10 June 2016, El Nuevo
It’s time to demand a decolonization process
The U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion, which confirms that Puerto Rico lacks the sovereignty to process in its courtrooms cases that were already tried at a federal level–even though it originated in a court case,–places the country in a historical moment concerning its relationship with the United States.
Issued the same day the U.S. House of Representatives was considering the PROMESA bill, the Supreme majority decision establishes that the “ultimate source” of power for the purpose of presenting charges isn’t the Commonwealth’s Constitution or its people: it’s Congress. In addition, it acknowledges that under the U.S. Constitution’s Territorial Clause, Congress has broad powers to develop innovative approaches related to the governance of territories.
The case Puerto Rico v. Sánchez Valle, from which the decision arises, goes back to 2008 and it’s the typical example of a seemingly innocuous legal petition that suddenly triggered a breakthrough of unexpected consequences. Luis Sánchez Valle was accused in the state court for violating the Arms Act, and afterwards was sentenced for similar crimes in the federal court. But when the state court ordered the sentence, his lawyers requested the dismissal of state charges, on the grounds of the constitutional doctrine against double jeopardy. Ultimately, the question is whether Puerto Rico can prosecute a person who has already been prosecuted on a federal level. The U.S. Supreme Court clearly said no.
While the Supreme Court concluded that Puerto Rico has less authority on judicial matters when compared to the states, in Congress they were debating the PROMESA bill that places a Board over the decisions on budget, economic, and fiscal issues, which used to be in the hands of the state government. This therefore limits the exercise of Puerto Rico’s public powers on the internal management of these other issues.
In other words, the United States has a territory whose Constitution, approved by Congress, was clearly stripped of powers. And with the next move on the United States Senate for the Oversight Board approved in the U.S. House, it is even more evident that the power comes from Congress and not us, the people of Puerto Rico. It’s ironic that the American nation, which calls for the self-determination of other countries, and sometimes Puerto Rico, keeps its territories and its American citizens in limbo.
In this important juncture, Congress is being called upon to express itself and act on the relationship with its territory. We’ve had over 100 years of this unequal relationship and Congress hasn’t shown the slightest interest in resolving Puerto Rico’s political condition.
The Popular Democratic Party enters a critical phase, in which a generational mix of new and more experienced leaders will have to polish their positions on a Commonwealth that’s increasingly more devalued, as well as on where it’s headed, or rather where it could head. The initial reaction of its President, David Bernier, is that the status subject must be addressed immediately, and for that he summoned the PDP governing body.
In the New Progressive Party, which has a new president in Ricardo Rosselló, another generational mix is challenged to force the process towards the statehood status under difficult circumstances, the island’s critical economic situation, and the Board that PROMESA would create.
Against this background, the great economic an social challenges that Puerto Rico faces make all sectors have to redouble their efforts to find a solution for the country.
PROMESA concedes a much-needed space to reorganize the public debt that has been holding back our economic development. But it’s in the hands of our political, economic, and civic forces to ensure that the macroeconomic decisions that are made from here on out have a positive impact on Puerto Rico.
Now that Puerto Rico’s political inferiority is evident, through the expressions of the Supreme Court and Congress’s proceedings, by limiting our so-called “self-government” even more the moment has arrived to begin a decolonization process.
It’s in out hands to demand a defining–and definitive–process for Puerto Rico.