White House: Territorial Status Should Not Be An Option...NY Dems Reach Out To Rossello, Say Calderon Will Cost PR…Polls Suggest No New ‘Puerto Rican’ In Congress

November 1, 2002
Copyright © 2002 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.


A Bush Administration aide this week said that officials are adamant that territorial status not be an option for Puerto Rico’s future status. He disclosed the decision in reiterating the administration’s commitment to enabling Puerto Ricans to choose the islands’ future status when the time is right.

Administration officials have been working on the issue, focusing on what the options are. Most of the work has been quiet, although White House Intergovernmental Affairs Director Ruben Barrales, the senior Co-Chair of the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status, said in a speech to Puerto Rico’s statehood party that President Bush supported Puerto Ricans choosing the islands’ ultimate status between statehood and independence.

When the Administration will feel it is the right time to engage others on the issue is unclear. Sources close to the White House say that they have been told that it will be after next Tuesday, Election Day in the States. The President’s brother, Jeb, is up for re-election Tuesday as governor of Florida. His race is very close, although there are some indications that he may be slightly ahead. The State has a significant number of citizens of Puerto Rican origin and has been the focus of Puerto Rico Governor Sila Calderon’s ("commonwealth" party/no national party) drive to register residents of States of Puerto Rican origin to vote in the States.

In ruling out territorial status as an option for Puerto Rico’s future, the officials intentionally are excluding the Commonwealth’s current status. The reason is that it is not fully democratic since it does not enable Puerto Ricans to vote for their national government officials. In fact, it is the undemocratic nature of Puerto Rico’s current status that is a primary motivation for their work on the issue.

Another of their motivations for working on the issue is the goals that Calderon and Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner, Anibal Acevedo Vila ("commonwealth party/D), have for increasing the Commonwealth’s powers. Bush Administration officials recognize that the proposals are incompatible with the Commonwealth’s current territorial status and that the combination of United States benefits and national powers are incompatible with one another. They are concerned that Calderon’s plans to seek the powers will disappoint Puerto Ricans and delay resolution of the question of Puerto Rico’s ultimate status, the fundamental question concerning the islands.

Administration officials have reviewed the status aspects of the platform that Calderon was elected on in 2000. They have also read the speeches on the subject that Calderon and Acevedo delivered in recent months in connection with the 50th anniversary of the territory’s local constitution.

The officials are discussing whether to identify free association as an option for the Commonwealth’s future status. Under free association, a territory becomes a sovereign nation but cedes the exercise of some of its sovereign powers to another nation, usually the nation that formerly possessed the territory. A requirement is that the territory be able to end the delegation of powers, and become completely independent. The United States has three free association relationships, all with former United Nations territories in the Pacific that the U.S. administered for the U.N.

Calderon opposes free association because it would mean that U.S. citizenship would no longer be granted based on birth in Puerto Rico. She wants Puerto Rico to be recognized as a nation but be tied permanently to the U.S. with U.S. citizenship granted and federal funding at the current level. Under this hybrid status, she also wants the Commonwealth to be able to determine the application of federal laws and enter into trade agreements with foreign countries.

It is these latter goals -- determining the application of laws and foreign trade agreements -- that Calderon and Acevedo have discussed in the States as their immediate objectives and, because of this, concern Bush Administration officials the most.


U.S. Treasury Department officials are considering ending the income tax on corporations and reducing the federal government’s reliance on the income tax on individuals. The idea is a focus of a tax reform effort being pushed by Secretary Paul O’Neill that would have major implications for Puerto Rico issues.

A new national sales tax, called a ‘value-added’ tax would replace the corporate income tax and, to some extent, the individual income tax. It would tax all buying, business in addition to consumer purchases. The proposal might include replacing the individual income tax, which increases the higher a person’s income, with a single rate for the individual income tax as now exists with the corporate income tax.

WASHINGTON UPDATE will provide further information on the idea and its connections to Puerto Rico next week.


New York Democrats have asked former Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Rossello (’93-‘01) to travel to New York City to campaign for their gubernatorial candidate, Comptroller Carl McCall. Rossello, now on the faculty of George Washington University, has agreed and is expected to participate in a campaign closing rally Monday along with former President Bill Clinton.

Rossello, a Democrat and statehood party member, was invited to counter the campaigning for the Republican candidate, incumbent George Pataki, by Governor Calderon. Bronx Democratic Party Chairman and State Assembly Member Jose Rivera transmitted the invitation to Rossello.

Party leaders are furious at Calderon for campaigning for Pataki and saying it is because he helped bring about the federal executive branch’s decision to have military training at the U.S. Navy’s range on the island of Vieques end May 1, 2003.

The May 1, 2003 date was set by President Clinton with Rossello and was accepted by President Bush long before Pataki got involved in the issue and years before Calderon’s recent acceptance of the date.

As WASHINGTON UPDATE reported last week, among the upset leaders is Representative Charles Rangel (D-NY). He is now doubly upset because he made a last minute effort to get Calderon to cancel her Pataki campaign plans, and she did not agree.

The complaints from Rangel and others did cause a shift in the plans, however. Calderon went to New York from Puerto Rico last Friday and was going to first speak to the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (PRLDF) that evening and then do a public event to endorse Pataki early this week. After the complaints, a rally for Pataki with Calderon was hurriedly set up at the headquarters of the union led by Pataki and Calderon supporter Dennis Rivera. It was scheduled before the PRLDF speech so that the endorsement could be done and publicized before the mainstream news media learned about the controversy.

Calderon also sought to assuage Democratic feelings by then going to New Jersey on Saturday to support former Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg’s Senate candidacy. The move only infuriated New York Democrats more, however, because Calderon’s message to them was that she supports the Democrats in New Jersey but the Republicans in New York.

Rangel was especially "hurt" he says because Calderon promised him earlier she would not campaign for Pataki after she first said she would support the New York governor. She told Rangel she had been "misquoted" when she first said she would support Pataki.

Calderon had made a similar pledge -- and gave a similar excuse -- to Democratic candidate McCall, who had contributed to Calderon’s 2000 campaign at the request of a friend, real estate magnate and major Democratic supporter Jack Ruden. McCall reported that Calderon said she had not meant to actually support Pataki for re-election when she was quoted as doing so and her words were just "Puerto Rican exuberance."

He also noted that Calderon invited him to Puerto Rico, and that he went with a team of experts from his office to help the Commonwealth government’s pension system. He further noted that, like Pataki, he had also called for the end of military training on Vieques. In fact, he contacted the White House about the issue before Pataki did. McCall is so upset that he took down a picture of Calderon from his office wall.

Rangel is the top Democrat on the House Way and Means Committee and the primary champion in Congress of Calderon’s proposal that profits that companies based in the States receive from subsidiaries in the islands be exempt from federal taxation and the proposal to close 50% of the gap between the fees that Medicare pays hospitals in Puerto Rico and the fees that it pays hospitals elsewhere. He said Puerto Rico would be the "loser" because of Calderon’s support of Pataki. After she said she would ask voters to support Pataki as a "true friend of Puerto Rico, Rangel said anyone making that request "is not a friend of Puerto Rico."

The congressional leader also said Puerto Rico needs all the friends it can get in Congress because "it does not have a vote."

Rangel has been one of McCall’s staunchest supporters. Both are African-American.

Also doubly furious is Representative Jose Serrano. And the ethnic groups politics of New York City is one of the main reasons. Like Rangel, Serrano has worked to build a coalition in New York as well as in Congress between Black and Hispanic politicians. The coalitions have been created in both places, but the alliances are fragile. Serrano is concerned that African-American leaders will lose trust in Puerto Rican leaders because of Calderon’s actions.

A senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, Serrano said he is not inclined to help the Calderon Administration get further special funding for Puerto Rico. He played a key role this year in obtaining Committee approval of $69 million for Tren Urbano, a Rossello/Clinton project that is building a commuter rail system in San Juan, Bayamon, and Guaynabo, Puerto Rico.

Serrano thinks that instead of propping up the territorial government with special federal funding he can best help Puerto Ricans economically and otherwise by helping them understand Puerto Rico’s future status choice.

Serrano is doubly upset because he was criticized by Resident Commissioner Acevedo for his reaction to Calderon’s Pataki support. After obtaining the funds for Tren Urbano, Serrano had been criticized by New Yorkers for not obtaining the money for the New York subway.

Acevedo and Puerto Rico Democratic Committee Chair Eudaldo Baez Galib, a commonwealth party senator, also irritated New York Democratic leaders by defending Calderon’s support of the Republican candidate in New York. In words that grated NY Democrats, they said Calderon could support the person she considered to be "the best candidate" in NY.

Also angry is Representative Nydia Velazquez, a former appointee in a commonwealth party administration in Puerto Rico. She noted that Calderon has not supported candidates in New York who are of Puerto Rican origin, most notably Fernando Ferrer, who last year was defeated for Mayor of New York City by Michael Bloomberg. The New York City Mayor is another Republican to whom Calderon has become close.

Calderon’s Vieques Navy training claim is another curious aspect of the controversy. Navy officials continued to tell reporters this week that they had told Calderon nothing new on the issue, making it clear that Calderon’s pretext for campaigning for Pataki – that he was responsible for a "confirmation" that the training would end May 1, 2003 – was false.

And Rivera, who invited Rossello to New York, is a Puerto Rico nationalist who, like Calderon, had refused to accept the May 1, 2003 date for the end of the training, wanting it immediately.


Polls suggest that the 108th Congress will not have a new Member of Puerto Rican heritage although four candidates are trying. All are far behind in races to unseat incumbents.

Former Federal Communications Commissioner Gloria Tristani is trying to become the first person of Puerto Rican origin in the U.S. Senate. But Tristani, a Democrat, is running far behind Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico. Domenici is the longtime top Republican on the Budget Committee, and is first in line to be the top Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the lead committee on many Puerto Rico and other territories issues.

Domenici has been a supporter of Puerto Rico choosing its future status among all the real options, including statehood, but Tristani, who has lived in Puerto Rico and still has close family there, has promised to be a senator for Puerto Rico as well as New Mexico. In a poll two weeks ago, however, she is behind the incumbent 67% to 24%.

The candidate of Puerto Rican heritage running closest to an incumbent in the polls is Carlos Nolla, a Democrat who is challenging Representative Todd Tiahrt, a Republican from Wichita, Kansas, for the second time. A poll a week ago had Tiahrt leading Nolla 51% to 42%. Tiahrt has been in Congress eight years and is a member of the House Appropriations Committee.

Eddie Diaz, a Democrat, is trailing Representative Ric Keller of Orlando, Florida 57% to 29%, according to a recent poll. There are hundreds of thousands of persons of Puerto Rican origin in the area. Keller is a freshman member of the House who won his first race with just 51% of the vote.

Luis Vega is challenging Representative Xavier Becerra of Los Angeles, California, a Democrat who has served 10 years in Congress, is member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, and won his last race with 83% of the vote. Vega is given little chance of winning.

Four persons of Puerto Rican origin currently serve in the House: Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner Acevedo Vila and Representatives Serrano, Velazquez, and Luis Gutierrrez (D-IL).

The "Washington Update" appears weekly.

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