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Colberg: PDP Should Defend Free Association

Party to get no funds or electoral officers if it backs 5th option

by Eva Llorens Velez

October 19, 1998
©Copyright 1998 The San Juan Star

Autonomist Impulse leader Jorge Colberg Toro urged the Popular Democratic Party to defend the free association option in the Dec. 13 status vote since voting for the "none of the above" column will only have meaning in Washington if it gets a majority vote.

Colberg Toro also said State Election Commission President Juan R. Melecio and the election commissioners cannot provide electoral officers and economic resources as the PDP, which is defending the "none of the above" option, because the plebiscite law prevents it.

"The SEC cannot interpret nor change the plebiscite law. That can only be done by the courts and legislative assembly," Colberg Toro said, noting that they will have to deny a PDP request.

PDP President Anibal Acevedo Vilá's plan to defend the fifth column or "none of the above" as a strategic move to promote the party's new commonwealth definition, which was unveiled Friday, "was destroyed after White House and Congressional officials said they did not plan to interpret such a petition as a request to enhance the current commonwealth status," Colberg Toro said.

On Thursday, the PDP governing board agreed to campaign in favor of the "none of the above" option that will appear on the plebiscite ballot, along with territorial commonwealth, statehood, free association and independence.

By calling on its supporters to vote on the fifth ballot option, the PDP is reiterating that it disagrees with Congress's definition of commonwealth as a territory subject to the full powers of the United States, and is protesting Gov. Rosseló's push for a plebiscite as the island is still recovering from the ravages of Hurricane Georges.

According to the plebiscite law, backers of the fifth column are not entitled to receive $500,000 in advertising funds or have electoral officers at the polling stations.

On Friday, the PDP unveiled its definition of commonwealth as a non-colonial, non-territorial nation, and announced plans to send that definition to U.S. lawmakers.

If the fifth ballot option wins the plebiscite, then the PDP plans to ask the U.S. Congress to support the voters' decision and engage in negotiations toward changing the current status.

Colberg Toro, who said he sent a letter to President Clinton to find out if the fifth option will have any value in Congress, said that while the definition is an advancement for the PDP, "the statements of Congressional leaders constitute a check-mate for the PDP's strategy."

Various White House and Congressional members, such as Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. and Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, have said that, if anything, voting for the fifth column would not be interpreted as a request for a change in the current status.

"Besides, they also said that a vote in the fifth column does not represent a request for a change in status, and some even said that it would bring a mixed message," Colberg Toro said.

PDP Sen. Eudaldo Báez Galib said he believes the "none of the above" option could win the plebiscite. He said the column has sympathizers among phone workers, doctors angered by the elimination of the Puerto Rico Medical Association, and attorneys angered by Rosselló's attempt to control the Puerto Rico Bar Association.

Báez Galib, who was a former electoral commissioner, said the PDP is entitled to equal protection under the law by the electoral law and the Constitution.

"From the moment a political party enters the game, it has the same right as others," Báez Galib said in reference to the PDP's petition to SEC.

Puerto Rican Independence Party President Fernando Martín said he does not oppose giving advertising funds and electoral officials to the PDP since they have the right to campaign on equal footing with the other political parties, according to an Associated Press report.

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