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Statehood Issue Looms Large In Her Critics' Minds
By Iván Román | San Juan Bureau
June 29, 2003
For Gov. Sila Calderón, it's her lack of answers for the island's economic dependence, and its clash with its burgeoning cultural independence, that gall some of her detractors the most.
They readily point to her perceived inaction and lack of interest in the perennial problem of the political status of Puerto Rico.
Calderón's Popular Democratic Party defends the current Commonwealth status, which grants the island autonomy over fiscal matters and allows Puerto Ricans to preserve their language and culture while having only part of the benefits and responsibilities of U.S. citizenship.
Puerto Ricans on the island don't pay federal income tax but have only one non-voting representative in Congress. And they don't vote for the president, who has sent them into armed conflicts for decades.
The $14 billion in federal aid -- mostly from entitlement programs like Social Security that Puerto Ricans pay into -- along with ties to the U.S. economy helped make the island an industrialized society with the highest standard of living in Latin America.
But pro-independence and pro-statehood activists call the current status little more than a "dressed-up colony."
Even Calderón's supporters say the Commonwealth status, created 50 years ago, needs to evolve. The PDP platform calls for an "enhanced" Commonwealth with more sovereignty over certain issues. But that view has repeatedly been pushed back by politicians, presidents and the courts, who say that would be incompatible with the U.S. Constitution. In essence, for the Commonwealth to grow, it would have to change into something else.
Angry about two plebiscites on the island's political status called for by her predecessor, Calderón called on all three major political parties on the island to reach consensus on how to deal with the issue before heading to Congress for action. Calling it a waste of time, the pro-statehood New Progressive Party's President Carlos Pesquera never came to the table, his empty porcelain teacup sitting alone conspicuously before the television cameras.
"She used that as an excuse to wash her hands of an issue that, for her, is not a priority, and that limited her appeal," said former Puerto Rico Bar Association President Noel Colón Martínez, a pro-independence activist. "She had other ways of dealing with the issue and she didn't."
Although the party platform talks of increased sovereignty, Calderón is identified with the party's more conservative wing that fears the more liberals' push to an "associated republic" or some other more independent-leaning political status they say will endanger their U.S. citizenship.
But the generational change in leadership coming to the island may also be an ideological one, given that José Alfredo Hernández Mayoral, the son of a three-term governor who also calls for increased sovereignty, is supported by "autonomists" in the party. Some analysts say these forces are a step away from moving in that direction. The younger team will have to convince the rest of the party to follow them down that path.
"Sila is a colonized person, and José Alfredo Hernández Mayoral is a decolonizer," said political analyst Juan Manuel García Passalacqua, one of her harshest critics and one of the strongest advocates for an associated republic. "She was no more than an anachronism, a reversion to the past that ended up being ridiculous. The past has gone."