|How Congress Should Approach PR Self-Determination
This week, Herald readers have the chance to state what changes in the Young Bill process they would wish to see in a new self-determination process that the U.S. Congress could begin after it reorganizes in January 2003.
In the Heralds most recent Hot Button Issue poll, 50% of respondents want the new U.S. Congress to begin debate on an entirely new self-determination process when it reconvenes after the November 2002 elections. The other half are interested in a return to the Young Bill (H.R. 856) process, with equal numbers among them preferring either that it remain as it was passed by the House of Representatives in 1998 or with modifications. There is no way to know by the poll results what changes those 25% of the polls universe wish to see implemented in the Young Bill, nor can we pinpoint why 50% want Congress to make a fresh start. All one can deduce from the poll results is that only 1 in 4 poll participants seem satisfied with H.R. 856 as it was passed, while 3 of 4 want something different.
However, there are several areas that we know of that continue to cause concern for those seeking a process for Puerto Rico self-determination. One is the transitional time between a choice by the voters in a plebiscite and the actual attainment of that status. The other is the treatment that should be given by Congress to a current Commonwealth that some Puerto Ricans consider a "permanent status," but the U.S. Government sees as transitional in nature.
The "findings" section of H.R. 856 states that the U.S. Government views the sole purpose of Puerto Ricos 1952 Constitution as establishing a structure for local self-government on the island. It further reads that the promulgation of the Puerto Rican Constitution does not alter "
Puerto Rico's fundamental political, social, and economic relationship with the United States" and it continues that it does not restrict "
the authority of Congress under the Territorial Clause (of the U.S. Constitution) to determine the application of Federal law to Puerto Rico." The findings conclusions are unambiguous. "The Commonwealth remains an unincorporated territory and does not have the status of `free association' with the United States as that status is defined under United States law or international practice." It is unlikely that any future legislation will take a view of the Commonwealth as anything other than "territorial" in nature and one that cannot lead to sovereignty.
The Young Bill, passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in the 105th Congress, offered Puerto Rican voters the choice between Statehood, Independence, Independence with Separate Sovereignty, and the status quo Commonwealth arrangement (without enhancements). Although it represented valid options within the U.S. Constitutional framework, the legislation did not bind the Federal government to accept the final decision of the voters. In fact, no Congress can guarantee that legislation passed in one session will never be changed in a succeeding one. In the 104th Congress, legislation was introduced that offered roughly the same ballot options for Puerto Ricos votersand allowed a 10-year transition period for whichever status was chosen. It was felt that once a transition process was underway, it would likely be respected by future Congresses. That bill never emerged from the committee process.
So perhaps the discomfiture with the Young Bill process among Herald poll respondents lay in reluctance of Congress to eliminate the status quo Commonwealth from the mix of options and its lack of clarity as to the transitional time between the holding of a plebiscite and the final attainment of sovereignty under the preferred status choice.
What do you think?
What one thing is most important to convey to the next Congress as it crafts a new Puerto Rico self-determination process?