PDP leaders have chosen to re-package the
"unalterable bilateral pact" in the form of the
"New Commonwealth" status definition presented to the
Committee on Resources in the House on March 19, 1997. The
"New Commonwealth" definition would give Puerto Rico
functional separate national sovereignty, but seeks to have the
benefits of statehood and dual U.S. citizenship permanently
guaranteed by the federal constitution.
This status would be a vested right of Puerto
Rico beyond the reach of Congressional legislative authority,
protected for all time from amendment without Puerto Rico's
"mutual consent." Puerto Rico would not be a state, nor
would it be a territory. It would be in a category by itself, a
political entity of separate national sovereignty but within the
federal union forever. There would be exemptions from federal law
applicable to the States, as well as foreign affairs authority
sufficient to enter into international agreements. The specific
scope of separate foreign affairs authority and exemptions from
federal law would be based on defined spheres of "full
self-government" (meaning separate national sovereign
powers) as proposed by Puerto Rico. The modifications of the
current federal-territorial relationship necessary to implement
"New Commonwealth" would be voted on by the people of
Puerto Rico and Congress as part of a federally sponsored
transition process to this redefined commonwealth status.
At the same time, "New Commonwealth"
would be a permanent form of political union equal to that which
binds the States of the Union, and it would extend full U.S.
citizenship to a population of 3.8 million people born and living
outside the States of the Union. This citizenship would be
protected by the 5th Amendment as if it were a fundamental
constitutional right, and in addition it would be expressly
denominated constitutionally as equal to the citizenship of
persons born in the States of the Union. Residents of Puerto Rico
would have identical "rights, privileges and
immunities" as all U.S. citizens under the U.S.
Constitution, including full parity in federal benefits and
entitlements. However, instead of federal taxation on the same
basis as the rest of the nation Puerto Rico would make an
"equitable contribution" to the federal government in
connection with such benefits "as provided by law."
This relationship would be binding on Congress
in perpetuity -- i.e. forever. In other words, it would be
separate sovereignty and nationality like free association in the
case of Micronesia -- but with permanent union, full U.S.
citizenship and a status equal to the 50 States. "New
Commonwealth" would include special preferences not
available to the states, including the "mutual consent"
veto over federal law.
That there is nothing "new" about
this proposal is clear from the letter of May 31, 1996, from the
PDP President to Congressman Young, stating that the
"commonwealth" ballot definition in the 1993 plebiscite
-- which failed to receive a majority vote -- was based on the
definition of "New Commonwealth" which was allegedly
"approved" by the House when it passed H.R. 4765 in
1990. Now, on March 19, 1997, the President of the PDP has
presented to Congress the same 1990 definition of "New
However, this "New Commonwealth"
definition was not actually included in the bill approved by the
House in 1990. Rather, H.R. 4765 simply included the general
option of a "New Commonwealth Status" without stating
what that might mean. Separately from the bill, House Report
101-790, Part 1, contained the "New Commonwealth"
definition as proposed by the PDP itself back in 1990. So the PDP
is merely playing back to the 105th Congress the same proposal it
submitted to 101st Congress.
The assertion that this "New
Commonwealth" proposal was approved by the House in 1990 is
disingenuous. Indeed, the 1990 Committee Report stated that this
PDP proposal would be considered, but that this did not
"obligate this Committee or its counterpart Senate committee
to necessarily incorporate the...description...in the
legislation." Thus, in 1990 the House avoided any actual
definition of commonwealth.
Instead, under the 1990 House bill continuation
of the current status would have resulted from a majority vote
for a "None of the above" option. This made the
constitutional and political realities of the current status
invisible, and made the status quo seem to be a default option in
lieu of a "New Commonwealth Status" option which was
not actually defined by Congress in the legislation.
Instead, the PDP was allowed to "fill in
the blank" with its own definition in the Committee Report.
While extremely prejudicial to informed self-determination and
unfair to the statehood and independence parties, it is not hard
to understand why the PDP would like to go back to the 1990
Since H.R. 4756 was never enacted by Congress
the process for defining "New Commonwealth" in federal
law ended there. However, the PDP was able to "fill in the
blank" again in the 1993 plebiscite, and the result was a
"have it both ways" definition that promised everything
and cost nothing. Still, to vote for that option required
devotion to the mythology of the unalterable bilateral pact
rather than an understanding of the constitutional and political
process for improving the current status.
In contrast, H.R. 856 and S. 472 define what
actually exists rather than what does not. Thus, instead of a
non-committal "agreement to agree" on terms for a
"New Commonwealth," the current House and Senate bills
constitute informed self-determination.
The "New Commonwealth" definition
remains a "have it both ways" option contrary to
Supreme Court, Justice Department and CRS constitutional
analysis. The veil of ambiguity has been pierced as a result of
scrutiny focused on past Congressional measures and lower court
rulings influenced by PDP efforts in the 70's and 80's to make
the revisionist definition of a "new" or
"enhanced" commonwealth a fait accompli. The
true nature of the current status and real options are becoming
clear after years of political experimentation.