Puerto Rico Self Determination: Its Off the Presidential Radar Screen
With John Kerrys decisive primary victories last Tuesday in Utah, Hawaii and Idaho, the Massachusetts Senator seems unbeatable for the Democratic Presidential nomination in the 2004 election. Senator John Edwards his only viable competitor is betting his political resuscitation on next Tuesdays primaries in nine states and a caucus in Minnesota.
Meanwhile, with President Bush last week showing up to call the start of a NASCAR competition in Daytona, Florida and with his Vice President speechifying in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the Republicans have joined the fray, concerned that recent polling shows George W. Bush loosing to both Kerry and Edwards, should the election be held today.
Both camps are arguing the same issues from differing perspectives: economic growth, job creation, "outsourcing" of industrial capacity, fiscal deficits, tax policies, health care and social security benefits, the Iraq war and recovery efforts, international terrorism and homeland security.
Nowhere is Puerto Rico self-determination on any candidates radar screen.
The Kerry campaign answers all queries on this point by quoting from the candidates website, stating that John Kerry "supports self-determination for Puerto Rico and has proposed a referendum that allows
a vote on statehood, independence or continued status as a commonwealth."
Those favoring statehood for the island take comfort from the fact that Kerrys statement does not speak of an "enhanced commonwealth," the current mantra of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP), but they fear that the influence of fellow Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy may be providing space for the PDP to drag out the status debate for another 4-year presidential administration, should Kerry prevail. Kennedy, a close advisor to Kerry, has endorsed PDP Resident Commissioner Aníbal Acevedo Vilás candidacy for Governor of Puerto Rico against former Governor Pedro Rosselló, a statehood advocate. Both Acevedo Vilá and Rosselló are Democrats.
Bush spokespeople, when asked about the Presidents policy on self-determination, point to the administrations task force, recently charged with studying Puerto Rico status options. The group is to report back its findings to the President "within two years or sooner," but nobody expects that the report will see the light of day before the November election. Speculation is growing that the task force, originally organized in the last days of the Clinton administration, will reject the territorial Commonwealth as an option unable to provide the island with sovereignty and its residents, full democratic rights.
Vice President Cheney touched down on the island on February 20th, for a several hour stay, to attend a $1,000.00 per plate luncheon for several hundred guests and to meet with leading Republicans. The event was organized by Luis Fortuño, the New Progressive Partys (NPP) candidate for Resident Commissioner in the 2004 election and a National Committee Person from Puerto Rico to the national Republican Party.
At no point in his remarks at the luncheon did the Vice President mention self-determination for Puerto Rico, a burning issue among island Republicans, most frustrated by a Bush administration that has taken no stand on the matter during its first three years.
Fortuño told reporters that Cheney did discuss the status issue privately, but he was closed-mouthed about providing hints as to what the nations #2 Republican had to say.
Such ambivalence about Puerto Rico by candidates of both parties is not surprising. Although the island sends a delegation to both Party nominating conventions, the Kerry camp assumes that the nominating race will be decided well before Party caucuses are held on the island and, of course, President Bush has no Republican rival for the Oval Office.
Also, none of Puerto Ricos 4-million American citizens are eligible to vote for President. Island advocates of all status positions must look to surrogates on the mainland, who either have votes or other political influence, to advance their aspirations in Congress and before the Administration. Typically, they have looked to minority - especially Hispanic - communities, interest groups such as veterans, opinion molders such as academics and leaders of professional societies.
If it becomes a Bush Kerry race for the Presidency, the record of each will become an overriding issue; for Bush, his performance in the Oval office and for Kerry, his voting record as a Senator. Neither provides much of a clue as to how either is thinking about Puerto Rico if they think of it much at all.
What seems clear is that the calculus of mainland votes and island donations will determine the Puerto Rico policies of both candidates until an ultimate victory by one can provide space for a more principled position respecting Americas oldest colony, the home of 4-million non-voting American citizens.
In your opinion, which political party is likely to advance the cause of a self-determination process for Puerto Rico, should its candidate be elected President in November?