SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla has denounced what he is calling a change in the U.S. government's historic position on the island's political status.
In a letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, portions of which were released Sunday by the governor's office, Garcia Padilla said the new stance contradicts the U.S. past position that the autonomy Puerto Rico gained through the approval of its 1952 constitution should remove it from the U.N.'s list of non-self-governing territories.
"I believe it is my moral obligation to defend and to clarify the historic record, not only before us, but before the courts, the United States and the international community," Garcia Padilla wrote.
Last week U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli filed a friend of the court brief arguing that Puerto Rico remains a territory under the powers of the U.S. Congress despite the increased autonomy its constitution granted.
"Puerto Rico's transition to local self-government was a significant development in its relationship to the United States, and it has yielded many benefits for Puerto Rico and the United States in a relationship of mutual respect. Congress has evinced no intention to revoke the local autonomy it has vested in the government of Puerto Rico. But as a constitutional matter, Puerto Rico remains a territory subject to Congress's authority under the Territory Clause," Verrilli stated in the brief.
The filing is in connection of a U.S. Supreme Court review of a case that will determine if Puerto Rico, like the 50 states, can file local charges against people for crimes of which they have already been convicted by federal authorities. The answer centers on whether Puerto Rico is a "separate sovereign" for purposes of the U.S. Constitution's Fifth Amendment Double Jeopardy clause. The Puerto Rico Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that the island is not a separate sovereign because Congress' decision to permit local self-government involved a "delegation of powers" not a "transfer of sovereignty."
The governor, the head of the Popular Democratic Party that supports the existing commonwealth status, insists that Puerto Rico is not a "mere territory," but statehood supporters are championing the Verrilli brief. Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi called it the "most complete document ever published by the U.S. government about the theme of Puerto Rico's political status."
The brief itself argues that the U.S. government has long upheld the view that despite its local self-governance Puerto Rico remains a U.S. territory under the constitution, citing numerous U.S. Supreme Court decisions, a 1994 Office of Legal Counsel opinion and presidential task force reports issued in 2005, 2007 and 2011.