The PDP’s Status Problem

by John Marino

March 12, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

. At first glance, the recent pronouncements by the Popular Democratic Party’s top leadership that commonwealth is not a colonial status hardly seem worthy of the front page news treatment they received. After all, that has been the official party line since the inception of the status in 1952.

But the fact that the statements did make front-page headlines reinforces the notion that the statements are indicative of how a future PDP administration would act towards status.

Gov. Calderón has artfully avoided the issue during her term in office, and an Acevedo Vilá administration, apparently, would continue to give status a low priority.

In testimony before a joint legislative session studying a bill to create a constituent assembly on status, PDP President Aníbal Acevedo Vilá said that it would be of most use to statehood and independence supporters, as commonwealth is not a colonial status.

He would go on to shade that statement by acknowledging that a constituent assembly would also be helpful in "developing" commonwealth. The resident commissioner also said that if elected governor, he would act on the legislation passed by the Legislature to trigger a vote before the Puerto Rican people asking them to opine on the mechanism they prefer to be used to resolve the eternal status dilemma.

But it was clear that the rallying cry behind commonwealth as non-colonial meant the issue would not be pushed in Washington, through Congressional and White House lobbying, nor seriously addressed at home.

Acevedo Vilá’s comments were followed up by those of his running mate Sen. Roberto Prats. The PDP candidate for the non-voting Congressional post also made a pointed statement that commonwealth was not colonial, but an evolving status that still needed to be developed.

The current legislation calls for a "yes or no" vote on whether to convoke a constituent assembly. Acevedo Vilá wants the referendum expanded to include other options, such as lobbying Congress, a New Progressive Party proposal.

While the PDP candidate is trying to paint the move as an inclusive gesture, some opponents, remembering the "none of the above" strategy masterminded by Acevedo Vilá during the 1998 plebiscite, suspect the call to broaden the options is really another tactic to stall genuine action on status.

Other political opponents railed against the characterization of commonwealth as non-colonial and chastised the PDP for not taking serious action on the issue during its term in power, as well as its unwillingness to take action during this election year.

The hesitation contrasts with the party’s more forceful statements on status delivered last July to the PDP faithful during commonwealth anniversary activities. The contrast shows certain PDP ambivalence over how to proceed on the matter.

You won’t find the same hesitation in the NPP, which has proposed a vote calling on Congress to take action on Puerto Rico’s status as well as a federal court fight on the issue. Nor the Puerto Rican Independence Party, which supports an immediate constituent assembly and a call for Congressional action on the matter.

For the NPP and the PIP, status is not something with which to tinker, but something to resolve once and for all.


And The NPP’s Oscar Ramos Problem

The failure of New Progressive Party lawmakers to vote to expel Rep. Oscar Ramos from the House will be a campaign issue, just as the lawmaker’s refusal to heed a call by party president Pedro Rosselló to resign will be.

Popular Democratic Party opponents already say that the failure to expel Ramos, facing charges in local court of accepting bribes while State Insurance Fund administrator under Rosselló, is more evidence that the NPP is unwilling to weed out and denounce corruption within its own ranks. And because House Minority Leader Aníbal Vega Borges, the leader of the NPP delegation, was the sole pro-statehood lawmaker to vote for expulsion, opponents also say the episode points to internal party divisions and leadership issues.

Was the PDP’s push to kick Ramos out of the House on ethics violations politically motivated? You bet. But the House does have the right to hold its members to a higher standard than a criminal proceeding. And House ethics rules are clear about how to go about kicking out a member.

NPP lawmakers, by failing to expel Ramos, focused on the political nature of the House proceedings against Ramos. They should have focused on how their response to possible corruption within their ranks would play in the public.

The episode calls into question the good judgment of the NPP House delegation. This was not the first time members defied a leader. Carlos Pesquera, while NPP president in the wake of the November 2000 electoral defeat, called on the delegation to select a new leader over Edison Misla Aldarrondo. They refused, prompting Pesquera’s resignation.

Months later, following Misla’s federal and commonwealth indictments, Pesquera was vindicated, and his pick to lead the delegation, Vega Borges, was elected to fill in for Misla.

The NPP representatives were wrong then and they are wrong now in not listening to their leaders. As is Oscar Ramos, guilty or innocent, whose insistence in remaining in a public post is nonetheless tarnishing his party.

John Marino, Managing Editor of The San Juan Star, writes the weekly Puerto Rico Report column for the Puerto Rico Herald. He can be reached directly at: Marino@coqui.net

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