PDP, NPP offer opposing interpretations of US Justice status opinion

By John McPhaul

The legislative leaders of Puerto Rico’s two major political parties took away diametrically opposed interpretations of a U.S. Justice Department opinion on Puerto Rico’s political status.

The Popular Democratic Party (PDP) President José Luis Dalmau Santiago, said the legal opinion issued recently by the U.S. Department of Justice established that the presence of the commonwealth is an indispensable requirement for any status consultation process that intends to be validated by the federal government.

In addition, the opinion opens the door to an incorporated territory as a step prior to statehood, which means the payment of taxes without congressional representation, Dalmau Santiago said.

“Finally, the United States Department of Justice has agreed with the Popular Party which, from day one, pointed out that no consultation process will be valid if the Commonwealth is not included,” Dalmau Santiago said in a written statement. “This categorical position confirms our position that none of the bills currently being considered in Congress meet that requirement. The message is simple: without the Commonwealth, there is no valid consultation.”

Dalmau Santiago, who is also president of the Puerto Rico Senate, stated further that the U.S. Justice Department “clarified several points, namely: that the transition to statehood could entail the payment of taxes without representation under the incorporated territory; that the results of the 2012, 2017 and 2020 consultations are misleading; that the Financial Oversight and Management Board would continue [during a] transition to statehood; and that free association is a ‘type of independence.’”

“These statements not only say we are right, but also make it urgent that the bills submitted to Congress must be substantially modified or withdrawn,” Dalmau Santiago said. “In the next few days we will express ourselves in more detail on this important issue.”

On the other hand, for the minority leader of the New Progressive Party (NPP) in the island House of Representatives, Carlos “Johnny” Méndez Núñez, the position of U.S. Justice Department regarding the Puerto Rico status bills filed in Congress (House Resolutions 1522 and 2070) confirms that under the United States Constitution there is no possibility of any other non-territorial political relationship other than statehood.

“These opinions of the federal Department of Justice should terminate any illusion of some of the sectors within the Popular Democratic Party that there is the possibility of a Puerto Rico under the United States without being governed by the territorial clause,” Méndez Núñez said. “The debate is over.”

“Meanwhile, there is no doubt that statehood won again resoundingly today,” added the former House speaker. “The opinion of [the] federal Justice [Department] on HR 1522, the Puerto Rico Admission Act, filed by our resident commissioner in Washington, Jenniffer González and the Democratic congressman for Florida, Darren Soto, is solid and constant; they made it clear that under statehood the Financial Oversight and Management Board, an entity created by Congress to manage the finances of the colony, could be eliminated in the transition period toward the admission that Puerto Ricans have freely and democratically demanded at the polls.”

The NPP vice president said the big loser with regard to the U.S. Justice Department opinion is current House Speaker Rafael “Tatito” Hernández Montañez, who was seeking to amend HR 2070, a measure by Reps. Nydia Velázquez and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, both Democrats from New York, to include a version of non-territorial status, but with autonomy in every way.

“Certainly the great losers of today were those who cling to the colony, to immobility with the sole objective of governing the colony, to be the masters of a private estate,” Méndez Núñez said. “The current speaker of the House has spent over $400,000 on lobbyists in six months to try to get an alleged pact between two different nations accepted as political status in Congress, but receiving all the benefits such as federal funds and American citizenship. These [statements] are the end of that bad dream that only he and a group of fans thought it could be.”

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