"YALE CONFERENCE WAS SIGNIFICANT, PRODUCTIVE"
THE SAN JUAN STAR, VIEWPOINT, SUNDAY, APRIL 12, 1998
Yale University Law School was the site, from March 27 through March 29, of a successful conference on Puerto Rico's political status dilemma in observance of the centenary of the United States' acquisition of Puerto Rico.
The politically-balanced conference, co-sponsored by the law schools at Yale and the University of Puerto Rico, featured prominent persons from the mainland and Puerto Rico, including former Gov. Rafael Hernández Colón in a starring role. The conference, which was comprehensive and productive, thoroughly covered such matters as the concept of self-determination, sovereignty, citizenship, nationality, and the economic, social and cultural implications of political status alternatives for Puerto Rico. I can certify to its success because I attended it as a guest of the Citizens Educational Foundation of Puerto Rico, a non-partisan, not-for-profit education foundation dedicated to the full enjoyment of the rights and privileges of U.S. citizenship for the people of Puerto Rico.
Many people, including Yale professors, students, and administration personnel deserve much credit for making this conference a reality. But a special commendation must be given tot he conference coordinator, Puerto Rican Christina Duffy Burnett, a senior at Yale Law School, daughter of Lawrence and Edda Duffy, of San Juan, and granddaughter of a prominent Puerto Rican, the late Francisco Ponsa Feliú, to whom Christina dedicated all of her work for the conference.
Early last year, Christina proposed the conference to Yale Law School dean Anthony T. Kronman. Dean Kronman recognized the importance of a dialogue on the mainland on Puerto Rico's political status at an institution of the stature and prestige of Yale Law School, where 100 years ago, prominent mainland legal scholars debated on the status of the U.S. new territories.
The dean of the University of Puerto Rico Law School, Antonio García Padilla, was approached about the conference. He confirmed the value of providing a model for a dialogue on Puerto Rico's political status and agreed on making the UPR Law School a co-sponsor.
It is interesting to note that while Christina was a first-year law student at Yale, she wrote Puerto Rican Judge José A. Cabranes, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, expressing her interest in discussing with him some ideas she had on Puerto Rico's political status. Judge Cabranes was most receptive to Christina's request and, since then, according to Christina, Judge Cabranes gave many hours of his valuable time in brainstorming, advising, suggesting, revising and reworking the plan for the conference, at which he was one of the speakers and moderators.
Also deserving much credit for the success of the conference was Christina's husband, Graham Burnett who not only collaborated in all aspects of the conference but devoted many weeks putting together a beautiful exhibit on the Spanish American War at Yale's Sterling Memorial Library.
Other speakers included Gov. Rosselló; former Gov. Hernández Colón; Sen. Rubén Berríos, President of Puerto Rico's Independence Party; José Trías Monge, former Chief Justice of Puerto Rico's Supreme Court; and Judge Juan R. Torruella, Chief Justice of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. Judge Torruella was recently honored by the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court with the appointment as member of the Executive Committee of the Judicial Conference, which establishes public policy of the federal judicial system.
It will be recalled that in his book Separate and Unequal, Judge Torruella said: "The U.S. keeps the people of Puerto Rico in a subservient condition ad infinitum with less rights than even the aliens who reside in the U.S., an arrangement that makes no sense and cannot today be sustained on legal, moral or logical grounds. This is one of the major injustices remaining under the American flag."
Also appearing was Richard Thornburgh, former governor of Pennsylvania, former U.S. Attorney General and former Under Secretary General of the United Nations. At the conference, he said: "As with the status options of statehood and separate nationhood, in an initial referendum on status, the definition of 'commonwealth' cannot be merely a list of proposals for discretionary benefits that might be possible. Rather, the definition must inform the voter as to the constitutional structure of each status option and the political process through which any option chosen by the people can be realized." On dual citizenship (U.S. and Puerto Rican), Thornburgh's opinion is that, except in a few individual cases tolerated by the United States, dual citizenship is not within the scope of the U.S. Constitution, and it would not be to the best interests of the United States to grant dual citizenship to the entire population of Puerto Rico.
It must be pointed out that contrary to what has been said, the inhabitants of the Pacific island republics of Marshall, Micronesia and Palau did not have nor were they ever granted dual citizenship under their free association pact with the United States.
Finally, Jeffrey Farrow, co-chairman of President Clinton's Interagency Group on Puerto Rico, made an objective analysis of what has been done to date regarding Puerto Rico's political status, culminating on March 4 with the approval in the U.S. House of Representatives of the Young status bill, now under consideration in the U.S. Senate.
In conclusion, as Judge Cabranes anticipated in his remarks, many differences on outlook emerged at the conference, but there was a remarkably broad consensus for change and constitutional reform in Puerto Rico. The judge further said: "There is some common ground as to the ends, if not the means. Puerto Ricans of all persuasions will have to come to terms with the fact that American political processes, by design, are slow and cumbersome. And they will have to recognize that even victorious political movements achieve their objectives only through prolonged advocacy of their cases in Washington... Delays and frustration are inevitable. But no one should assume that Puerto Rican aspirations are destined to be spurned by mainland Americans, once the political process has run its course. With that in mind and with the history of the past century as a backdrop, this conference offers us an opportunity to resume the exploration of national identity that galvanized a great public debate a century ago."