The San Juan Star, San Juan, Puerto Rico


Acevedo Vilá: Bill takes away rights of commonwealthers

Special to the Star

(08/18/98, Copyright © 1998 The San Juan Star)

As Gov. Rosselló signed into law Monday the bill calling for a status plebiscite on Dec. 13, the Popular Democratic Party was fine-tuning its planned lawsuit against the government to stop the vote.

PDP President Aníbal Acevedo Vilá said the party would file the lawsuit in the Court of First Instance next week.

"It seems like a lack of respect for Rosselló to say that he' s guaranteeing the rights of people with this bill, yet he is taking away the rights of the half of the population that believes in commonwealth", Acevedo Vilá said.

The Puerto Rican Independence Party, on the other hand, is confident it will win in the plebiscite battle because even if statehood wins the vote, Congress is not ready to allow the island to join the union, according to Manuel Rodríguez Orellana, PIP secretary for North American relations.

"They have put Congress in the embarrassing situation of having to reject statehood [for the island]", Rodríguez Orellana said.

Neither the PDP nor the PIP have outlined their respective advertising campaigns in preparation for the status vote although officials from both parties have said they will be planning future strategies within the next few weeks.

The newly signed law authorizing a local plebiscite gives island voters a choice between statehood, commonwealth, independence and, for the first time in the island's history, free association.

Some PDP lawmakers, such as Rep. Carlos Vizcarrondo, have said the inclusion of the free association choice is a ploy to divide the PDP.

Already, two PDP members who advocate more local autonomy, Pro-ELA President Luis Vega Ramos and Jorge Colberg Toro, president of Autonomist Impulse, have said they plan to campaign in favor of the free association option.

ProELA will make public a resolution today urging the liberal sectors of the PDP to support free association unless the PDP agrees to advocate it. The bill defines free association as a treaty of association between the United States and Puerto Rico as a sovereign nation.

Senate Minority Leader Antonio Fas Alzamora said the PDP would not support the free association option, even though the party has always supported a commonwealth with more autonomy in a relationship with the United States.

Fas Alzamora said the PDP should make public soon a commonwealth definition prepared during the party's status convention. "It's a more developed form of the commonwealth. It must be unveiled soon", he said.

Arguing that there is space within the PDP for dissension, Sen. Eudaldo Báez Galib said the two autonomist members would not be expelled from the party for violating rules.

Nevertheless, Báez Galib believes the two autonomist leaders are moving too fast. If the courts ruled in favor of the PDP in its lawsuit, "the plebiscite ballot would probably have to be redesigned".

The PDP will try to convince the courts that the law authorizing the plebiscite is discriminatory because it did not allow political parties to define the status options on the ballot.

On Monday, Resident Commissioner Carlos Romero Barceló said in an interview with Efe News Agency that he hoped the Puerto Rico Supreme Court does not commit "a judicial barbarity" when it rules on the lawsuit, arguing that the top bench does not have jurisdiction on the matter.

But Fas Alzamora said Romero Barceló was engaging in "scare tactics" and accused the resident commissioner of trying to intimidate Supreme Court justices.

"He should respect our judicial institutions", Fas Alzamora said.

Asked about the inclusion of free association on the ballot, Báez Galib said the option will divide the PIP and not the PDP but Rodríguez Orellana disagreed.

"A true independentista will vote for separate sovereignty, not free association", he said.

Orellana, who has walked the hallways of Congress many times in the past, said he sees the status plebiscite as a positive step toward the decolonization of Puerto Rico.

He said congressional lawmakers have told him privately that they are concerned that Puerto Ricans want statehood for convenient reason, "to get more federal aid", and not for patriotic reasons.

In the plebiscite ballot, there is no English requirement in the statehood definition, but Rodríguez Orellana claims there is no statehood without English.

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