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Does Congressional Resolution H. 395 Reflect Puerto Rico’s Political Reality?

May 17, 2002
Copyright © 2002 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved. 
U.S. Congress To Approve a Resolution Commemorating 50 Years of Commonwealth Government

When Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner, Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, recently unveiled his proposed language for a congressional resolution commemorating the 50th anniversary of the establishment of Puerto Rico’s constitution, House Resources Committee Chairman, James Hansen, had a problem. The Utah Representative saw his committee being asked to let in the back door concepts that had been turned away from the front door of the last three Congresses. The language spoke of a "commonwealth status," implying that the current relationship was somehow permanent and one that clothed the territory with an internationally recognized sovereignty. If accepted, the proposed language would have negated the many court judgments and congressional findings that have become a part of the official record over the past decade. All of these concluded that the 1952 Puerto Rico Constitution provided for the establishment of local self-government on the island, and nothing more.

Legally, Puerto Rico is an "unincorporated territory" of the United States, fully subject to its laws and to the authority of the U.S. Congress. Most of Puerto Rico’s political leadership in 1952 favored independence, but were cognizant of the island’s unreadiness to embark upon that course until its economy and political infrastructure were better developed. They accepted the 1952 Constitution as an interim step. Since then, public sentiment for independence has waned to around 5% while those favoring statehood and those espousing Commonwealth with more autonomy are about evenly divided. Puerto Ricans advocating permanent union with the U.S., as well as those wanting independence, agree that current Commonwealth status is temporary, some terming it "colonial" in nature. Supporters of the "enhanced" concept of Commonwealth have been unable to overcome U.S. Constitutional strictures and Congressional distaste for their ambition to exempt the island from selected Federal statutes and to expand its government’s powers to conduct trade agreements and treaties with sovereign governments.

Such a state of political limbo seems to serve the island’s three political parties very well. Each has staked out rhetorical positions relating to its status preference and built a lexicon of phrases that often mean one thing in Puerto Rico and another in Washington. A good example of this "double-speak" is the official name of Puerto Rico itself. "Commonwealth," in English, suggests a state like Virginia, Pennsylvania or Massachusetts, while its Spanish name translates to "Freely Associated State," suggesting an independent country with a treaty relationship with the United States government. Since Congress has not yet provided the 3.8 million American citizens of Puerto Rico with a mechanism acceptable to it to choose a permanent political status, it is not surprising that Puerto Ricans have been left free to consider their present political status as being most anything that suits their fancy.

The proposed resolution , which follows, is likely to suffer the same fate. Some spin doctors will use its language to suggest that it confirms Congressional recognition of a "bi-lateral pact" between Puerto Rico and the United States and that the pact bestows on the island a "permanent political status." In order to clarify what the resolution "really means", the Resources Committee should amplify the basis for the resolution and say what it does and does not mean.

However, regardless of what they say, it would come out saying something different, once it is run through the Puerto Rican "double speak" machine.



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

This Week's Question:
Does Congressional Resolution H. 395 Reflect Puerto Rico’s Political Reality?

15% Undecided


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