Guest Post: Albéniz Couret on Puerto Rico’s Political Status

Reverse of Puerto Rico quarterToday, guest poster Albéniz Couret Fuentes comments on Puerto Rico’s political status. This guest post stems from a discussion Albéniz and I had in the comments to a post on recent developments in the First Circuit. Albéniz, a lawyer in private practice in San Juan, critiques Puerto Rico’s lack of representation in Congress along the same lines as Judge Toruella has done. I have a different perspective on these questions than Albéniz has—it seems to me that the Puerto Rican people have not expressed a wish to become a state, and it may be that most of the Puerto Rican people would like for the status quo to continue. It seems to me—as it seemed to the First Circuit—clear from the text of the Constitution that Puerto Rico is entitled to representation in the Congress and to choose presidential electors if and only if it becomes a state. So I don’t see any injustice in Puerto Rico’s current political status. My view would change if, for instance, Puerto Rico decides that it wishes to be a state and Congress refused. In any event, I welcome Albéniz as the latest Letters Blogatory guest blogger!

Photo credit: Quarter-dollar coin image from the United States Mint.

About Ted Folkman

Ted Folkman is a shareholder with Murphy & King, a Boston law firm, where he has a complex business litigation practice. He is the author of International Judicial Assistance (MCLE 2d ed. 2016), a nuts-and-bolts guide to international judicial assistance issues, and of the chapter on service of process in the ABA's forthcoming treatise on International Aspects of US Litigation, and he is the publisher of Letters Blogatory, the Web's first blog devoted to international judicial assistance, which the ABA recognized as one of the best 100 legal blogs in 2012, 2014, and 2015.

18 thoughts on “Guest Post: Albéniz Couret on Puerto Rico’s Political Status

  1. Thanks again for publishing my post!

    My post does not intend to take a position in favor or against “statehood” (as the term used with respect to the Puerto Rico case). But I do think it’s wrong to say that “it may be that most of the Puerto Rican people would like for the status quo to continue.” In fact I think that the opposite is clearly true. While political factions may differ on their preferred solution or the mechanism to address the status problem, they all acknowledge that the current arrangement is not satisfactory and none propose the “status quo” as the way to go. In fact, even the political platform of the estadolibristas (supporters of the “commonwealth”) proposes some kind of permanent autonomy arrangement within the U.S. system but emphatically state that any such arrangement must be outside the Territory Clause of the U.S. Constitution and in which Congress doesn’t have plenary powers over Puerto Rico. And it was a well-know estadolibrista, José Trías Monge, who in 1998 authored “Puerto Rico: The Trials of the Oldest Colony in the World.” While the viability of the proposal under the U.S.’s constitutional scheme may be doubtful, it leaves no doubt that (as they have done for decades) even the estadolibristas oppose Congress’ exercise of plenary power over Puerto Rico.

    So if there’s something that most Puerto Ricans believe is that the current arrangement needs some sort of fix. Even in the face of the passionate disagreements that the issue provokes, on several occasions Puerto Rico’s political parties have in unison asked Congress to address the matter, but always to no avail. Correctly or not, this has created a sense that local referenda doesn’t really matter much, and thus becomes dominated by the local political issues of the moment. (For e.g., the party that supports commonwealth has already decided that it will vote “no” in the upcoming plebiscite as a vote of protest against the administration and not because of what a “no” vote literally means as the question will framed in the ballot.) Thus the current conundrum: Most Puerto Ricans and all political factions reject the status quo but only Congress has the authority to make any changes. Yet Puerto Ricans don’t have any influence in Congress.

    1. Thanks again for guest-posting, Albéniz—you’re welcome anytime.

      I guess we will have a better sense of the answer to the question of what Puerto Ricans want this fall, after the referendum.

  2. The results of the Puerto Rico plebiscite are in. In the first phase, 54% of the voters said that they did not favor the status quo. In the second phase, 61% favored statehood, 33% favored some kind of continued territorial arrangement, and 5% favored independence.

    It will be interesting to see how the Puerto Ricans themselves construe these results, but they look to me like an endorsement of statehood. My understanding of the historical precedents is that following a vote of a territory’s residents on statehood, the territory submits a petition for statehood to Congress, which then passes a joint resolution admitting the territory to the Union.

    1. BTW, in the comment above I should have said that “the party that supports commonwealth ha[d] already decided that it [would] vote “YES” [instead of “no”]”. And even though that party won the election and called for a “yes” vote, voters rejected the status under the Territory Clause of the US Constitution [which most people here call “colonial”].

      1. Thanks for the comment. I’m curious what you think Puerto Rico will do given that its people did not reelect the pro-statehood governor. It seems to me that the ball, so to speak, is in the Puerto Rico government’s court, but the split decisions in the plebiscite and the gubernatorial election might mean the government doesn’t ask Congress for any change in the territory’s political status, which could well mean the status quo will remain.

        1. I’m not sure. I guess it’s safe to say that the new government will not submit a statehood petition to Congress. But I think the vote causes serious complications that the incoming government will not be able to simply ignore. For one thing, the idea that Puerto Ricans want the status quo simply doesn’t hold water anymore. I think that for years that was obvious for anyone following Puerto Rico politics, but I guess empirical evidence needed to be put forth.

          In the first question Puerto Ricans voted clearly against the status quo even while voting for a candidate for governor that called on the electorate to vote “yes” on the question. I think this is important because it shows that, in a place where elections for public office and the status issue are frequently mixed (improperly in my opinion), voters clearly distinguished between selecting a governor and voting on the status issue. It seems to me that Governor Elect García’s victory, albeit narrow, is the result of his staunch rejection of Governor Fortuño’s austerity measures and the perceived cronyism of his administration, and perhaps also with Fortuño excessive parading with GOP people that (rightly or wrongly) are not liked by a Puerto Rico electorate that seems to have a high opinion of President Obama.

          There’s another element that must be pointed out. Even though Fortuño lost, his running mate, pro-statehood Pedro Pierluisi, was re-elected as Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner in Congress. In fact, Resident Commissioner Pierluisi got more votes than Governor Elect García. In PR the candidates for governor and resident commissioner are placed on the same ballot, so obviously many people casted mixed votes in this ballot. This may provide further indication that the outcome of the gubernatorial election had more to do with the people’s choice regarding who is better fit to administer the government and make local policy decisions for the next four years than on preference regarding the status question (as perhaps it should be). So it may be that Pierluisi’s victory to be PR’s voice in Washington against an opponent portrayed by the opposition and perceived by many as wanting to loosen USA-PR ties (something that García rejected every time he could as far as I can tell) should be read together with the plebiscite’s result.

          But like I said, we’ll see…

  3. Dear Partner,

    Greetings!

    Those who accept colonialism do not believe in justice for all! Now that we know that
    the political parties will not solve this problem; I invite you to join the non-violent protest to demand that the United States (US) decolonize Puerto Rico (PR) immediately. It will be on Monday, June 17, 2013 from 8 AM to 5 PM outside the United Nations (UN) visitor’s entrance located on 46th Street and First Avenue in New York City.

    The UN has determined that colonialism is a crime against humanity in 1960 under Resolution 1514 (XV). That’s why the UN celebrates every year a hearing about Puerto Rico decolonization. Every year the UN puts forth a resolution asking the US to decolonize PR. Despite 30 of these resolutions, PR is still the oldest and most populated colony in the world! It is obvious by now that the US is not going to decolonize PR just because the UN asks.

    Through education, we must create a domestic and international solidarity with this cause to pressure the US to do what historically she has refused to do. This is why we need everyone who also believes that colonialism is a crime against humanity to join the protest to demand compliance to international law!

    Puerto Rico has been a colony of the US for 114 years. The US’ intention is to keep PR a colony forever unless we do something about it. It is important to note that: democracy isn’t what a government does. Democracy is what people do!
    President John F. Kennedy said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice anywhere.” These ideas, of course, are the reasons why the United Nations was created after World War II.

    It is up to us to defend the fundamental human rights that promote world peace. The tragedy of doing nothing is that we will have the kind of government that we deserve!

    Sincerely,

    José M. López Sierra

    For more information:
    http://www.TodosUnidosDescolonizarPR.blogspot.com
    Compañeros Unidos para la Descolonización de Puerto Rico

    1. Thank you for commenting, José. I am curious—does “decolonization” mean independence for you? I ask because it strikes me that independence is the least popular option among Puerto Ricans, so I am wondering what decolonization means in that context.

      1. Dear Partner,

        After the approval of the 33rd United Nations’ resolution by consensus on June 23, 2014 asking the United States (US) to immediately decolonize of Puerto Rico, we should work together to force the United States government to comply with it.

        The facts that the United States government has maintained Puerto Rico as its colony for 116 years, has had Oscar López Rivera in prison for 33 years for fighting for Puerto Rico decolonization, and has ignored 33 UN resolutions to decolonize Puerto Rico, confirm that the US government has no intentions of ever decolonizing Puerto Rico. Therefore, we need to form a tsunami of people to force the US to comply with the 33 resolutions.

        We should peacefully protest at least 3 times a year until we achieve our goal. The first one will be a march up to the US Courthouse in Puerto Rico on the Abolition of Slavery Day on March 22. The second will be another march in Puerto Rico on a day before the UN’s Puerto Rico decolonization hearing. The third one will be a protest in New York City on the same day the UN holds its Puerto Rico decolonization hearing.

        These 3 protests are indispensable, because those who have colonies don’t believe in justice for all.

        Sincerely,
        José M López Sierra
        Jlop28vislophis@gmail.com
        Comité Timón del Pueblo
        United Partners for the Decolonization of Puerto Rico
        http://www.TodosUnidosDescolonizarPR.blogspot.com

        1. José, decolonialization is a great idea. Now, do you mean independence for Puerto Rico, or do you mean statehood? (I assume you don’t mean that you want to keep the status quo). It seems to me that until we know what the Puerto Rican people want, it’s impossible for the US to resolve the questions of Puerto Rico’s status.

          1. Ted, I do mean independence. But what’s more important is the United Nations means independence too. When it declared colonialism a crime a against humanity, it said that independence or decolonization is the solution. At this point, it doesn’t matter what Puerto Ricans want. Once Puerto Rico is decolonized (independent) then the Puerto Ricans can decide what they want to do.

            1. At this point, it doesn’t matter what Puerto Ricans want.

              José, thanks for the comment. I invite you to reflect on what you just wrote. In the 2012 referendum, almost half of Puerto Rican voters favored the status quo. Of the three alternatives to the status quo presented, only 5.49% of the votes cast were in favor of independence.

      2. Ted, Decolonization means to stop being a colony. The colonized people have no say at this point once colonialism is considered a crime by the international community. People must be free to have free elections, therefore they must be an independent nation first before they can decide anything else. Thank you for your question.
        José

        1. José, it’s not clear to me why an election can’t be free unless the state is already independent. Your argument suggests that no independence referendum can ever be a free election. So was the recent Scottish referendum an unfair election? If perhaps you didn’t like the outcome of that election, how about the recent Catalan referendum?

  4. Should criminals be in charge of correcting the wrong they inflicted?

    Puerto Ricans vote in elections every 4 years at an 80% level of participation. Puerto Rico has been a colony of the United States (US) government for the past 116 years. If the US government has the final say in what happens in Puerto Rico, what is the purpose of these elections? The purpose is to fool the world that Puerto Rico is a democracy.

    The United Nations (UN) declared colonialism a crime against humanity in 1960. The UN has asked the US government 33 times to decolonize Puerto Rico immediately. The US government has refused. It says that Puerto Rico’s political relationship with the United States is none of the UN’s business. The US says that it is a domestic affair.

    To appear that the US government wants to decolonize Puerto Rico, it promotes the use of plebiscites to determine what Puerto Ricans want. Doesn’t that sounds innocent and democratic? So what’s the problem?

    To begin with, the international community already rendered its verdict and determined that colonialism is illegal. So to have a political status option in a plebiscite that favors maintaining Puerto Rico a colony of the United States is not permitted. To have a political status option of Puerto Rico becoming a state of the United States is also not permitted under international law. The problem goes back to the beginning of this article. In order to have free elections, the country must be free. So before these elections and plebiscite could be valid, Puerto Rico would have to first be an independent nation.

    What people must realize is that Puerto Rico is a colony of the US because the US government wants it that way. That is why it has used terrorism to keep it that way. That is why it refuses to release the Puerto Rican political prisoner of 33 years Oscar López Rivera. That is also why it is ridiculous to believe that decolonization is a US internal matter in which the UN has no jurisdiction over. If we allow the US government to decolonize Puerto Rico, she will remain a colony of the United States forever!

    José M López Sierra
    http://www.TodosUnidosDescolonizarPR.blogspot.com

    1. José, thanks for the comment. I can’t really add to what I’ve written above except to reiterate that what you are demanding is something the overwhelming majority of the Puerto Rican people say they don’t want. That can’t possibly be right.

      I don’t know what you mean with the reference to terrorism. I won’t comment on the Oscar López Rivera case in any detail, except to say that it is perhaps misleading to say that the United States has “refused to release” him: according to Wikipedia, he was offered a conditional clemency in 1999 but unlike most of his compatriots in US prisons, who accepted the offer, he refused to accept it because one of the conditions was that he renounce terrorism as a means of winning independence for Puerto Rico.

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