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 Commonwealth."

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 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 approach.

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.

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