|This weeks Hot Button Issue poll asks the question, "What should Congress do to provide a self-determination process for Puerto Rico?" How can that body meet its responsibility to the nearly four million American citizens residing on the island, now deprived of their full civil rights? The federal governments dilemma is that these Americans live in a colonial relationship within the American body politic, an anachronism for the majority of Americans, but mainland legislators see no formula that is agreeable to the local Puerto Rican political establishment while consistent with provisions of the U.S. Constitution. Nevertheless, Herald poll respondents say that Congress should take the matter into its own hands.
Seven out of ten participants in recent Herald polls want the U.S. Congress to act on a self-determination process for Puerto Rico and six out of ten wish to limit future plebiscite ballot options to Statehood and Independence. Additionally, respondents express doubt that Governor Sila Calderons Unity and Consensus Commission will advance the almost universal desire of Puerto Ricans for some kind of political change. Over half of poll respondents want the Commission scrapped. The Governor states that the Commission is the way to craft a common approach to political status. Her critics think that it is a smokescreen to prevent Washington from taking any action on its own. Poll respondents want it to do just that.
One idea to generate momentum for a Puerto Rico self-determination process is for the U.S. Congress to pick up where it left off four years ago. The 1998 Young Bill (H.R. 856) was the last Congressional attempt to craft a ballot providing political status options that met the requirements of the U.S. Constitution. It would have offered Puerto Rican voters internationally recognized status options - Statehood and Separate Sovereignty which included Independence and Free Association. In addition, it would have allowed voters to retain the current territorial status (without enhancements), but designating it colonial in nature and subjecting it to future plebiscites, thereby assuring Puerto Ricos ultimate attainment of a permanent political status. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the Young Bill process.
When the U.S. Senate failed to act on companion legislation (S 473), the Puerto Rican legislature authorized a local vote using the Young Bill definitions, while adding a fifth choice, "none of the above," required by local law. Half the voters retreated to that option for reasons that are still debated today but, had Congress legislated the plebiscite, no fifth choice would have been required and Puerto Ricans would have been able to choose among real political status choices.
At the end of the day, however, the Young Bill did not bind the Federal government to accept the final decision of the voters. In its own way, H.R. 856 was saying, "none of the below," while the Senate was saying "not now!" The one clear message that Congress did send to the Puerto Rican political establishment was that it was in no mood to amend the U.S. Constitution to endow the Commonwealth arrangement with additional powers. Many U.S. legislators were heard to say, "if Puerto Rico is given the enhancements that some have asked for, we want the same deal for our state." There is no doubt that that is the prevailing view in Washington today.
In spite of the failed attempt by the Young Bill to provide Puerto Ricans with a path to sovereignty, Herald poll respondents strongly support the idea of a Congressionally approved self-determination process for Puerto Rico. So, when the new Congress convenes in January of 2003, what would you have it do?