Acevedo’s Strategy For Deterring The President’s Status Task Force…Vieques Clean-Up Amendment Rejected By House Committee…Puerto Rico Puerto Ricans Poorer Than Puerto Ricans In The States

May 21, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

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Acevedo’s Strategy For Deterring The President’s Status Task Force

The "commonwealth" party’s president, Resident Commissioner and gubernatorial candidate Anibal Acevedo Vila, is implementing a strategy to prevent the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status from acting on the Commonwealth’s fundamental issue.

The Task Force is made up of representatives of the President and his Cabinet. Its mandate is to clarify the options for the territory’s political status and work with the leaders of Puerto Rico and the congressional committees with responsibility for the issue until Puerto Rico is developed into its ultimate status -- a status under which Puerto Ricans enjoy democracy at the national government level.

The two key members of the Task Force, its Co-Chairs, will be in Puerto Rico May 24 and 25 to consult with the leaders of the territory’s political parties and its government. The White House’s Ruben Barrales is also President Bush’s chief assistant for relations with State, territorial, and local governments. The Justice Department’s Noel Francisco is the Bush Administration’s second-ranking expert on constitutional and other basic law issues.

Puerto Rico’s three parties are each based on different visions of the issue. One is for Puerto Rico becoming a State of the U.S. Another is for independence. Acevedo’s party considers "commonwealth" to be the territory’s constitutional status -- although no such status exists -- rather than just the name of its local government. Under Acevedo and Calderon’s leadership, it has also proposed that Puerto Rico be recognized as a nation to which the U.S. is bound with Puerto Rico having the powers to determine the application of U.S. laws and enter into binding trade agreements with other countries and the U.S. continuing to grant citizenship and all aid now provided Puerto Ricans.

A minority of Acevedo’s party favors the territory becoming a sovereign nation in a free (voluntary) association with the U.S.

The Task Force became active last December after being put on the ‘back burner’ due to lobbying by Acevedo and his political mentor, incumbent Governor Sila Calderon, and the press of other issues that the Bush Administration faced. Much of the actual lobbying was done by Charlie Black, an outside Bush political adviser who has chaired the Republican National Committee. Black heads a lobbying shop that is paid $1 million plus a year by the Calderon-Acevedo Administration. His lobbying was directed at the White House.

In recent months, however, Acevedo and Calderon have had close aides meet with other members of the Task Force. One of the aides is Flavio Cumpiano, a member of Acevedo’s congressional staff who has been the official representative in Washington of anti-U.S. Navy activists on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico. Another of the emissaries has reportedly been Francisco Pavia, who is with another of Calderon’s million-dollar a year representation firms in Washington and formerly was her chief representative here while she was mayor of San Juan.

The substantive part of Acevedo’s strategy for preventing federal action to resolve the status issue is to say that the issue should not be discussed by federal officials until a process to make his proposal is completed in Puerto Rico. Under this scheme, Puerto Ricans would vote next year on whether they want a "constituent assembly" (an elected convention) to determine Puerto Rico’s future status or they want to approach the issue through another process, principally the people of Puerto Rico determining the territory’s ultimate status through a vote among all of the territory’s status options.

Acevedo does not want federal officials to discuss or act on the status issue until after his assembly makes a proposal to the U.S. Government because he knows that the federal government will reject his nation to which the U.S. is bound proposal. Federal officials rejected it in 1998, when it was first proposed, and in 2000, when the "commonwealth" party readopted it.

Acevedo’s plan is to try to form a coalition with advocates of real nationhood for Puerto Rico in the convention to obtain at least 50% plus one of its votes. He would then take his status proposal to Washington.

He hopes that he can overcome existing federal objections to the proposal by arguing that it represents Puerto Rican "self-determination" (although self-determination actually is the right of a territory to independence rather than to a shared-powers governing arrangement).

It remains to be seen whether Acevedo’s tactic will work with the Bush Administration. It is, however, based on a faulty premise. Barrales and Francisco do not need to receive Acevedo’s substantive proposal for Puerto Rico’s future status; they already have it and have been reviewing it.

Because of this, the purpose for consulting with Acevedo and local officials who are members of the "commonwealth" party would be to learn of any amendments that the party wants to make to the proposal and hear any arguments for the proposal.

Acevedo, however, told Puerto Rico’s largest print newspaper, El Nuevo Dia, just weeks ago that he saw no reason to modify the proposal. He has also made arguments for it in formal presentations to universities in the U.S.

Acevedo’s efforts to put off a federal discussion of his substantive status proposal have also reinforced doubts about his seriousness regarding it. The doubts have been raised by his unwillingness to have the territorial government controlled by members of his party call the convention before this year’s gubernatorial election. The skepticism has also been fueled by his statements in defense of the status quo.

Some people believe that his assembly idea -- which he took from true nationalists and revised -- is simply a ruse to win the nationalist votes he needs to be elected governor.

Vieques Clean-up Amendment Rejected by House Committee

Legislation to force the U.S. Navy to do a more intensive clean-up of ordnance and other dangerous materials on its former land on Vieques was rejected Thursday by the U.S. House of Representatives Rules Committee.

Two-thirds of Vieques was used by the Navy and the Marine Corps for decades for weapons training and storage. The training ended a year ago and the storage ended three years ago under an agreement reached in 2000 among then President Bill Clinton, then Governor Pedro Rossello (statehood/D), and the U.S. military and a federal law approving most of the agreement.

The legislation rejected Thursday was sponsored by Resident Commissioner Acevedo with Representatives Jose Serrano (D-NY), Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), Joseph Crowley (D-NY), and Luis Gutierrez (D-IL). Serrano, Velazquez, and Gutierrez are of Puerto Rican origin. All have previously been active on Vieques issues.

The Rules Committee recommends rules and procedures for the House’s consideration of legislation. Acevedo and the voting representatives had asked for permission to offer an amendment to the bill to authorize funds and make policy for the Defense Department for the fiscal year that begins October 1st during full House consideration of the bill.

Monday, the Congressional Research Service gave two House members from NY a report on the issue that explained why the clean-up hopes of some are not being met. The report outlined the Navy’s clean-up plans, the possibility of the plans being changed due to actions by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Puerto Rico’s Environmental Quality Board, and the legal impediments to cleaning all of the former Navy lands to standards that would make it safe for people to live on the land.

The primary problem concerns the 40% of Vieques formerly used for military training. Current law requires a small amount of the property used as a bombing range to be managed as a Wilderness Area by the U.S. Department of the Interior "with no human access." Consequently, clean-up standards are not as stringent as if people were allowed on the land.

The law requires that the rest of the training range be administered by the Interior Department as a National Wildlife Refuge. This status permits access to the land to be restricted, again eliminating the requirement to clean the land enough so that people can live on it. The reported noted interest in this land being used for homes or tourism facilities.

Access to the land is prohibited or limited because Governor Calderon and Acevedo acted to break the 2000 agreement and against requirements of the 2000 law. Specifically, the Calderon Administration conducted a referendum on Vieques with an option of an immediate end to military training in 2001 versus a phase-out through 2003 and (unsuccessfully) sued the U.S. Government to prevent the training. The Puerto Rico administration also denied the Navy requested police assistance to prevent break-ins onto the range by protestors.

The Calderon Administration’s actions caused the Navy and the Interior Department to drop legislation that they had proposed that would have required the federal government to give up ownership of most of the land. The disposal would have required that the land be cleaned so that people could live on it.

The Navy is spending $2 million this fiscal year and it plans to spend $8 million next fiscal year on cleaning up the bombing range and other munitions practice areas. It estimates costs of $76 million in the future for these areas.

The Navy is spending $2 million this year and it plans to spend $1 million next fiscal year to clean up other portions of the eastern side of the island. It estimates costs of $14 million from 2006-2014 for this property.

The Navy is spending $2 million this year and it plans to spend $4 million in fiscal year 2005 to clean up the former storage area on the western side of the island. It estimates costs of $16 million in fiscal years 2006-2007 for this land.

The congressional report noted that government environmental protection agencies, including Interior, might be able to require the Navy to do more intensive clean-ups that it now plans. But the clean-up standards would still be limited by the Wilderness and Wildlife Refuge designations of the lands on the eastern side of the island.

Some are unhappy that Acevedo and Calderon have not sought legislation to enable the federal government to give up ownership of most of the land -- which would require a more intensive clean-up. The two had promised to get the land transferred to local control.

They know, however, that legislation for this purpose would stand no chance of approval because several key House and U.S. Senate members are still upset that the Calderon Administration pretended that the 2000 agreement and law did not exist and acted contrary to the territorial government’s commitments.

Puerto Rico Puerto Ricans Poorer Than Puerto Ricans In The States

A study released this week by the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund pointed out that the poverty rate of Puerto Ricans is almost double that of citizens of the States of Puerto Rican origin.

The report noted that the poverty rate among the 3.9 million residents of Puerto Rico is 48% and the rate among the 3.4 million people of Puerto Rican heritage in the States is 26%.

A major difference between the situations of the poor in Puerto Rico and poor Puerto Ricans in the States, however, is that the residents of the territory receive far less federal assistance than the residents of the States.

The paper also gave figures indicating that Puerto Ricans in the States as well as Puerto Ricans in the territory are at the lower end of many economic statistics than residents of the States who have immigrated from Latin American nations.

The report was released on the eve of a conference May 21-22 on the problems of Puerto Ricans in the States.

The "Washington Update" appears weekly.

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