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Editor, Caribbean Business
Hoyt Goes Too Far
June 5, 2003
Garry Hoyt's commentary on status resolution made some important points. Unfortunately, he once again goes too far by proposing a linguistic and loyalty litmus test for his fellow citizens in Puerto Rico. No other territory had to meet such arbitrary standards to achieve full citizenship and status resolution.
If cultural purity and universal allegiance were criteria for statehood it is very doubtful that Vermont, Louisiana, New Mexico, Texas, Alaska or Hawaii would have become states. If Mr. Hoyt has his way, Montana, Florida, Texas and Hawaii might need to be made territories again, or be declared independent, at least until local sovereignty movements, cultural diversity and anti-federal ideologies are eradicated.
Hoyt is right that U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico are intellectually complacent about status resolution, which lets Congress off the hook on status policy. However, angry demands for instant statehood or independence are not realistic. Instead, Hoyt should stick with his valid suggestion that, beginning with tax policy and expanding into other federal-territorial policy issues, Congress should treat Puerto Rico as a domestic jurisdiction and political subdivision of the United States nothing more and nothing less.
Hoyt is absolutely correct that Congress should not approve tax exemptions that treat Puerto Rico as foreign when it isnt, creating confusion about the status quo and delaying status resolution. As long as Puerto Rico remains in its current status as an annexed territory with a U.S. citizen population, federal tax policy should promote economic integration with the rest of the nation so that greater prosperity can be achieved. A stronger economy will facilitate rather than impede informed self-determination when the time comes for a choice between separate nationhood and statehood.
At a time when many poor Puerto Rican families with children are filing federal tax returns to receive benefits available under federal tax law, it is becoming clear that tax policy reform at the federal and local levels could actually lower overall tax rates. Consistent with eventual self-determination between statehood and independence, a phase in of federal taxes could include both individual tax credits not available now as well as special incentives for investment, accompanied by a phased reduction of local taxes.
In the event self-determination leads toward statehood, it is significant that the U.S. Supreme Court has never invalidated Congressionally approved special tax legislation for a new state under the Uniformity Clause. Congress is free to address local needs and promote economic growth during the admission process, as long as it does not discriminate unfairly against other states.
With respect to cultural issues, Puerto Rico's cultural heritage and distinct identity is a treasure for our people and the world whether Congress and island voters ultimately approve statehood or independence. To demand cultural homogeneity and a test of loyalty at this stage in the self-determination process is unprecedented and absurd. In the American experience, it is when disenfranchised citizens use the tools of self-determination to become equal stakeholders in one nation that patriotism is fully and most meaningfully realized.
It is when newly enfranchised citizens become fully bound to a common destiny with the rest of the nation that the barriers of exclusion and separation crumble. That is how equal rights and duties are achieved, inspiring full and equal allegiance as well. That is the true American way, which is why President Ronald Reagan, in a speech about Puerto Rico on January 12, 1982, said, "In statehood, the language and culture of the island-rich in history and tradition-would be respected, for in the United States the cultures of the world live together with pride."
Mr. Hoyt is not alone in his frustration about the sorry state of self-determination in Puerto Rico, but we all need to harness emotion in service to the historically proven process for territorial status resolution through statehood or independence, based on informed consent. Yes, local voters need to define the real choices and get their act together before that will happen, but so does the U.S. Congress.
Ricardo Aponte Parsi, Esq.