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The San Juan Star
The Illusion Of Enhanced Commonwealth
By David Pláceres
September 1, 2002
Editor's Note: This is the third in a series of four columns
Special to the STAR
For 10 years I disassociated myself from Puerto Rican politics. Now I've been doing a lot of research to catch up on what happened during that time.
I have reviewed historical documents, starting with the Treaty of Paris in 1898, and continued on and on until the present day by poring over daily newspapers.
However, after learning what has happened in those 10 years, it puzzles me when on these days I open the newspaper and read expressions from the leadership of the Popular Democratic Party promoting the formula of an enhanced commonwealth.
It puzzles me more when I read, as recent as August 8 in El Vocero, that Celeste Benitez accuses Congress of holding Puerto Rico hostage by denying additional autonomy of commonwealth.
I've been trying to understand psychology and how from the same fact people get two completely opposing conclusions. It is a fact that Congress has opposed granting more powers to commonwealth through its 50 years of existence.
According to Benitez, this is simply because Congress, in her own words, "is an extremely jealous body of their prerogatives" and has a "vehement interest to keep, or if possible, increase their power." On Oct. 4, 2000, during hearings in Congress to review a bill to implement into law the proposals submitted by the PDP to enhance commonwealth, former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh said: "To mislead people to believe that the only barrier to implementation of this formula is the attitude of Congress, when it is the rule of law that precludes it, merely perpetuates the colonial mentality about status options and self-determination."
During that hearing, experts in constitutional law and members of Congress concluded that the proposals submitted by the PDP were unconstitutional. It is also a fact that the leadership of the PDP was invited to attend this hearing and did not go.
Benitez is a very well-respected educator and former Secretary of Education in Puerto Rico. On one side, we have Congress saying that the proposals for development of commonwealth are unconstitutional. On the other side, we have Benitez saying it is simply that Congress is unwilling to agree to the PDP proposals.
We also heard Gov. Calderón, on July 25th, still advocating for the enhanced commonwealth, and Anibal Acevedo Vilá doing the same in El Nuero Día on Aug. 13.
Benitez, Calderón, Acevedo Vilá and other leaders of the PDP are very informed and well-educated people. It really puzzles me that they can't accept the idea that their proposals for development of commonwealth are unconstitutional and haven't adopted a new formula instead. It is also an enigma the reason they had for not going to Congress to defend their proposal. In fact, it is Congress where they need to go to fight for the enhancement of commonwealth because, ultimately, Congress not a podium at a political rally in Puerto Rico is the forum for such a debate.
Members of Congress not only declared that the proposals were unconstitutional; they also expressed with very strong language their opposition as follows: Rep. Jim Saxton of New Jersey: "The enhanced commonwealth plan appears to be nothing more than an attempt to gain political advantage by misleading the people of Puerto Rico into believing that they can have all the rights, privileges and benefits they want without the duties, responsibilities, and obligations that go along with them."
Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana: "These definitions have misled the Puerto Rican people into believing in something that is just not feasible. Maybe the definition is the result of pure ignorance or maybe it is the brainchild of political opportunists seeking to confuse or complicate the issue. The fact that a political faction in Puerto Rico promotes this definition as feasible is an affront to the truth and to our shared democratic principles."
Rep. Dale Kildee of Michigan: "I think this proposal is legal fiction, at best, and a hoax, at worst." We are all citizens of the United States and the leadership of the PDP strongly advocates keeping this citizenship permanently. The Constitution of the United States is a public document and we all know that it is the supreme law. It is written in relatively plain language and anybody who is able to read may be able to understand what powers it reserves for Congress, what are the powers of the president and what is prohibited to the states.
What condition can we derive from this case? Is the leadership of the PDP misleading the people of Puerto Rico as indicated by some members of Congress? Could it be possible that commonwealth has been raised to such a high level that it is conceived to be above all of us, including the Constitution of the United States? Only they know the answers; we can only speculate.
David Pláceres is a CPA and independent writing living in the United States