International Panel: U.S. Cannot Deny U.S. Area Voting Representation… ABC News Identifies Puerto Rico Lobbyist As Top Kerry Fundraiser… Clark: I’ll Continue To Fight For Democracy For Puerto Rico

February 13, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

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International Panel: U.S. Cannot Deny U.S. Area Voting Representation

A ruling by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights released Wednesday held that the United States is violating the rights of the citizens of the District of Columbia (DC) by denying them voting representation in the U.S. Congress "by reason of their place of residence."

The rationale for the ruling suggests the possibility of the panel coming to the same conclusion regarding the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico’s lack of voting representation in the U.S. federal government.

The ruling by the Organization of American States (OAS) commission agreed with a complaint filed by an organization in DC named the Statehood Solidarity Committee in 1993. The OAS has 35 member states, all of the nations of the Western Hemisphere -- including the U.S., although Cuba’s membership is suspended because its current government is undemocratic.

The U.S. fought the complaint. It argued, among other points, that the DC statehood committee had not exhausted its opportunities to challenge the District’s lack of voting representation in the Congress in the courts.

The Commission recommended that the U.S. take measures to "guarantee" that DC residents have equal representation "in their national legislature." The ruling was approved December 29th but not released until Wednesday.

The Commission ruling agreed with the DC statehood committee in all of its rebuttals to U.S. Government arguments against the complaint, including that DC had indeed challenged its lack of votes in the Congress in the courts.

The Commission found "notable . . . that domestic courts in the United States have found that exclusion of District residents from the Congressional franchise does not violate the right to equal protection under the U.S. Constitution, not because the restriction on their right to elect Congressional representatives have been found to be justified, but because the limitation is one drawn by the Constitution itself and accordingly cannot be overcome by the one person, one vote principle."

It went on to note that the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man "prescribes no similar limits" and "establishes standards that apply to all legislative or other enactment by a state [a nation], including its constitutional provisions."

The U.S. had argued that "it is the absence of the District’s status as a [U.S.] state" that disenfranchises the citizens of Washington, DC and that there were good reasons for the seat of the national government not being placed within a State when the nation was founded.

It had also contended that the issue concerns "the very organization of the United States" so it "is a matter properly within the discretion of the people of the United States." Calling the issue "sensitive," it asserted that there was "no basis for the Commission to substitute its judgment for the political debate and decision-making of the federal branches of the government of the United States."

The Commission found, however, that the original justification for locating the U.S. capital -- protecting the fledgling national government from local pressure or pressures from one of the "relatively autonomous states" of the time -- in a voteless area of the country is obsolete. It also held that "modern developments within the United States and the Western Hemisphere" deny justification to a structure of government that denies citizens the right to voting representation.

Racial issues were considered in the dispute. The DC statehood committee noted that as majority of the District’s 572,000 people are of African heritage. The U.S. responded that the District’s status was based on matters of federalism unrelated to "race, sex, language, creed, or any other factor" of discrimination between citizens. The Commission did not find a racial motive to the disenfranchisement but held that lack of voting representation itself is simply impermissible.

ABC News Identifies Puerto Rico Lobbyist As Top Kerry Fundraiser

The ABC broadcast network Tuesday identified a top lobbyist for Puerto Rican interests in Washington as one of the top fundraisers for the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, Senator John Kerry (MA).

The lobbyist is Manuel Ortiz of one of Washington’s top lobbying ships, Quinn Gillespie. Ortiz is the lead lobbyist for the city of San Juan and has also worked for the Puerto Rico Hospital Association, the Puerto Rico Conservation Trust, and Banco Popular.

He has racked up important successes in the Congress for all of those clients but he is most widely known in Puerto Rico as the coordinator in the States for the gubernatorial campaign of former Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Rossello (statehood/D).

Ortiz is also Kerry’s liaison to Puerto Rico. Although he works for Rossello and San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini (statehood/R), he has taken pains to ensure the inclusion of "commonwealth" party members in Kerry’s campaign. Puerto Rico House Vice Speaker Ferdinand Perez is Kerry’s most prominent Puerto Rico supporter.

ABC News reported that 32 lobbyists have raised over $100,000 each for Kerry and named two of the lobbyists. One was Ortiz -- who is raising far more than the $100,000. The other was John Merrigan, perhaps the territorial government’s top lobbyist during Rossello’s previous terms as governor.

Ortiz was identified as representing the American Hospital Association, although his only efforts were on behalf of its Puerto Rico chapter. The lobbyist -- and Kerry -- played a leading role in getting the Congress to change the Medicare formula for paying for in-patient hospital services in Puerto Rico to make the payments more equal to the payments that apply elsewhere in the nation.

Clark: I’ll Continue To Fight For Democracy For Puerto Rico

Retired General -- and candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination -- Wesley Clark late Thursday pledged to "continue to fight for the civil rights and liberties of Puerto Ricans, which includes that they be granted the opportunity of resolving their ultimate status."

"This issue is very dear to my heart," he said.

Clark made the statement in a news release thanking Puerto Ricans for their support of his presidential candidacy two days after he dropped out of the race.

Clark received more support in Puerto Rico than any other candidate for the Democratic nomination in the current campaign. His strong and specific plans for resolving the issue of the territory’s ultimate political status and for treating Puerto Ricans equally in federal economic and social development programs were generally credited with winning him the support.

The status plan involved a choice among the territory’s fully democratic status options — U.S. statehood, independence, and national sovereignty in a free association with the U.S. It was lauded by leaders of Puerto Rico’s statehood party and of the "commonwealth" party’s free association wing. It also won grudging praise from a top Independence Party spokesman even though the party refuses any involvement with U.S. presidential politics.

Puerto Rico’s Democratic National Committeeman, Senate statehood party leader Kenneth McClintock -- a supporter of the candidacy of former Vermont Governor Howard Dean -- said that Clark’s policy regarding Puerto Rico "set the benchmark on which every presidential candidate will be measured in the future."

"Puerto Ricans have a right to be informed of their constitutionally-viable options — statehood, independence and free association," Clark asserted in his February 12th statement. "They have a right to choose among these options. And they have a right for that choice to be implemented by the government that passes their national laws," he continued.

Clark’s delineation of the options left out a continuation of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico’s territorial status because it does not permit Puerto Ricans to have voting representation in their national government. An undemocratic status cannot be a territory’s ultimate status because all people have a right to a democratic form of government.

Clark’s criteria for Puerto Rico’s ultimate status also excluded the status proposal of the president of Puerto Rico’s "commonwealth" party, Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila. Federal officials have said that the proposal is unconstitutional as well as impossible, unworkable and undesired.

The proposal calls for the U.S. to be permanently bound to the Commonwealth without it becoming a State and the Commonwealth to be able to veto the application of federal laws and enter into binding agreements with other nations. The Commonwealth itself would be considered to be a nation and the U.S. would also be required to continue to grant citizenship to people born in the nation and all assistance now granted Puerto Ricans

Clark has had extensive experience with Puerto Rico. He dealt with territorial issues while he headed the U.S. military’s Southern Command and had a key campaign aide who is from Puerto Rico, Yosem Companys. Personal involvements included friendships with Puerto Ricans in the U.S. Army and honeymooning on the island of Puerto Rico.

In addition to expressing appreciation to Puerto Ricans in general for their broad support, Clark singled out his leading Puerto Rican supporters from the territory’s statehood party and the free association wing of the "commonwealth" party: Democratic National Committee Hispanic Business Council Chair Miguel Lausell; former Governor Carlos Romero Barcelo; former Miami, Florida Mayor Maurice Ferre; attorney Luis Berrios; hospital owner Richard Macado; former Senator Marco Rigau; retired Lt. Gen. Emilio Diaz-Colon; World Boxing Federation President Paco Valcarcel; and former Representative Pedro Figueroa.

The "Washington Update" appears weekly.

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