Acevedo Accepts Hansen’s Sanitized Puerto Rico Constitution Resolution

May 10, 2002
Copyright © 2002 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

. .. Acevedo Accepts Hansen’s Sanitized Puerto Rico Constitution Resolution

Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila (‘commonwealth’ party/D) accepted U.S. House of Representatives Resources Committee Chairman James Hansen’s major -- and political status neutral -- rewrite of Acevedo’s draft resolution for Congress to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Puerto Rico’s local constitution.

Acevedo acknowledged and introduced the resolution -- which WASHINGTON UPDATE first disclosed -- after Puerto Rico Senator Miriam Ramirez de Ferrer (statehood party/R) also publicly discussed Acevedo’s effort and Hansen’s response. Acevedo had not accepted the rewrite for weeks beforehand. He had been told that he had to accept it if he wanted support for the resolution from Hansen and the Committee’s Ranking Minority Member, Nick Joe Rahall (D-WV). The resolution probably could not pass without their support.

The end product was a far cry from what Acevedo had sought. His request was described as "virtually the PDP Platform."

Acevedo wanted a resolution that mentioned a "commonwealth status" or a "commonwealth relationship" using the locally-determined name of the government of the territory -- "the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico" -- to suggest that "commonwealth" is the name of the islands’ political status or the name of its federal relationship. The request was rejected because Puerto Rico’s true constitutional status and relationship is "territorial." Proposals to use "commonwealth" in any context other than as the name of Puerto Rico were rejected.

Acevedo also sought mention of the compact between the federal government and the people of Puerto Rico, of which the constitution is a central part. This request was rejected because the reference to the compact in the federal law approving the constitution has been used by some ‘commonwealth’ party politicians to misleadingly suggest that federal policies referenced in the federal legislation regarding the constitution cannot be changed and that Puerto Rico’s status was no longer subject to federal territory governing power because of the compact. The compact (the law that authorized the constitution, repealed provisions of federal law providing for the insular government and continued other provisions of federal law regarding the islands, and the Puerto Rican acceptance of the law) made no such assertions. Further, all key elements of its legislative history state just the opposite of the theory that the compact limited federal powers.

Language was also added to the resolution to note that the federal government insisted on changes to the constitution that had been drafted by Puerto Ricans. The purpose was to further clarify federal authority regarding the territory.

Hansen’s main goal in the rewrite was to make the resolution legally and historically accurate, but Acevedo’s language also prompted Hansen to make other points.

For example, the revision intentionally reversed another major contention of ‘commonwealthers’: that Puerto Ricans are not, in Acevedo’s words on April 26, a minority that desires "to preserve their cultural values within a larger nation." Acevedo said that they are, at least culturally, "a nation" rather than "a cultural minority within the American nation." The language that Acevedo accepted instead states that "the cultural diversity of the United States has been enriched by the people of Puerto Rico who have preserved and promoted their culture" etc.

Hansen also sought to recognize that most Puerto Ricans have not shirked from their national security responsibilities as have the administration of Governor Sila Calderon (‘commonwealth’ party/no national party) and other nationalists in the case of the U.S. Navy range on Vieques. And his amendments sought to recognize that most Puerto Ricans are loyal U.S. citizens and recognize the applicability of the U.S. Constitution in Puerto Rico.

In fact, Hansen threw out most of the language that Acevedo sought. In doing so, he limited the statement that Congress would make in approving it to a simple celebration of the constitution.

Hansen recognizes that the resolution could be misinterpreted to suggest that Congress supports overrepresentations of the Commonwealth’s authority by some ‘commonwealth’ party leaders or their outlandish greater autonomy proposals. But he does not feel that potential misrepresentation should deny recognition of what really happened 50 years ago. He also believes that he has modified the language of the resolution to minimize the potential, and that more honest Puerto Rican leaders should be able to rebut any misrepresentations.

The Committee may consider the resolution May 22nd. It would then have to be passed by the full House and the Senate. The text of the resolution, H. Con. Res. 395, follows.

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

Whereas on July 3, 1952, the President signed Public Law 82-447 (66 Stat. 327), approving the constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico;

Whereas on July 10, 1952, the Constitutional Convention of Puerto Rico reconvened and approved the conditions established by Public Law 82-447;

Whereas on July 25, 1952, Governor Luis Munoz Marin proclaimed that the constitution was in effect;

Whereas the United States citizens of Puerto Rico have proudly fulfilled their duties to this great Nation, and some have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of democracy, freedom, and the United States Constitution since World War I; and

Whereas the cultural diversity of the United States has been enriched by the people of Puerto Rico who have preserved and promoted their culture, language, and identity: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That

the Congress celebrates the 50th anniversary of the constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.


White House Rejects Calderon National Powers Proposals With a ‘Velvet Glove’

The White House carefully rejected the Calderon Administration’s proposals for the Commonwealth to obtain national powers while retaining key benefits of a United States status.

In speeches April 11 and 26, respectively, Gov. Calderon and Res. Comm. Acevedo identified the Commonwealth obtaining powers to veto the application of federal laws and to enter into binding international agreements, while it is considered permanently united to the United States and the U.S. continues to grant citizenship to all persons born in the islands. In cautious statements, presidential spokeswoman Mercie Viana said that Congress would determine the application of laws to Puerto Rico and the State Department would represent Puerto Rico abroad.

Viana also said that President Bush supports Puerto Rico obtaining a permanent political status. Intergovernmental Affairs Director Ruben Barrales, the President’s point-person on the issue, has said that statehood and independence are Puerto Rico’s two permanent status options.

Countering Calderon’s suggestion that the Commonwealth has more autonomy than a U.S. State and the statements by Calderon and Acevedo that Puerto Rico is an "ally" of the United States, Viana said flatly that Puerto Rico is "a territory of the United States." In addition, Viana said that the State Department represents Puerto Rico’s foreign interests "well," contradicting Acevedo who said that Puerto Rico needs to represent its interests itself to ensure good representation.

Viana’s statements were made several days after the White House was questioned about the Calderon and Acevedo statements. During this time, senior White House aides crafted the careful responses.

The statements were careful because White House political aides do not want to unduly antagonize Calderon before this November’s gubernatorial election in Florida. Presidential brother Jeb Bush is seeking re-election, migrants from Puerto Rico are considered among the key contested potential voters, and Calderon has made moves to influence their voting.

But the statements were made because federal officials are also aware of Calderon’s plans to obtain a Puerto Rican official mandate for her proposals beginning on July 25th, the 50th anniversary of Puerto Rico’s local constitution.

Reacting to the rejection, Acevedo and Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), the Calderon Administration’s closest ally in Congress, said that federal officials should not comment on the proposals yet since they have not yet been adopted as Puerto Rico’s official request. They and Calderon do not want rejection of the proposals before the Calderon Administration and its allies can make rejection more difficult by obtaining official sanction for the proposals and permitting them to say that the proposals represent an official mandate of the 3.8 million U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico.

Acevedo Caught Hiding or Unaware of Defeat of his Welfare Increase Bill

Resident Commissioner Acevedo recently announced with great fanfare a bill that he sponsored that would increase funding for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs in Puerto Rico by an estimated $61 million a year. But he didn’t say a word when the House Ways and Means Committee defeated his bill 23-17.

The Acevedo bill would have exempted five TANF programs from the $132 million cap on TANF funding in Puerto Rico to provide "Americans," in his words, with greater benefits. Committee Ranking Minority Member Charles Rangel (D-NY) and Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA) offered the proposal as an amendment to welfare reform legislation under consideration by the Committee. It was defeated on a party-line vote, as were other Democratic Party amendments.

Afterwards, Acevedo, who always tries to announce positive federal funding news, failed to notify reporters of the development. Why is unclear. He may have been embarrassed by the defeat, or he may have been embarrassed that it took place as he left Washington for one of his regular four-day weekends away from the nation’s capital. A reliable source who spoke with Acevedo and his staff, however, suggests that they may have been unaware of what had happened to the bill while Acevedo was not present. This is not the first time that Acevedo has missed key consideration of one of his major issues. . .and missed understanding of what had happened.

Acevedo is hoping that Senate Democrats will resurrect his proposal.

Acevedo Also Errs on Nutrition Assistance Program Increase

Resident Commissioner Acevedo also was in error -- and, probably, was unaware of -- action on another of his major bills. In this case, it was his proposal to substantially increase funding for the Nutrition Assistance Grant that Puerto Rico has received since it was taken out of the Food Stamps program through a Reagan Administration budget cutting initiative. Acevedo’s error was especially embarrassing since he is a member of the lead committee in the House on the bill, the House Agriculture Committee.

The Puerto Rico grant, about $1.35 billion this fiscal year and increased annually for inflation, is funded at about two-thirds the level of what the Food Stamps program would provide. Acevedo announced that the massive farm and nutrition assistance bill, which Congress has just given final approval to, would increase the grant to Puerto Rico by $10 million each year, more than needed to cover inflation for 10 years. He based that on a Senate version of the bill that would have funded some of the bill’s programs for 10 years.

However, the House-Senate conference committee that reconciled differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill cut the authorization of its programs from the Senate’s 10 years to six, without Agriculture Committee member Acevedo being aware of the change.

The conference committee increase of $10 million a year more than inflation for each of six years was an alternative to a Senate proposal for a General Accounting Office study of whether the amount of the Puerto Rico grant is adequate and a $50 million a year increase if it were found not to be adequate. Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA), who has long been responsive to Puerto Rican requests, crafted the Senate proposal.

Most of Acevedo’s House Agriculture Committee colleagues were unwilling to support even a possible $50 million increase -- the House itself had included no increase for Puerto Rico in the bill in spite of Acevedo’s efforts -- so the $10 million a year increase compromise was reached.

Acevedo finally learned the compromise increase was for six years rather than the 10 that he initially announced, although it was days after the news was public.

The "Washington Update" appears bi-weekly.

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