The Puerto Rico Status Puzzle! How Will the Pieces Fall Into Place?
On the U.S. mainland, the Democratic Party presidential nomination process produced no clue as to how its nominee, John Kerry, intends to deal with Puerto Ricos unresolved political status. In effect, he seems to be saying that he will support a process for the people of Puerto Rico to decide the matter, including the option to continue in its present territorial condition.
His opponent in November, the incumbent President George W. Bush, has passed the hot potato to a committee of his bureaucrats to "consider the constitutional options" and to report to him in no less than two years. That commission is now rounding up all of the usual suspects to rehash the same legal and political arguments articulated in the nations capital for decades. It is said that Bush supports Puerto Rican statehood, but hes not presently breathing a word of it.
Obviously, neither candidate wishes to deal with Puerto Rico self-determination during the anticipated hot campaign ahead. There are no electoral votes at play in the disenfranchised territory.
Two prominent Hispanic politicians, however, recently voiced support for a Congressionally-sponsored process for Puerto Rico that is non-colonial and provides full democratic rights to the islands 4-million American citizens.
New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, in an official proclamation in support of a resolution passed by that states legislature, declared that Puerto Rico deserves "a permanent status that would provide full representative democracy." The resolution called for a federal law that would enable the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico to determine the territorys status from among "the non-territorial status options." Richardson, a Mexican American, is mentioned as a leading contender to join John Kerry as Vice Presidential candidate on the Democratic ticket.
Congressional Hispanic Democratic Caucus Chairman, Ciro Rodriguez of Texas, joined Richardson in support of a Puerto Rico status resolution in Congress. He called Puerto Ricos current status, "a second-class type operation." Further, he rejected the islands current status, Commonwealth, as a viable option for any future referendum on the island.
Not surprisingly, the status debate is again raging on the island, with the islands three political parties all grasping for the rudder of the still unresolved issue.
Early in his campaign to be reelected as the New Progressive Party (NPP) Governor in November, Pedro Rosselló proposed a two-step strategy beginning with an island-wide referendum, in which the people would vote "yes or no" to request that the U.S. Congress and the President provide Puerto Ricans with an electoral process to choose among permanent political status options that are non-colonial and non-territorial. If answered in the affirmative, his administration would then lay that petition at the door of Congress for action.
Concurrently, he would bring suit in the federal courts, arguing that the treatment of Puerto Ricos American citizens is contrary to the equal protection clause of the Constitution in that it denies them representation in Congress and the right to vote for President. He has rejected the solution originally proposed by Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Governor Sila Calderon last year to convoke an island-wide Constitutional Assembly to find consensus, a version of which is now being considered by the Puerto Rico Legislature.
The current legislative debate is considering a referendum to authorize the convocation of a Constitutional Assembly to be held after the general elections in November, when there will be newly constituted executive and legislative branches. Obviously, this tactic would only serve the purposes of an incoming PDP administration. A Rosselló administration and/or a NPP majority in the legislature would modify or negate the legislation, should it pass in the current session. The former NPP and pro-statehood Governor is on record as saying "the constitutional assembly is an indirect mechanism (that) will depend on which party has predominance."
PDP Party President Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, the Partys candidate for Governor in 2004, says that, as Governor, he would call for a referendum within the first 120 days of his administration. In his current role as Resident Commissioner in the U.S. House of Representatives, he has supported the position of Governor Calderon that the Commonwealth arrangement is de facto a permanent political status, one that already grants sovereignty and international dignity to the island. All that is lacking, the position posits, is for Congress to grant more resources and autonomy to its government.
In a recent radio interview, the PDP candidate to replace Acevedo Vilá, Roberto Prats, further articulated that theme. Prats stated that the Commonwealth is "anchored to a base that is neither territorial nor colonial. We believe there are problems that need to be corrected. We believe the Puerto Rico Commonwealth needs to be developed in order to bring it up-to-date with the globalization of the 21st century." At the same time he acknowledged that the issue of status has yet to be resolved.
The legislative debate has brought to the fore the firm opposition of the Puerto Rico Independence Party (PIP). Ruben Berrios, PIPs President and the Partys candidate for Governor in the next election, says that he will not participate in the legislative debate. He wants the referendum to be held before the elections so that a mechanism to resolve the islands status is already in place before the next government takes power. PIPs perennial leader was unequivocal in his criticism of the bill. "To not even consider the possibility of holding the referendum now makes the public hearing process a farce and charade," Berrios said.
And so it goes.
Both the NPP and the PIP wish to thwart the PDPs efforts to draw out the status process and submit it to the "death of a thousand cuts," by months or years of island bickering in an assembly dominated by the PDP. That Partys leadership, aware that the mood in Washington is decidedly anti-Commonwealth, has no desire to see a Congressionally-sponsored plebiscite with binding options that conform to U.S. Constitutional constraints. No member of the U.S. House or Senate has recently voiced any support for the idea that Commonwealth is anything but territorial and colonial, except some House Members of Puerto Rican descent with strong emotional ties to the PDP.
With the electoral process in full swing both on the island and mainland, it seems clear that any real movement towards a status process in Puerto Rico will await the configuration of the new administrations and legislatures in both. In the meantime, Herald readers can let the candidates know what process they prefer.
What path leading to a referendum on a permanent political status for Puerto Rico do you wish to see?