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"The Nonsense Of Commonwealth Folklore"

By Arturo J. Guzman

July 28, 2001
Copyright © 2001 THE SAN JUAN STAR. All Rights Reserved.

This 25th of July the Government of Puerto Rico, since the elections indistinguishable from the Popular Democratic Party, celebrated the 49th anniversary of the enactment of the local constitution. Despite massive promotion, the mobilization of island-wide resources, an extravagant budget, and the fact that this was the first celebration since the "populares" regained power, the attendance was estimated by independent sources at less than ten thousand. This was a dismal performance for a party that had always demonstrated its capacity to rally its own followers with overwhelming discipline and on far less important occasions.

There may be many reasons for this poor showing of support, such as the pending vote in Vieques, the separatist, nationalist, and anti-American sentiment the governor has sponsored, concerns for their impact on our economy, internal party dissidence, and widespread disillusionment with what thus far has been a single issue administration. Additionally the luster gained by Calderon as the first woman to be locally elected as governor, has been quickly tarnished and lost by her authoritative demeanor, compulsion to micromanage all government activity, and a hard to conceal preference for the economic interests of her fellow oligarchs.

In addition I am also convinced that congressional hearings during recent years have given a significant amount of Puerto Ricans the educational tools to discern fact from fiction and to ascertain that July 25th is the constitution's anniversary, not the anniversary of a new political status. For years many, including this newspaper, have made the common mistake to refer to Commonwealth (Estado Libre Asociado) as the current status or a status option.

Commonwealth, and its equally deceiving translation, are no more than names given an arrangement authorized by the Congress of the United States allowing Puerto Rico to enact a local constitution (unilaterally amended and finally approved by the US Senate). As recognized by Muñoz Marin, Trias Monge, and all its original proponents, the status and the political-juridical relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States would and has remained unaltered from inception. Puerto Rico's "name" is Commonwealth, but its political status is that of an "unincorporated territory of the United States subject to the plenary powers of the Congress under the 'territory' clause." Additionally, as in states and other territories with local constitutions, federal statute prevails over local law and regulations.

The term given is not unusual other than from the fact that it has encouraged lies and misconceptions which play on the name and avoid the nature of the actual relationship. I suspect that at the end of W.W.II, after granting independence to the Philippines and before a dedicated effort on the part of Britain to de-colonize, the United States engaged in "window dressing" by playing on the name without altering the real colonial relationship in the case of Puerto Rico.

The point that has been amply understood, and privately acknowledged by many "popular" leaders, is that the name or the nomenclature do not reflect its political-juridical characteristics. For example Virginia and Massachusetts are also "commonwealths" but their status is that of states of the union; before becoming independent the Philippines were also a "commonwealth" but its inhabitants were never granted US nationality or citizenship. At the other end of the spectrum, California and Texas came into the union as "republics" yet again, their political status is equal to the other states regardless of how they chose or choose to call themselves.

The perverse notion that enactment of our local constitution meant that we entered into a "bi-lateral" pact with the United States is not only untrue but ludicrous to any person who has even the most rudimentary acquaintance with the US constitution or international law. First of all the US constitution does not allow the Congress to pact with its own citizens. Furthermore, pacts are entered by sovereign body politics, and ever since the Spanish-American War, Puerto Rico's sovereignty resides in the Congress.

In order to enter into this fictitious pact, or any pact ever, Puerto Rico must have obtained its sovereignty prior to or simultaneously to subscribing it. In much the same manner as adults cannot enter into contractual agreements with minors, unless represented by their adult parents or legal guardians, our legal guardian (the Congress) cannot pact with itself. In essence, by our not having ever had sovereignty we have never reached the political equivalent of adulthood.

When pressed, the "popular" leaders who thrive on these lies point to Law 600 as "the pact" which they also claim cannot be altered without mutual consent. Any fourth or fifth grade child knows that a law is not a pact, and that there are no such things as irrevocable laws nor the United States ever surrogated its own sovereignty to the whims of its own territory. Any law can be amended, changed or repealed by the Congress unilaterally, and furthermore, no law can be constitutionally binding to subsequent sessions of the Congress. Other aspects of the "commonwealth folklore" are such insults to common intelligence that they need not be addressed. These assertions, incidentally such as the governor made on the 25th that Puerto Rico has "fiscal autonomy", or that we "delegated" this or that power to the Congress, or that we have an agreement for mutual defense, defy the credibility of even the most gullible people.

Many years ago I told then governor Hernadez Colon that the myth with which the term commonwealth had been surrounded, had two enemies that would ultimately destroy it: first, demographics because the generation for whom Muñoz Marin was nothing short of a demi-god, was dying; second, modern communications that would no longer allow "popular" leaders to say one thing in Washington, something entirely different here, and later possibly deny having said anything here or there. Ever since, it seems that the clock has been ticking, and as Jorge de Castro Font poignantly denounces, Calderon is unable or unwilling to try and turn back time. Happy birthday Puerto Rican constitution, and like Shakespeare, remember that a rose by any other name, it still a rose. And so it is with a colony!

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