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Problematic U.S. Relations Sweep Island's 2001 Political Activity

DECEMBER 15, 2001
Copyright © 2001
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All Rights Reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) - The lack of political powers in fundamental areas and the absence of mechanisms to resolve the differences in the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States have marked the Puerto Rican political activity during 2001.

Some people disassociated from the island's official political parties do not expect changes in the situation in the immediate future, though representatives from the three political parties express opinions practically the opposite.

But some, attentive to phenomenon like globalization and others beyond these political relationships, explain that the status issue is discussed here from an anachronistic viewpoint.

"The status theme for these parties is a way of life. If you remove that theme, they disappear as parties, because none of them is interested in `resolving' the situation, which has been called the issue of the status issue," said historian Carlos Pabon, of the History Department of the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus.

For some, the controversy of the U.S. Navy's presence in Vieques, the problems of stimulating a sharp economic growth in the island, the growing presence of federal agencies facing corruption, public order, and the steps of the Legislative Assembly are directly affected by the limitations that are imposed by the current political relationship with the United States, which dates almost back to the U.S. military occupation in 1898.

Ateneo Puertorriqueño President Eduardo Morales Coll said this year was portrayed by the things that didn't happen, and he ruled out that serious initiatives would be produced next year that will help solve these problems.

"I don't see political steps nor will in the leaders, and there is not even an appearance that something will be done about the status," said Morales Coll, who presides one of the island's oldest, non-partisan, non-governmental organizations.

He said the lack of effective powers does not allow the Puerto Rican government to advance its proposals, such as amending U.S. Internal Revenue Code Section 956 and much less in anything having to do with Vieques.

Autonomist lawyer Miguel Lausell, meanwhile, said the Vieques situation made the lack of an official mechanism in the present political relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States to resolve the fundamental differences that emerge in the relationship more evident.

He said this year the Legislative Assembly reaffirmed before the Puerto Rican people that it is an independent branch, that it works in harmony with the other two branches, but does not accept unjustified impositions from other powers, "something of vital importance for the democracy."

Contrary to these positions, Popular Democratic Party Secretary General Jorge Colberg Toro breathes optimism.

"Next year we will start to see the effects of the changes that have been implemented this first year, especially in the special communities, water service, and the health reform," Colberg Toro said.

He thinks the present commonwealth needs modifications, though he said the fiscal autonomy that the commonwealth enjoys "is a tool that needs to be used to achieve the mechanisms that are not possible under statehood."

Puerto Rican Independence Party Executive President and Sen. Fernando Martin said the Calderon administration's abandonment of its policy on the Navy in Vieques will have its repercussions next year, adding that to the "incapacity of its government to mesh an effective policy."

He added that the process that has transpired with the Vieques issue has made the problem of the political relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States more evident "because of the humiliation that Puerto Rico has been submitted to, which has heightened consciousness on the reality of the political subordination."

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