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 territorys 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 Ricos "commonwealth" party and a nominal Democrat withhold from the public for six weeks a letter from the Democratic Partys presidential candidate that strongly supports his position on the territorys fundamental issue -- and then try to limit the release to excerpts?
The answer is that the letter contained two references that contradicted Acevedos position -- and the rest of Kerrys 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 Ricos "status," his contradictory reference to Puerto Rico being a "territory" subtly undermined Acevedos 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 Ricos status as "unincorporated territory" rather than "commonwealth" as Kerrys letter did. It also termed "commonwealth" as Puerto Ricos local government structure rather than its "status" as Kerrys letter did.
The bill recognized Puerto Ricos 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. Kerrys letter made no such distinctions and thereby suggested that there were none.
The bill identified Puerto Ricos status options as statehood, independence, and free association in addition to continued territorial status. Kerrys 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 Ricos 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 Kerrys letter, Acevedo succeeded in deflecting attention -- other than in this report -- from the two references in which Kerry contradicted Acevedo as well as himself.
Kerrys strong pro-"commonwealth" letter prompted strong complaints from leaders of Puerto Ricos 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 Kerrys 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 Ricos 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."
Bushs 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 forces next progress report on the issue from a month after this years 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 Acevedos 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.
Acevedos 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.
Acevedos 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 Ricos 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 programs 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 Acevedos 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 Acevedos office grossly inflating the impact of the programs 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 Bushs budget says that the true increase will be only $30 million.
Acevedos 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 Acevedos false information was made in the context of a political campaign.