Kerry: "Commonwealth" Is An Option-Why Acevedo Withheld The News… Acevedo Claims Fictitious Federal Aid Hike

April 9, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

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Kerry: "Commonwealth" Is An Option – Why Acevedo Withheld The News

Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila ("commonwealth" party) April 4th released excerpts from a brief but warm February 20th letter from Senator John F. Kerry (D-MA) strongly supporting "continued . . . commonwealth status" as an option for the territory’s future status.

The letter was a quick response to one that Acevedo had publicly sent Kerry the week before.

Why would the gubernatorial candidate of Puerto Rico’s "commonwealth" party and a nominal Democrat withhold from the public for six weeks a letter from the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate that strongly supports his position on the territory’s fundamental issue -- and then try to limit the release to excerpts?

The answer is that the letter contained two references that contradicted Acevedo’s position -- and the rest of Kerry’s letter.

The primary point of the letter was that "continued . . . commonwealth status" should be one of the options Puerto Ricans choose among in determining their preference for their future status. Kerry wrote that the other options are statehood and independence.

In addition to referring to "commonwealth" as a status equivalent to statehood and independence, the Massachusetts Democrat asserted that Puerto Ricans had "voted in favor of commonwealth status since 1952." He also contended that it "would be unfair to take away this option now."

The letter also, however, referred to Puerto Rico as a "territory" and referenced legislation that Kerry sponsored for, in his words, a "democratic means through which residents of Puerto Rico are able to voice their opinion."

Acevedo does not accept the fact that Puerto Rico is a "territory" in terms of its political status -- although that is the view of all three branches of the federal government. He contends that Puerto Rico shed territory status in 1952 and attained a different status: "commonwealth."

Although Kerry twice referred to "commonwealth" as Puerto Rico’s "status," his contradictory reference to Puerto Rico being a "territory" subtly undermined Acevedo’s argument that a "commonwealth" is not a territory.

The legislation that Kerry joined 15 other senators in sponsoring in 1998 and his letter to Acevedo are equally contradictory. The bill also undermines Acevedo arguments on the status issue.

The bill correctly identified Puerto Rico’s status as "unincorporated territory" rather than "commonwealth" as Kerry’s letter did. It also termed "commonwealth" as Puerto Rico’s local government structure rather than its "status" as Kerry’s letter did.

The bill recognized Puerto Rico’s current status as temporary and subject to federal governing powers on local as well as national matters. It also would have provided for Puerto Ricans to periodically choose whether they wanted to have this status continued or attain one of the "permanent" and "full self-government" statuses. Kerry’s letter made no such distinctions and thereby suggested that there were none.

The bill identified Puerto Rico’s status options as statehood, independence, and free association in addition to continued territorial status. Kerry’s letter omitted the option of free association and referred to "commonwealth" rather than territory status.

Acevedo strongly opposed the bill that Kerry joined a bipartisan group of senators led by Bob Graham (D-FL) and Larry Craig (R-ID) in sponsoring. He objected to it accurately terming Puerto Rico’s status as that of a "territory." He also objected to it accurately considering the current status as a temporary option.

Through his careful late Sunday release of excerpts of Kerry’s letter, Acevedo succeeded in deflecting attention -- other than in this report -- from the two references in which Kerry contradicted Acevedo as well as himself.

Kerry’s strong pro-"commonwealth" letter prompted strong complaints from leaders of Puerto Rico’s statehood, independence, and free association movements. They pointed out that Puerto Rico is a territory, "commonwealth’ is not a status equivalent to statehood, independence, free association, and, even territory status.

They objected to the suggestion that a status under which Puerto Ricans cannot have voting representation in their national government should be equivalent. They explained that Puerto Ricans did not vote for "commonwealth" in 1952 and only minorities did in 1993 and 1998. They also complained about the exclusion of free association as an option.

As of the time of this writing on Friday, April 9th, however, no one suggested that Kerry would revise or reconcile his different positions on the issue.

At the same time, though, the letter can be expected to be an ‘albatross’ around Kerry’s ‘neck’ as a presidential candidate. All indications are that most of the 3.5 million people of Puerto Rican origin in the States -- the Puerto Ricans who can vote for president -- support either nationhood or statehood for Puerto Rico. There has been little evidence among them in recent years of support for the "colonial" status quo.

Additionally, President Bush -- at least ostensibly -- has a position on the issue that is appealing to most voters of Puerto Rican origin in the States as well as to most people in the territory. Bush is said to view Puerto Rico’s ultimate status options as being statehood and independence and to believe that the choice should be Puerto Ricans’ to make. The Bush Administration has also clearly stated that Puerto Rico is an "unincorporated territory."

Bush’s ‘Achilles’ heel, however, is that he has done next to nothing on the issue and has not personally addressed its substance. He has taken only two procedural actions on it. One was to continue on paper the presidential task force that predecessor Bill Clinton established to work with Puerto Ricans and congressional leaders until Puerto Rico attains a fully-democratic status. The second was to name members of the task force.

He took the first action early in his administration. He took the second action last December.

It is unclear, however, whether the recent action was due to recognition of the political need to do more on the issue before the election. Bush also delayed the deadline for the task force’s next progress report on the issue from a month after this year’s election until December 2005.

This was interpreted by some Puerto Ricans as a sign that he did not want to engage the substance of the issue this year. Administration sources deny that theory, however. They say that the administration simply did not want to be bound by a one-year deadline.

Acevedo Claims Fictitious Federal Aid Hike

Resident Commissioner Acevedo’s official congressional Web site this week carried a claim of a non-existent increase in federal funds for the territory.

And this is not the first instance of the gubernatorial candidate providing the public with the phony information.

Acevedo first made the claim on the Web site almost two years ago. After UPDATE revealed that falsehood, the truth was confirmed by other news media.

Acevedo’s claim concerns the special food for the poor grants that the Commonwealth receives instead of Food Stamps. The Puerto Rico Nutrition Assistance Program (PAN) provides about two-thirds of the funding that the Food Stamps program would.

Puerto Rico was included in the Food Stamps program but was taken out through a Reagan Administration proposal to cut federal spending. The proposal would have replaced Food Stamps with less-costly block grants in the case of the States as well but the States had votes in the Congress to block the initiative.

Acevedo’s Web site claims that his "efforts and work" resulted in "automatic annual" increases of $10 million in the PAN program. In fact, a 2002 law included only a single $10 million increase, according to other federal officials.

The Web site also asserts that Acevedo is responsible for the grants for the program being increased each year to cover higher food costs. In fact, annual inflation increases were a part of the law long before Acevedo became Puerto Rico’s sole -- and non-voting -- representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.

"This is the first time that such substantial increases in the PAN program have been achieved since the program’s inception in the early 1980s," the Acevedo page also boasts. This, too, is not true, however.

The grant was initially set at $825 million a year. It has increased almost $600 million a year since then. Almost all of this increase also took place long before Acevedo set foot on Capitol Hill.

The false information appears in the "Legislation" section of Acevedo’s Web site on its "Family" page.

Also on that page are copies of several news releases containing the phony PAN increase claims that Acevedo issued in 2002.

The releases fallaciously contend that Acevedo is responsible for increases in PAN funding totaling up to $683,067,779. The phony figure was due to Acevedo’s office grossly inflating the impact of the program’s annual cost-of-food increases in addition to reporting the non-existent $10 million a year increases. Further, Acevedo erroneously advised Puerto Ricans that the 2002 law was extending the program for 10 years when the legislation only extended it for six.

The deceptive claims are responsible for huge disparities between the funding increases that Acevedo announced the program would receive on an annual basis and what it is actually receiving. For example, Acevedo said that the program would receive $58 million more during the current federal fiscal year (2004) than the year before. In fact, the increase is only $18 million -- from $1.395 billion to $1.413 billion.

For fiscal year 2005 -- which begins October 1, Acevedo claimed the grant would grow $60.4 million. President Bush’s budget says that the true increase will be only $30 million.

Acevedo’s false food aid claims are only some of the phony claims of achievements that he has made as resident commissioner. False information that he presented as a candidate for resident commissioner -- charging his opponent with a corrupt act -- resulted in Acevedo being censured by six of the seven judges on the federal court for Puerto Rico, with the seventh not signing the censure only because Acevedo’s false information was made in the context of a political campaign.

The "Washington Update" appears weekly.

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