|What Should The U.S. Congress Do About Puerto Ricos Political Status?
Last weeks Hot Button Issue invited readers to take a virtual seat at the table during deliberations by Gov. Sila Calderons Unity and Consensus Commission and they did. They spoke up about what options they wished to offer Puerto Rican voters on a future plebiscite ballot on the island. The question now is, "will their opinions ever reach the ears of the U.S. Congressional committees charged with oversight responsibility for Puerto Rico?"
Roughly 55 % of respondents to the Herald poll would limit the choices to Statehood & Independence, while some 20% would add the status quo territorial option of Commonwealth to those two choices. Some 10% preferred that the choice be limited to Statehood, Independence & Independence with Free Association, and another 10% would have offered all four choices to the Puerto Rican electorate. About 5% of respondents, for one reason or another, choose the "none of the above option," some presumably yearning for the possibility of an "enhanced commonwealth," in spite of the fact that the U.S. Congress has consistently rejected that concept as being unconstitutional.
Looking at these percentages in another way, 95% of respondents wanted Statehood and Independence on the ballot, 30% were comfortable with leaving the status quo Commonwealth option as a choice for voters and 20% would agree to allow voters to opt for Independence with Free Association, among the other choices. A previous Herald poll, asked the question, "Where would you wish to see Puerto Rico in Ten Years?" 60% of those participating in the poll choose Statehood, 25 % preferred Independence- with or without a treaty of Free Association and 15% wanted Commonwealth, either "as is" or with some enhancement of powers.
Given the current makeup of the Unity & Consensus Commission, it is unlikely that its conclusions will track the opinion of Herald poll respondents. In her public utterances, Gov. Calderon claims that the vast majority of Puerto Ricans prefer the Commonwealth relationship with the United States. Presumably, she envisions a Commission conclusion that validates that view. That would be the "unity message" that she would wish to deliver to the U.S. Congress. Critics of the Commission say that the Governors ultimate objective is to stall any action on Puerto Rico political status presently being considered by Congress or the Bush Administration.
This week and in future editions the Herald will also give readers a place on the witness panel before committees of the U.S. Congress as they deliberate the political future of Puerto Rico. The first question a committee of Congress is likely to ask witnesses is, "What should we do about the political status of Puerto Rico." Heretofore, Congress has called upon Puerto Rican politicians and Commonwealth government bureaucrats to answer this question. This week, its your chance to put your views onto the record. Ultimately, the Congress may follow one of three courses of action. It can do nothing, it can tinker with the status quo or it can provide a process of self-determination leading to a permanent political status for the island. If the third course is chosen, Congress might go back to where it left off with the 1998 "Young Bill" (H.R. 856), passed by the House but not voted on by the Senate (S.473), or it could create a new plebiscite scenario with constitutionally valid status options.
So, what is your response to the initial question by the Congressional Committee, "What should we do about Puerto Ricos political status?"