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August 1, 2003
Copyright © 2003 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved. 

The Many Approaches To A Puerto Rico Status Change

Get ready for a big surprise!

No Puerto Rican is satisfied with the current political status of their island. Everyone wants a change of some kind.

Even the statistically insignificant fraction of voters who chose the "Territorial Commonwealth" option in the last plebiscite, by now, after listening to three years of Popular Democratic Party (PDP) grumbling about the lack of autonomy inherent in the governing arrangement, have likely become dissatisfied with the status quo. The same complaints about political status, couched in different language, are heard from supporters of statehood, independence and free association.

Now, here’s the second "shocker!"

Every announced candidate for a political office in 2004 has a plan to achieve a permanent political status for the island’s 4-million U.S. citizens.

This week’s Hot Button Issue poll gives Herald readers the opportunity to choose which scheme is most likely to move a seemingly reluctant U.S. Congress and White House to consider the colonial condition of Puerto Rico and the limited civil rights of its inhabitants.

The first of these proposals is to call a constitutional assembly, wherein Puerto Ricans of differing political persuasions could agree on changes to be made in the 1952 Puerto Rico Constitution, the document establishing the Commonwealth arrangement currently in force, providing for a system of local self-government but leaving the island as an unincorporated territory of the United States, subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S. Congress. At the assembly’s conclusion, proponents suggest, the changes could be approved by island voters and then presented to Washington for implementation.

The PDP and its current leader, Governor Sila Calderon, prefer this constitutional assembly route and last week she reiterated her preference for such a conclave. The idea is not essentially different from her foundering "Unity and Consensus Commission," wherein representatives of the three parties would produce the same results. That idea was aborted when New Progressive Party (NPP) leadership refused to take part and Puerto Rico Independence Party (PIP) members used it as forum to criticize the Calderon administration. Critics of the commission portrayed it as a stalling tactic, aware that consensus among the competing political ideologies was a "pipe dream." Opponents of the constitutional assembly fear that it will produce a similar lack of results.

Former Governor Pedro Rosselló, now a NPP candidate for another gubernatorial term, has recently advanced his proposal for status change. In effect it is a two-part strategy occurring simultaneously. If elected, he would first initiate petitions in the U.S. Federal Courts challenging the constitutionality of the nature of Congressional oversight and the unequal condition of the U.S. citizens residing on the island. Concurrently, he would inaugurate a referendum in Puerto Rico as a first step leading eventually to a plebiscite, offering Congressionally approved status options.

In a recent interview with the Herald, former Senator Charlie Rodriguez, one of four NPP candidates vying for Resident Commissioner in 2004 explained how he saw the Rosselló proposal working. "We will seek a referendum in Puerto Rico, where the options will be yes or no to the question, ‘Do you favor federal legislation for a plebiscite sponsored by congress where the options are non-colonial and constitutionally valid?" Rodriguez opined that the answer to this question almost surely would be "yes," triggering a petition for Congress to respond to the wishes of the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico, by defining status option that were in conformity with the U.S. Constitution. Island voters could then choose among status options offered by Congress.

In a Herald interview this week with another NPP Resident Commissioner candidate, Sen. Miriam Ramirez, she offered another option. She is convinced that the White House will break the status logjam by coming out in favor of "ending the colonial condition of Puerto Rico." When pressed what that proposal would look like she was unambiguous, "Statehood or Independence." Sen. Ramirez was unsure of the timing of the White House announcement but she said that it would be "soon," but hoped that it would not interfere with the primary elections in Puerto Rico to be held in November of this year. Presumably the White House initiative would then spur Congress – now controlled by Republicans – to move on legislation leading to a self-determination process for the island.

Doubters of White House eagerness to enter into the Puerto Rico status debate point to the inertia of the Administration’s committee established to study the problem. The entity was established in the waning days of the Clinton Administration but the George W. Bush Administration embraced it. Initially it was anticipated that the committee would be energized by the long-expressed dissatisfaction by the Bush family for Puerto Rico’s territorial status. In the intervening 2&1/2 years, however, not one peep has been heard from this high-level council.

What approach do you think is most likely to bring a final resolution to Puerto Rico’s territorial status and the desire of its American citizens for full civil rights and sovereignty? Please vote above.

This Week's Question:
What approach do you think is most likely to bring a final resolution to Puerto Rico’s territorial status and the desire of its American citizens for full civil rights and sovereignty?

US . Residents
. PR
Appeal to the Federal Courts 22%
19% The referendum/ plebiscite approach 27%
8% The PR Constitutional Assembly 18%
54% A White House Initiative 33%


.To submit your idea for a future PR Herald poll question or "Hot Button" issue, please click here.

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