Clinton Calls For Puerto Ricans To Decide Territory’s Status… Acevedo Attacks Rossello On Status Process Proposals, He & Calderon Play Politics With Clinton & Congressional Democrats… Navy Briefs Congress on RR Cutback

April 11, 2003
Copyright © 2003 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

. .. Clinton Calls for Puerto Ricans to Decide Territory’s Ultimate Status

Former President William Jefferson Clinton called upon Puerto Ricans to decide the territory’s ultimate political status in a speech in San Juan last Saturday night.

In issuing the call, Clinton noted that, as president, he worked to facilitate the choice and clarify the territory’s status options.

His reminder that he had worked to clarify the options was a reference to the positions that his administration took on the unrealistic "commonwealth" party proposals that confused Puerto Rico’s 1998 and 1993 status referenda. The 1993 proposal was for major federal economic concessions that federal officials opposed.

The 1998 proposal was for a hybrid governing arrangement combining aspects of nationhood and a U.S. status that federal officials objected to on constitutional as well as policy grounds. It was developed by now Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila ("commonwealth" party/D) and now Governor Sila Calderon ("commonwealth"/no national party).

In his speech, the former president also reiterated a point that he made as president: he has no preference among Puerto Rico’s status options. He suggested that the decision ought to be made only by Puerto Ricans and the federal government should honor their choice.

In remarks earlier Saturday evening in Dorado, Clinton cited obtaining the only federal law that has supported Puerto Ricans choosing the islands’ status as one of his most important contributions to Puerto Rico. The law appropriated $2.5 million for public education on and a choice among options agreed upon by the Office of the President and Puerto Rico’s Elections Commission. The Commission includes representation from all three of Puerto Rico’s status option-based political parties.

The options were not agreed upon and the education and choice did not take place in 2001 because Calderon does not want federal officials to further judge her party’s 1998 status proposal before she finds a way to claim majority support in Puerto Rico for it.

In both appearances, Clinton recalled that he took his responsibility for issues concerning the territory seriously and that he worked on the issues with then Governor Pedro Rossello (statehood party/D). His singling out of Rossello pointedly came after Acevedo suggested to the former president that Rossello is linked to corrupt activities.

Rossello is seeking to unseat Calderon in 2004. He is a slight favorite to do so, according to Puerto Rican political experts -- including those close to the incumbent. No law enforcement authorities have linked Rossello to corrupt activities.

In his remarks in Dorado, Clinton also noted some of his administration’s other accomplishments regarding Puerto Rico.

  • Closing half the gap between Medicare hospitalization payments in Puerto Rico and the payments everywhere else in the nation.
  • Funding the commuter train (that will soon serve San Juan, Bayamon, and Guaynabo).
  • Ending the use of explosives at the Navy’s range on Vieques and establishing the date that all training there could end (this May 1).
  • Proposing the equal funding for the territory in elementary and secondary education programs for needy children that is now being phased in. He attributed this to continued work by Democratic members of Congress who worked with him on the initiative.

Clinton expressed gratification that President Bush’s administration had maintained the May 1 date for replacing the Vieques range but disappointment that officials no longer planned to give up federal ownership of three-fourths of it. He and Rossello had agreed on that and federal officials were seeking congressional approval for it when he left office. The effort was abandoned when Calderon refused to recognize and honor the agreement between the federal and Commonwealth governments on the range that Clinton had worked out with Rossello. The U.S. Department of the Interior will now get all, rather than just a quarter, of the land.

Clinton referred to Acevedo in his San Juan speech noting that the resident commissioner had spoken with him at length about "statehood and commonwealth issues" and had tried to explain the role of the resident commissioner. Clinton joked he still did not understand the job.

He also made light of Calderon not showing up at the dinner. He reported that she was "under the weather" and hoped that the weather would be "better tomorrow," noting that he liked the weather.

Acevedo Attacks Rossello on Status Process Proposals

Acevedo launched another attack on Rossello this week in Washington. In a speech a Georgetown University, the resident commissioner sharply criticized ideas that he attributed to Rossello to solve Puerto Rico’s status issue -- although all of the ideas were not Rossello’s.

  • The former governor has suggested asking the courts to find that Puerto Rico’s "unincorporated" territorial status is unconstitutional.
  • Acevedo said that Rossello also proposed that the White House set a series of status plebiscites "in which the Commonwealth would be defined in the worst, reactionary, and formalistic terms."
  • Finally, he criticized Rossello for allegedly saying he would seek agreement among all of Puerto Rico’s parties for addressing the issue.

The U.S. Constitution provides for territorial status as well as States and a federal government district. After Puerto Rico and other areas such as the Philippines were acquired by the United States a century ago, a major debate broke out in the U.S. as to the future status of the new territories: Were they destined to become States as all previous territories had been? How could the great democracy keep areas permanently without enabling their peoples to have voting representation in the national government?

The Supreme Court resolved the issue by determining that there were unincorporated as well as incorporated territories. The former were not necessarily destined to become States and not all provisions of the Constitution applied in them. The key decision was made by a 5-4 vote. In the relatively recent past, the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall said that the decision should be revisited.

Rossello has suggested seeking to overturn the "Insular Cases" decisions and seeking a ruling that would encourage the Congress to ensure Puerto Ricans can choose a status that provides for voting representation in their national government -- whether the government is that of the U.S. or a national government of Puerto Rico.

Acevedo charged that Rossello would have the courts rather than the people of Puerto Rico determine the territory’s future status. He did not explain the charge since Rossello’s proposal calls for a Puerto Rican choice among options that include fully democratic statuses and could include the current territorial status.

In the speech, Acevedo seemed to favor Puerto Rico remaining an unincorporated territory rather than becoming the "nation" that he proposed as recently as a month ago in another speech.

In addition to urging the federal government to enable Puerto Ricans to choose the territory’s status, Rossello has also agreed to the federal government including the fairest possible response to "commonwealth" ideas in such a choice although he favors limiting the choice to non-territorial, fully-democratic options.

A federal policy for periodic referenda until Puerto Rico attains a fully-democratic status was established by the first President Bush in 1992 -- with no involvement by Rossello. Legislation calling for such votes was also introduced by then Rep. Robert Torricelli (D-NJ).

The idea was incorporated into status choice legislation sponsored by House Resources Committee Chairman Don Young (R-AK), Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), Representatives Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) and Jose Serrano (D-NY) and Resident Commissioner Carlos Romero-Barcelo (statehood/D) in 1996 but it was not supported then by Rossello. The legislation also included a Spartan -- but relatively accurate definition -- of Puerto Rico’s current territorial status, which is popularly known as "commonwealth."

Similar legislation was supported by Rossello in 1997. But later he -- and the 1996 bill sponsors --- agreed with the Clinton Administration, Justice and State Departments lawyers, Resources Committee Senior Democrat George Miller (D-CA), and House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) on the fairest possible response to a "commonwealth" party alternative description of "commonwealth." The alternative was proposed by Acevedo.

The bill passed the House in 1998 but it was blocked in the Senate by Majority Leader Lott and Majority Whip Don Nickles (R-OK) despite bipartisan support. Acevedo and Calderon lobbied them to block the bill.

In 2000, Congress passed a Clinton-proposed bill that appropriated $2.5 million for a Puerto Rican choice among options agreed to by Puerto Rico’s tri-partisan Elections Commission and the Office of the President. Lott failed in trying to block this bill. He tried to do so in consultation with Calderon.

Periodic referenda were proposed to establish an orderly process for resolving the status issue. Providing for such votes recognized that it may take years for there to be a majority among Puerto Ricans for any of the fully-democratic options. It sought to enable other issues to receive a greater focus during the interim.

The proposal also recognized that the issue will continue until Puerto Rico has a fully-democratic status. Until Puerto Rico is a State or a nation, significant numbers of Puerto Ricans are likely to seek such statuses.

Acevedo criticized Rossello for saying that he would seek tri-partisan cooperation on the status issue, saying that the former governor had not done so previously and Calderon has. In fact, Rossello enabled the "commonwealth’ party to define an option for the 1993 referendum. He also agreed to the federal government fairly responding to a proposal for the party in 1998.

By contrast, Calderon has insisted that the statehood party join a commission on the issue that she wants to establish even though the party would be allocated only one seat out of nine and she could dominate the selection of seven members. She is also labeling as ‘seeking consensus’ trying to dictate the next step on the status issue even though federal officials say what needs to occur is for the "commonwealth" party to agree on a realistic option.

Acevedo and Calderon Play Politics with Clinton and Congressional Democrats

Although Clinton only mentioned Acevedo speaking to him about Puerto Rico’s status issue and his job, Acevedo said he also spoke about the corruption to which he tried to link Rossello. He, additionally, suggested to a reporter that Clinton questioned Rossello running for governor again because of the issue. The former president later, however, reiterated his high opinion of the former governor.

Two other erroneous stories related to Clinton also came out of Acevedo’s office during the weekend. One asserted that the former president joined a small golf game led by Acevedo in preference to one organized by Rossello’s first secretary of the governorship, Alvaro Cifuentes. In fact, Cifuentes, now chairman of the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) Hispanic Caucus, was consulted far in advance on the golf game in which Clinton played.

The game was a fundraising activity for the DNC. Clinton was to join three individuals for each nine holes of the game. In fact, Acevedo was disappointed that he was not included in the first nine-hole foursome and that Clinton left after the first three holes of the second nine.

The other erroneous story sourced to Acevedo was that Cifuentes had tried to obtain a seat for Rossello at the table that the president sat at during the dinner. In fact, Clinton’s office learned from Cifuentes and Rossello long before that Rossello would not be in Puerto Rico during the former president’s trip.

Additionally, Cifuentes obtained the table next to the one that Clinton sat at for a power group that included Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Representatives Loretta and Linda Sanchez (CA), former Clinton Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes, Bronx (NY) Borough President Adolfo Carrion, former New York State legislature Hispanic Task Force Chairman Roberto Ramirez, and former Clinton territories adviser Jeffrey Farrow. An aide to Acevedo tried to have the table moved far from Clinton just prior to the dinner, but the dinner organizers put the Cifuentes group next to the table at which Clinton sat anyway.

The table that Clinton sat at was arranged by the dinner organizers. In addition to Acevedo, it included two other Calderon acolytes, Commerce and Development Secretary Milton Segarra, and Representative Jorge Colberg, who until recently was Calderon’s official spokesman.

Segarra’s department reportedly contributed $75,000 to the dinner on behalf of Calderon. It also reportedly distributed tickets to the dinner to Calderon political supporters. This was additionally done by dinner sponsor Verizon, the government of Puerto Rico’s partner in the local telephone company.

Among others seats at the table with Clinton were DNC Hispanic Business Council Chair Miguel Lausell and financier Salomon Levis. Levis’ company at least also helped sponsor the event and Levis introduced Clinton to the audience

Clinton’s speech in San Juan was primarily about international affairs since he gave the speech for a fee to a dinner arranged by a group called the Caribbean Council on World Affairs. He also spoke about the AIDS crisis since the visit to Puerto Rico came during a trip that included four Caribbean countries in connection with his efforts to combat the deadly epidemic.

The speech was arranged by the Caribbean Council with a New York company that books Clinton and other prominent individuals into speaking engagements. Clinton was reportedly paid $125,000 for the event. He is reportedly using half the funds for his anti-AIDS project.

The earlier event in Dorado was a fundraising cocktail party for the DNC organized by Lausell and two other local Democrats -- Richard Machado and Andy Guillermard. Machado hosted the event.

Others attending the Dorado cocktail included: Landrieu; Nick Joe Rahall (WVA), the senior Democrat on the House committee with basic jurisdiction over territorial affairs -- Resources; House Democratic Caucus Chairman Bob Menendez (NJ); DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe; and Craig Smith, Senator Joseph Lieberman’s presidential campaign manager. Smith is also working for Calderon’s drive to register voters in the States.

The event was a part of a series of activities conducted in Dorado last weekend by the DNC’s Business Council. Among others in Puerto Rico for the weekend were Senator Kent Conrad (ND) and Representatives Ed Markey (MA) and Carolyn McCarthy (NY).

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA) also attended some of the DNC events. Pelosi, however, was primarily in Puerto Rico for a Georgetown University reunion. Like Clinton, she was also stood up by Calderon.

The House Democratic leader was asked to go to the governor’s office. When she got there she met with Acevedo and Calderon’s chief of staff instead of the governor.

Calderon’s failure to appear at the Clinton and Pelosi events and a similar failure to show up at a meeting with Senator John Kerry (MA), a leading Democratic presidential candidate, has given rise to speculation that she does not want to offend President Bush and other Republicans by being seen with leading Democrats. Calderon has lavishly praised Bush; his brother, Jeb, the governor of Florida; New York Governor George Pataki, a Bush ally; Senator Trent Lott (MS); and other Republicans.

Her active support of Pataki and failure to support Fernando Ferrer for Mayor of New York City in particular has offended NY Democrats such as Representatives Charles Rangel, Jose Serrano, and Nydia Velazquez and leaders such as Carrion and Ramriez.

While in Puerto Rico, Pelosi also attended fundraisers for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Navy Briefs Congress on Roosevelt Roads Cutback

U.S. Navy Department officials began to brief the Congress’ Armed Services Committees this past Thursday on their plans to reduce operations at the Roosevelt Roads Naval Station in Ceiba, Puerto Rico over the next year.

The plans will cut 2600 jobs at the Navy’s largest base outside the States. The briefings were undertaken in coordination with the White House.

The primary reason for a cutback is the closure of the Navy’s Vieques, PR range for practicing combat amphibious invasions by this May 1. A contributing reason for the magnitude of the cutback is that that Governor Calderon reneged on an agreement regarding the range reached between the federal and Commonwealth governments.

The agreement was reached under then Governor Rossello and then President Clinton. Calderon refused to recognize it and took actions that she was advised would violate the agreement. Military officials have said that Calderon’s breaking of the Commonwealth’s commitments have convinced them that they should not conduct activities in Puerto Rico that can be conducted elsewhere.

The Vieques range has been the heart of the "Atlantic Fleet Weapons Training Facility," an area for exercises that includes vast expanses of ocean off Vieques. Supporting the training on the range and in the ocean off the range has been the base’s main function, although other activities are conducted there as well.

Although Calderon and Resident Commissioner Acevedo tried to force an immediate end of training on the Vieques range -- vs. the May 1, 2003 end that Rossello had arranged with Clinton and military officials -- Acevedo wants training in the "Outer Range" (the ocean) to continue. However, it is being moved to the area of the U.S.’ southeastern States along with the training that had been conducted on the Vieques range.

The law providing for the closure of the range provides for related operations at Roosevelt Roads to be terminated. Calderon and Acevedo want the base to remain open even without much activity.

A final decision on the base is expected to be made by Congress in 2005 after it considers the recommendations of a special commission that is to identify unneeded military facilities. Top Navy officials have questioned the need for the base without the training.

The "Washington Update" appears weekly.

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