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January 30, 2004
Copyright © 2004 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved. 

The Democratic Presidential Primary and the Wesley Clark Manifesto

In last Tuesday’s New Hampshire Democratic Primary, retired General Wesley Clark finished in third place behind the winner, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, and second place finisher, Governor Howard Dean of Vermont, and slightly ahead of Senator John Edwards of North Carolina. Other candidates, Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Senator Kucinich of Ohio and activist Rev. Al Sharpton finished far behind.

Gen. Wesley Clark’s finish must have been a disappointment to many Herald readers who voted in last week’s Hot Button Issue Poll, choosing Clark over the other six candidates by stunning individual margins. Among island respondents, the General received 46% of the votes given to the entire field and more than 2.5 to 1 over his closest rival, John Kerry. On the mainland, Herald voters gave Clark 29% of its vote and almost 1.5 to 1 over candidate Kerry, the second place finisher in the mainland vote. Overall, 35% of poll respondents chose Clark over the other six candidates.

This result, no doubt, reflects the remarkable policy position on Puerto Rico put out by the Clark campaign last week. The statement, entitled "Fulfilling America’s Promise to the People of Puerto Rico," received extensive coverage in the Puerto Rico media, including the Herald.

Arguably, the position articulated by Clark is the most comprehensive issued by a candidate for any U.S. national political office in modern times. While putting forth a laundry list of initiatives he would commit himself to if elected President, including "striving for equality for Puerto Ricans in federal programs," he pointedly criticized the Bush Administration for inaction and indifference to Puerto Rico during his more than three years in office.

The Clark statement complains that "Puerto Rico’s 3.9 million residents do not have voting representation in the government that makes their national laws." In delineating the three options available to Puerto Rico that meet U.S. Constitutional muster, he writes, "independence from or in association with the United States, or to join the union as a state."

The statement language recognizes that "Puerto Rico remains an unincorporated territory of the United States and its ultimate political status remains undetermined." This assertion is a clear ‘slap in the face" to the position of Puerto Rico’s Popular Democratic Party (PDP) that all along has characterized the Commonwealth arrangement as permanent and sovereign, constituting a "covenant" between Puerto Rico and the federal government. The PDP’s mostly Democratic Party members have been lobbying hard to blunt the kind of talk about Puerto Rico that General Clark is bringing to the campaign.

On the other hand, the national Democrats of the New Progressive Party (NPP) have tried to place the issue of Puerto Rico’s "undetermined" status at the forefront of the campaigns of those whom they are supporting in the primary race. Former Governor Rosselló praised the Clark statement and called on other Democrats to second it.

NPP Senator Kenneth McClintock, a national Democrat, is concerned that Howard Dean, a candidate that he has backed from the beginning, has not yet spoken out forthrightly on the Puerto Rico issue. "I think it would help him," McClintock told the Herald. "Governor Dean’s voter appeal has improved when he has taken principled positions."

Reportedly, Dean, who in the past has spoken favorably of statehood for Puerto Rico, has been muted by the influence of Dennis Rivera -- the New York politician of Puerto Rican descent, and the President of Local #1199 of the Service Employees International Union -- who is supporting the Vermont Governor’s campaign with large financial contributions and "boots on the ground." Senator McClintock dismisses Rivera’s influence. "He hasn’t helped Dean win in Iowa or New Hampshire. Besides he is far removed from the Puerto Rican scene. He has no business dictating views to Dean about the political future of Puerto Ricans living on the island."

Not surprisingly, incumbent Governor Sila Calderon criticized the Clark statement, complaining that it did not include the present Commonwealth arrangement. She called the Clark plan "anti-democratic", asserting that a majority of Puerto Ricans expressed satisfaction with Commonwealth in recent plebiscites. In fact, in the most current voting held during the last year of the Rosselló administration, less that 1% favored the status quo Commonwealth. During her administration, Ms. Calderon has been arguing for a Commonwealth with increased power and discretion, concessions that the federal government is unwilling to grant due to Constitutional constraints.

On the other hand Miguel Lausell, a Democratic National Committee member and leading member of the PDP, endorsed Clark on Monday after serving as national co-chairman of Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt's former campaign. He is urging Clark to intensify his outreach to Hispanics, whose voting strength is proportionately greater in future primaries than it was in Iowa and New Hampshire. Although he has not commented publicly on the specifics of Clark’s Puerto Rico manifesto, it is safe to assume that he is wary of it and may try to soften it.

The likelihood is that the national Democrats of the PDP will be urging Clark and the other candidates to begin the self-determination process in Puerto Rico by means of a constituent assembly of the kind organized in the early 1950s to debate the content of Puerto Rico’s Constitution. Their mantra will be "Puerto Rico – not Washington -- should begin the process."

Roberto Prats, President of the Popular Democratic Party of Puerto Rico (PDP) and that party's candidate for Resident Commissioner in this fall's elections in Puerto Rico, is a Howard Dean supporter. He told the Herald that he disagrees with the Clark proposal since it "creates a level of conflict within the political spectrum of Puerto Rico." He further indicated that, as PDP President, he is "calling on Presidential candidates of the Democratic Party to assume policies that will respect the inalienable rights of Puerto Ricans to self-determination, allowing them to choose among options that are non-territorial and non-colonial." He admitted that such language implies that the status quo is territorial and colonial, a clear departure from Governor Calderon’s "compact" position.

After the final tally in New Hampshire, and the post election television interviews, Wesley Clark and the rest of the field took off to the South and West of the nation to carry their messages to the seven states that will hold primaries next Tuesday -- with 269 delegates to the national convention at stake -- including New Mexico and Arizona, states with large Hispanic populations. His success in those primary elections and future primaries in Florida, New York and Illinois will give him an idea if his positions on Puerto Rico have appeal to U.S. Hispanics.

This week we continue the Democratic Presidential Primary straw poll. Now that Iowa and New Hampshire are behind the candidates and "Super Tuesday" is approaching, do you still hold the same preferences for a winner in the Democratic Presidential Primaries?

Who do you favor now?

General Wesley K. Clark

Governor Howard Dean

Senator John Edwards

Senator John Kerry

Congressman Dennis Kucinich

Senator Joe Lieberman

Rev. Al Sharpton

Please vote above!

This Week's Question:

Which Democratic Candidate For President Do You Favor Now?

 (Mainland Residents, please vote in the left column; PR Residents vote on the right)

US . Residents
. PR
General Wesley K. Clark

16% Governor Howard Dean

11% Senator John Edwards

26% Senator John Kerry

2% Congressman Dennis Kucinich

10% Senator Joe Lieberman

8% Rev. Al Sharpton



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