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July 26, 2002
Copyright © 2002 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved. 
"Compact or Colony?" - Who is right: Serrano or Calderon?

Whatever else July 25, 2002 signifies, one thing is clear leading up to the recognition of the 50th anniversary of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The political status debate is alive and well. Sila Calderon, the Puerto Rico Governor who took office with promises to defer all talk of political status, has stirred up a hornet’s nest of opposition in Puerto Rico and on the mainland for her plans to launch a year-long celebration of the Commonwealth experiment beginning this week. Advocates of the island’s opposing political options plan to "go to the mattresses" to assault Commonwealth propaganda and fend off assaults on their view of status orthodoxy.

Last week, the Governor barnstormed along the U.S. East Coast, registering mainland voters and extolling the benefits to both Puerto Rico and the U.S. of 50 years of the Commonwealth government model. At the same time, U.S. Representative Jose Serrano (D-NY), a Puerto Rican, rose on the floor of the House of Representatives to excoriate the Commonwealth as a "colonial" status and chided his colleagues for not providing a process to allow Puerto Ricans to choose either statehood or independence.

These extremes point up the fact that there little agreement among Puerto Ricans as to what the "Puerto Rican Federal Relations Act," the U.S. Congressional legislation that lead to the promulgation of the island’s Constitution and defined the organizing principles of the present island government, intended or implied. Did it grant sovereignty and a permanent political status to Puerto Rico or did it continue the U.S. territorial relationship that had existed since Puerto Rico was ceded to the U.S. by Spain in 1898?

At the core of the controversy is language in the Act characterizing it as being "in the nature of a compact." Commonwealth advocates take this to mean that the Act is a "treaty" that binds the U.S. Government to recognize the autonomy of Puerto Rico. Those considering Commonwealth a temporary status argue that if the Congress had intended the Act to be a compact it would not have included the qualifying phrase, "in the nature of." The intentions of the 1952 Congress are debatable but it is clear that few in today’s official Washington hold that Puerto Rico’s Commonwealth comes close to being a permanent political status or is it one that imbues separate sovereignty on the island.

This became obvious when Puerto Rico’s non-voting Resident Commissioner in the House of Representatives, Anibal Acevedo Vila, a Commonwealth supporter, drafted a commemorative resolution seeded with language of "commonwealth status", "nationhood" and "compact." It did not fly. The House Resources Committee redrafted the "birthday card," going no further than to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Puerto Rico’s Constitution, complementing Puerto Ricans for their service to the nation and their contribution to the cultural diversity of the United States.

Even this "valentine" did not satisfy all members of the House when it was put before the body for a vote. Rep. Serrano joined 31 other dissenters to object to any Congressional recognition of Puerto Rico’s constitutional jubilee. "Colonialism," he said, "is not a cause for celebration." Gov. Calderon told reporters that Serrano was "mistaken." She called the Resolution a "great victory for Puerto Rico."

So who’s got it right, Calderon or Serrano? – Compact or Colony?

This Week's Question:
Who’s got it right, Calderon or Serrano? – Compact or Colony?

Calderon: "It’s a Compact"
Serrano: "It’s a Colony"


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