Clark Pledges To Work For “Viable” Status Options For Puerto Rico… White House Working On Status Task Force… EPA Supports Including Closed Navy Ranges On Clean-Up Priorities List… First Female Mayor In The States Of Puerto Rican Heritage… Bush Names Three More Municipalities Disaster Areas

December 5, 2003
Copyright © 2003 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

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Clark Pledges To Work For "Viable" Status Options for Puerto Rico

Retired General Wesley Clark (D) this week became the first aspirant for the Democratic presidential nomination to issue a formal statement on Puerto Rico’s fundamental issue -- the territory’s future political status. General Clark is considered to be one of the top contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The brief statement, entitled "Self-determination for Puerto Rico," pledges to "work with Congress to determine viable status options for Puerto Rico." The statement also makes it clear that General Clark would support the implementation of a Puerto Rican choice of one of the territory’s real status options.

These options are to become a State of the United States, an independent nation or a sovereign nation in a free (that is--not binding) association with the U.S. as well as to remain a United States territory.

The current leader of one of Puerto Rico’s "commonwealth party," Resident Commissioner and gubernatorial candidate Anibal Acevedo Vila (D), advocates a fifth option for the territory.

Under Resident Commissioner Acevedo’s proposal, Puerto Rico would be recognized as a nation but remain in a binding union with the United States. It would also grant Puerto Rico the power to determine the application of federal laws and to enter into binding agreements with foreign nations but the United States would continue to grant citizenship to persons born in Puerto Rico and to provide all assistance now granted to Puerto Ricans. Federal officials have repeatedly stated that the proposal is contradictory and impossible – or not "viable."

However, In addition to favoring a Puerto Rican choice of the territory’s future status, General Clark also said, that he favored "resolving the status issue." This ultimately would mean replacing the current territorial status with independence, free association, or statehood.

A senior campaign official expanded on this point by saying that General Clark had "made the unresolved issue of Puerto Rico’s status a priority." The spokesman for General Clark also said that this was "a commitment that would translate" into "an active presidency" on the issue.

General Clark also stated that he supported full equality for Puerto Ricans within the nation. He said the "American citizens" of Puerto Rico should have "full civil rights and liberties." Since Puerto Ricans already have equal civil rights and liberties as individuals, this is understood to mean equal representation in the election of the U.S. Congress and in the Presidency and the Vice Presidency of the United States. The only constitutional way for this to occur is for Puerto Rico to become a State.

White House Working On Status Task Force

White House sources this week reiterated that aides to President Bush are continuing to work to activate the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status.

Republican National Committee Member and statehood party Resident Commissioner candidate Luis Fortuno (R) was told that the Bush Administration would take action this month to hold an initial formal meeting of the Task Force in January. To date, the Task Force has only ‘met’ by telephone conference call.

A source working on the Task Force said that further public action on the matter could occur in the next week or two.

Some Puerto Ricans have doubted the Bush Administration’s sincerity on the matter because so little action has taken place to date despite Administration pledges to activate the Task Force established by President Clinton.

Over a month ago, President Bush’s lead aide on Puerto Rico matters, Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Ruben Barrales, publicly said that a formal announcement of the Task Force’s activation would occur within a day or so but nothing has publicly been done since that time.

Mr. Barrales had also privately made a similar suggestion over two years ago.

The only concrete public action on the Task Force to date was an executive order that Bush issued in early 2001 delaying the deadline for the Task Force’s initial report to the President until later that year.

EPA Supports Including Closed Navy Ranges On Clean-up Priorities List

Puerto Rico Governor Sila Calderon ("commonwealth" party/no national party) announced on Thursday December 4, 2003 that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recommended inclusion of the former U.S. Navy training areas in and off the Puerto Rican islands of Vieques and Culebra on its list of Superfund clean-up priorities.

The governor of Puerto Rico, like the governors of all of the U.S. States and territories, is essentially permitted to select one area as a Superfund priority as long as it meets the required criteria. Governor Calderon virtually guaranteed the recommendation by requesting it.

In addition, the environmental impacts of the military weapons training on the Vieques range areas has received international publicity and special U.S. congressional appropriations in recent years.

The EPA’s recommendation was made to the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the EPA needs OMB’s authorization in order to proceed with the listing of the sites. Cost is often a chief concern of the OMB, a presidential department.

Governor Calderon suggested that inclusion on the list would result in the U.S. Defense Department asking the U.S. Congress next year for a large amount of funds necessary for the clean-up. The U.S. Navy planned to spend $2 million on clean-up efforts this year -- far less than the $100 million to $300 million that the Calderon Administration says is needed.

The EPA recommendation is especially noteworthy because it includes clean-up in the waters off of the former Vieques and Culebra ranges. The clean-up would focus on explosive and other ordnance (or military material) on the ocean floor. The U.S. Navy has never agreed to a comprehensive clean-up of ordnance in the ocean before. A senior U.S. Navy official said that much of the cost of the clean-up would be attributable to work in the sea.

A still unaddressed key aspect of the issue is that the Vieques range land is to be cleaned as is needed for its uses permitted under federal law as a wildlife refuge and a wilderness area. These uses do not require the level of clean-up required for an area to be used as a residential area.

In an effort to obtain a greater level of clean-up, the Calderon Administration is asking the U.S. Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to permit camping on the land. The FWS has jurisdictional control of the land.

Three-quarters of the Vieques range-land was to be available to Puerto Ricans under a 2000 agreement between Governor Calderon’s predecessor, Pedro Rossello (statehood/D), and President Clinton regarding the future of the range. However, Governor Calderon lost the support of the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Interior Department, and Members of the U.S. Congress for the transfer of the land by trying to force the closure of the range before the U.S. Navy had a replacement for it.

First Female Mayor In The States Of Puerto Rican Heritage

The first woman of Puerto Rican heritage to become a mayor of a city in the United States was sworn into office Monday. Aleida Rios took office as Mayor of Pittsburg, California, a community of 57,000 people northeast of San Francisco.

Ms. Rios became Vice-Mayor of the city last year after becoming one of the top two vote-getters on the Pittsburg City Council. The position put her in line to become mayor this year.

Originally from Camden, New Jersey, Mayor Rio has lived in California for 19 years. Her husband, Orlando Morales, was born in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico.

The head of Governor Calderon’s offices in the States, Mari Carmen Aponte, attended the ceremony and presented Mayor Rios with a proclamation.

The 2000 U.S. Census counted 170,000 people of Puerto Rican heritage in California and 40,000 in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Bush Names Three More Municipalities Disaster Areas

On Tuesday December 2, 2003 President Bush designated three more Puerto Rico municipalities as disaster areas due to the heavy rains that pounded Puerto Rico last month. The three municipalities are Cabo Rojo, Lajas, and Luquillo.

With this week’s designation, President Bush has named a total of 19 of the territory’s 78 municipalities as disaster areas due to the rains making them eligible for federal disaster relief funding.

The "Washington Update" appears weekly.

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