"FREE ASSOCIATION NEEDS VIABLE DEFINITION"
THE SAN JUAN STAR, VIEWPOINT, SUNDAY, JUNE 28, 1998
President Clinton has stated his position, very clearly, regarding a free association relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States. In a letter to Popular Democratic Party fund-raiser Miguel Lausell, President Clinton said that: "The Senate can still consider a proposal that provides for an association between the United States and Puerto Rico based on Puerto Rican sovereignty" (STAR, June 23, 1998).
Such a statement is consistent with the remarks made by President Clinton about Puerto Rico at a Democratic Governors Association dinner in Washington on February 24, 1998: "This is the centennial year of Puerto Rico's affiliation with the United States. And I think it is time that we responded to the aspirations of the four million U.S. citizens who live there, and allow them to determine their ultimate political status." In that message, the President also said that: "The people of Puerto Rico have local self-government, but they do not have votes that are fully votes in their national government... I have always said that the people of Puerto Rico should decide for themselves, and Congress ought to give them a chance to do that, what they want their relationship to the United States to be."
We must agree with the head of Pro-ELA, Luis Vega, who has pointed out that the president's letter "shows there is room... to include a commonwealth, or whatever you want to call the relationship, based on sovereignty and association."
There is certainly room for free association, based on separate sovereignty and independent citizenship for Puerto Ricans. The problem with free association is not in Washington, but in Puerto Rico, where the leadership of the Popular Democratic Party has been unable to draft a serious, viable definition for an enhanced commonwealth.
Early this year, some PDP leaders proposed a "Treaty of Union," claiming such a definition was supported by an absolute majority of rank-and-file leaders. The so-called treaty provides for Puerto Rico to control and determine its own nationality and citizenship. It provides that under the treaty, those American citizens born in Puerto Rico who so desire will be able to retain their citizenship, on the condition that they pay federal taxes.
It means that under the "Free Association State," each and every Puerto Rican will lose his American citizenship unless he voluntarily submits to paying federal taxes. The proposal would divide Puerto Ricans into two classifications: tax-free Puerto Rican citizens or tax-paying American citizens, which would result in a legally-sanctioned form of apartheid on the threshold of the 21st century.
The "Treaty of Union" bestows upon Puerto Rico the authority and responsibility for its internal and external affairs, and provides for the exchange of diplomatic representation between Puerto Rico and the United States. But there is a plan in the proposed "Treaty of Union" which seems to be of extreme importance to the Popular Party leaders: "The United States will provide a block grant in an amount at least equal to the amounts now provided to the government of Puerto Rico in lieu of rent for its bases."
Behaving like spoiled brats, the champions of "Puerto Ricanness" have shown no moral qualms about extending their hands to receive money from American taxpayers. But the "Treaty of Union," instead of settling the status matter for the PDP leadership, has added more confusion to an organization which has already lost its sense of political direction.
On March 20, 1998, interim PDP president Aníbal Acevedo Vilá said that a status commission was to work on a proposal that "guarantees the autonomous development of Puerto Rico in a non-territorial or colonial form." He also said the new proposal would have to "strengthen our national identity and guarantee American citizenship, and all the Constitutional rights that come with it, to present and future generations." In addition, the new proposal is to "recognize the right of Puerto Rico to enter into international trade agreements, create jobs and foster economic development, as well as eliminate all applicable federal laws automatically."
No one has to be a genius to notice the sheer lack of seriousness of such a surrealistic proposal. No wonder Rep. Severo Colberg has said that the PDP appears to be in an "ideological black hole" and said: "I'm not so sure that's what the president of my party said, and I fear he's saying one thing in Puerto Rico and another in the United States... I think he's speaking in two languages. He's saying things reluctantly and even the majority of the members of the Commission on Status in my party have made statements favoring sovereignty for Puerto Rico, but Acevedo Vilá has not echoed them" (STAR, May 17, 1998).
And there is also the position of former Gov. Rafael Hernández Colón, in disagreement with the definition of commonwealth currently being developed by the party's leadership. He has said: "In fact, what's being developed as a definition of commonwealth by the party is very far from my way of thinking" (STAR, June 12, 1998).
President Clinton's letter shows that there are no obstacles in Washington to a free association proposal, as long as it is serious and viable. But due to its own confusion and self-deception, the Popular Party is unable to draft such a proposal.