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Wesley Clark Announces Policy For Puerto Rico

Presidential Candidate’s Declaration Creates Political Free-For-All On Island


February 5, 2004
Copyright © 2004 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

U.S. presidential candidate Wesley Clark’s declaration on Jan. 21 that Puerto Ricans want a president who will resolve the question of the island’s ultimate status has stirred debate among local politicians.

Puerto Rico Sen. Kenneth McClintock, the New Progressive Party (NPP) minority leader and the Democratic national committeeman in Puerto Rico, expressed his support for Clark’s statements. "Clark has promised to visit Puerto Rico as president, meet with the island’s political leaders, facilitate a $5 million orientation program regarding constitutionally viable options for the island’s political status, conduct a referendum on those options, and implement the winning formula," he said. "[This challenges] other contenders as well as President Bush to issue unequivocal statements on what they would do for Puerto Rico if they occupy the White House during the next four years."

Luis Fortuño, the NPP’s candidate for resident commissioner and GOP National Committeeman in Puerto Rico, said, "President Bush has provided vision and leadership by reactivating the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status. Bush has been careful to approach this subject within a legal framework, and now there seems to be another presidential candidate who is taking the same approach."

Sen. Roberto Prats, the Popular Democratic Party’s candidate for resident commissioner, said he favors holding a constituent assembly in Puerto Rico. "Clark’s statement doesn’t take into consideration the fact that we have tried everything–referendums, plebiscites, a presidential task force–but nothing seems to work," he said. "I’m in favor of modifying the commonwealth status, but we should do it among ourselves." Prats sees the whole issue as a misunderstanding among fellow Democrats, which can be resolved through dialogue.

Clark, however, places the blame for the delay in tackling the status issue squarely on the Bush administration. "My plan will resolve this question, rectify the injustices presented by the current status, and improve the quality of life for Puerto Ricans everywhere–both on the island and on the mainland," he said.

Clark argues that the Bush administration has failed to demonstrate leadership in this area by waiting almost three years to activate the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status. What’s more, he contends, Bush hasn’t spent the $2.5 million that Congress has appropriated for this purpose.

"Puerto Rico’s territorial status permits the commonwealth to be treated differently than the states in federal programs, mostly to the detriment of its people," said Clark.

"Partly as a result, half the population continues to live below the federal poverty level and the unemployment rate is twice that of the nation as a whole. This has forced many Puerto Ricans to move to the States to meet basic human needs and obtain greater opportunities."

Clark proposes a series of measures to advance a resolution to what is certainly the most important political issue in Puerto Rico. These include doubling the task force’s funding; accelerating the deadlines for the task force’s reports; engaging in an objective public education campaign on the constitutionally viable status options: national sovereignty, either fully independent from or in free association with the U.S., or membership in the union as a state; and working to authorize a referendum for the people of Puerto Rico to choose.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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