Calderon Neutralizes Bush On Puerto Rico’s Status

April 12, 2002
Copyright © 2002 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

. .. Calderon Neutralizes Bush On Puerto Rico’s Status

The efforts of Governor Sila Calderon (‘Commonwealth’ party/No national party) to neutralize the White House on Puerto Rico’s status issue have reportedly succeeded -- for the time being.

The efforts include lobbying by Republican operative Charlie Black, who is close to President Bush’s political strategist, Karl Rove, as well as to Bush. The efforts also include Calderon’s acceptance of the May 1, 2003 date for the end of military training at the Navy’s range on Vieques. But Calderon’s most effective tactic has been her plan to spend millions of dollars to register hundreds of thousands of residents of the 50 states who are of Puerto Rican origin to vote in the island's elections.

White House and other officials believe that Puerto Rico has two options for a permanent status -- statehood and independence -- and that Puerto Ricans should choose such a status. Their view is an anathema to Calderon who was elected on a platform of the Commonwealth being recognized as a nation in an unprecedented permanent union with the U.S. and being granted national powers while the U.S.’ national powers are limited. Federal officials are also concerned that Calderon may also move to advance such a status proposal on July 25th, the 50th anniversary of the Commonwealth’s Constitution.

But White House aides suggest that the Bush Administration will not move publicly on the status issue until after Presidential brother and Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s re-election campaign. There are almost half a million residents of Puerto Rican origin in Florida, most in the center of the state. Governor Bush won the area handily in 1998 but President Bush lost it by a few votes in 2000. Puerto Rican votes for then-Vice President Gore are considered to be a key reason for the loss.

Voter registration in central Florida is a primary objective of Calderon’s plan. She has already expanded the Government of Puerto Rico’s office in the area for this purpose. Republican strategists are wary of provoking Calderon to expend the resources against Governor Bush’s political interests.

Whether the Bush Administration will move publicly on the issue after this November’s election and before President Bush’s re-election challenge in November 2004 -- where Florida could again play a pivotal role -- is an unanswered question.

House Dems Ask Bush for Immediate End to Vieques Training Although They Didn’t Try to Get a Law for an Immediate End

A number of Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives have sent letters to President Bush asking for an executive order that would immediately end military training at the Navy's Vieques range. The correspondents include Reps. Elliot Engel (NY), Joe Baca (CA), Charles Rangel (NY), and Bill Pascrell (NJ).

White House aides know that the congressmen did not try to immediately end training at the range when Congress a few months ago passed legislation providing that the range can only be replaced when the Secretary of the Navy determines after receiving recommendations from the top officers of the Navy and the Marine Corps that they have a replacement that will provide equal or better training. They also know that the congressmen are no friends of the President, and the similar letters were probably requested by lobbyists.

The four Members of the House of Puerto Rican origin sent a different letter to Bush. It asked that the residents of Vieques not be unnecessarily endangered by training but did not request an immediate end executive order. Instead, the letter congratulated the President for his goal of ending training at the range by May 1, 2003 -- the date that the law on the subject that was repealed last year would have required the training to end. The letter, signed by Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila (D-PR) and representatives Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), and Jose Serrano (D-NY), mirrored the position of the Calderon Administration.

State Officials Support Puerto Rico Exemption from U.S. Shipping Laws

At the request of ‘Commonwealth’ party legislators, the executive committee of the national Council of State Governments (CSG) unwittingly supported exemption of Puerto Rico from the federal laws that require ocean shipping between U.S. ports to be on U.S. flagged and manned vessels.

Some politicians and economists have suggested that using foreign-owned and operated vessels would benefit Puerto Rico's manufacturing sector as well as consumers, since foreign vessel shipping costs a fraction of U.S. shipping. A more recent labor union-sponsored study, however, suggests otherwise.

Puerto Rico’s neighboring territory of the U.S. Virgin Islands is exempt from the laws. So are the Pacific U.S. territories of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa. Efforts by the Pacific territory of Guam to win exemption have failed except in the case of vessels too small to travel beyond ports on the island. Then-Statehood party Resident Commissioner Baltasar Corrada del Rio won a limited exemption for Puerto Rico in the case of cruise ships operating where there were no U.S. cruise ships left in operation.

A resolution calling for Puerto Rico’s exemption passed the CSG committee without real discussion. It still must be approved by the body’s governing board, however.

The Commonwealth party platform calls for exemption. Exemption efforts by the party’s closest ally in Congress, Rep. Gutierrez, have generated U.S. Transportation Department opposition. The laws, sometimes called the ‘Jones Act’, were enacted to ensure that the U.S. has a substantial maritime fleet in the event it is needed for military purposes. The executive committee of the nation’s largest labor union, the AFL-CIO, has previously supported extension of the laws to the Virgin Islands.

GOP Tax Bill Fails to Include Section 956 Amendment as Acevedo Vila Suggested

House Republicans originated what may be the last big tax bill of the 107th Congress without including Governor Calderon’s proposal to permanently exempt 90% of the profits that companies based in the States repatriate from manufacturing subsidiaries in Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories. Resident Commissioner Acevedo Vila had earlier suggested that the proposal to amend Internal Revenue Code Section 956 could be added to the bill.

The bill, the Taxpayer Protection and I.R.S. Accountability Act, was timed to coincide with the annual April 15 income tax filing deadline. But it failed to win the two-thirds vote needed for House passage April 10. The bill is considered to be a political statement that may not become law before this November’s congressional elections in which the control of both Houses is considered up for grabs. Among the bill’s provisions is a controversial one that would create a new way of making secret campaign donations -- contrary to the just-enacted campaign finance reform law.

Key Calderon White House Link Leaves Contracted Firm

One of Governor Calderon’s best links to the White House, former Transportation Secretary James Burnley IV, has left Winston & Strawn, one of Calderon’s major lobbying and law firms in Washington.

Republican Burnley developed a close relationship with White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card when Card succeeded him as Transportation Secretary in the administration of the current president’s father. Card then retained Burnley while Card was chief Washington representative for the Automobile Manufacturers’ Association.

Winston & Strawn was Calderon’s main Washington firm while she was Mayor of San Juan. The tie comes through Francisco Pavia, a Winston & Strawn lawyer who helped Calderon in her mayoral campaign and was a Deputy Director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration in the administration of former Governor Hernandez Colon.

Winston & Strawn does more substantive work than the firm of lead Calderon lobbyist Charlie Black. It has Democratic congressional contacts on Puerto Rico issues through former U.S. Representative Beryl Anthony, who served on the Ways and Means Committee and was close to President Clinton. It has been working on the tax code section 956 amendment, exemption of Puerto Rico from the laws requiring that ocean shipping between U.S. ports be on U.S. flagged and manned vessels, and ending military training at the Navy’s Vieques training range.

Key Vieques Decision-Maker in Military to Transfer to Europe

President Bush has selected one of the two top decision-makers in the military on the future of the Vieques range to be the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe.

Marine Corps Commandant James Jones has been a major decision-maker on the Vieques issue because Marine Corps training is key to why the military has considered the range to be unmatchable and because he was personally close to then Defense Secretary Cohen. The unmatchable aspect of the range is that it is the only location that Navy and Marine Corps units along the eastern coast of the U.S. have for conducting combat invasion practices that incorporate all three of the tactics used in invasions -- amphibious landings as well as shelling from ships and bombing from planes.

Jones may still help decide the ultimate fate of the range. The law enacted last year provides that the Secretary of the Navy will decide whether an alternative to the Vieques range is adequate -- according to the law meaning equal or better than Vieques -- after receiving recommendations from the Commandant of the Marine Corps as well as the Chief of Naval Operations. The recommendations must also be sent to Congress, where the decision is certain to be reviewed by advocates of Vieques training.

A review of sites and training methods that the Center for Naval Analysis is expected to complete in a month or so is expected to weigh heavily in the recommendations and decision. Meanwhile, Jones' selection may not be sent to Congress for approval for some time.

The "Washington Update" is a new feature of the Puerto Rico Herald.
It appears bi-weekly.

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