1952, the island has been a self-governing, unincorporated territory of the United States with broad internal autonomy, but without the right to conduct its own foreign policy. EFE