Dems Reject "Commonwealth" Complaints… Acevedo Misleads On Crime And Food Funds

July 16, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

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Dems Reject "Commonwealth" Complaints

The national Democratic Party’s Platform Committee July 10th overwhelmingly rejected the Puerto Rico "commonwealth" party’s complaints about the party’s Puerto Rico policy. The Platform is the Party’s policy commitments if its candidates win this year’s elections. It is to be finally adopted July 27th during the Party’s quadrennial national convention.

The rejection came through a defeat of an amendment that the "commonwealth" party’s most popular politician offered to a proposal by the campaign of the party’s presidential candidate, Senator John Kerry (MA). The amendment by former gubernatorial candidate Jose Hernandez Mayoral would have struck a reiteration of pledges made in the party’s 2000 Platform from a package of Kerry campaign-sponsored changes to the draft 2004 Platform.

The package was formally put forward by Platform Committee Chairman, Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, who had been on Kerry’s ‘short list’ for the vice presidential nomination. The Puerto Rico provisions had been proposed to Vilsack, other committee leaders, and Kerry’s top policy and political aides by Puerto Rico’s other representative on the committee, retiring territorial Representative Melinda Romero (statehood party).

Hernandez Mayoral’s motion to eliminate the Romero-Kerry addition was defeated when a Kerry representative reiterated Romero’s explanation that the additional language was consistent with the Kerry-Edwards campaign’s policy on Puerto Rico as well as the 2000 Platform.

In an effort to make the Platform succinct, its initial Democratic National Committee drafters had edited out from the 2000 Platform all of the sentences regarding Puerto Rico other than what is arguably the most important thought: that the Party supports the territory attaining a political status that is fully democratic and permanent with Puerto Ricans choosing which of the options it will be. The options are for the Commonwealth to become a State of the U.S. or a nation.

Leaders of both the "commonwealth" and statehood parties felt that the space-saving edits eliminated too much of the 2000 Platform. The abbreviated language on the status issue was not clear enough on the status options. Further, economic issues were not addressed.

The concern about the failure of the draft to address economic issues was shared by the Platform Committee’s representatives from the territories of Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Speaker of Guam’s one house legislature and the Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives from the Virgin Islands.

The "commonwealth" party’s candidate for Puerto Rico’s non-voting representative in the U.S. House and Democratic committee Chair, Senator Roberto Prats proposed a correction for Puerto Rico. In addition to identifying the recognized fully-democratic status options of independence, nationhood in free association with the U.S., and U.S. statehood, Prats proposed that there be an option of "an fully democratic enhance Commonwealth" (sic).

Although Prats’ proposal stated that this unknown "status" would be "compatible" with the U.S. Constitution, federal officials have uniformly said party leader Anibal Acevedo’s proposal for such a status is not. They have also said that it is impossible, contradictory, and unwanted.

The proposal calls for the Commonwealth to be recognized as a nation to which the U.S. is bound. Under this arrangement, the Commonwealth would be able to veto U.S. laws and enter into international agreements as if it were a sovereign nation. Additionally, the U.S. would continue to grant citizenship to Puerto Ricans, continue all aid they are receiving, and provide additional funding for use on an unrestricted basis.

Prats’ proposal also stated that Acevedo’s planned "People’s Status Assembly" was an acceptable process for determining the territory’s future status. The purpose of the assembly is to ratify Acevedo’s status proposal. This would enable him to try to force the federal government to accept the proposal on the grounds that it represents the "self-determination" will of the Puerto Rican people -- a suggestion also made in the Prats language.

Finally, Prats’ proposed that the national Democratic Party pledge to grant unexplained "fiscal tools" to the Commonwealth. Acevedo has previously used the term "fiscal tools" to refer to federal tax exemptions for profitable companies based in the States.

Prats’ proposal was a ‘non-starter’ with Kerry campaign officials. They recognized the impossibility of Acevedo’s status proposal and were leery of the intent of Prats’ unexplained "fiscal tools."

They also, however, recognized that the Platform draft needed to be ‘beefed-up.’ They agreed that the status options needed to be clarified more and economic issues should be addressed.

The Kerry advisors’ plan was to add words taken directly from the Kerry-Edwards policy statement regarding Puerto Rico. Days before the Platform Committee meeting, however, Romero drafted her own amendment. It proposed adding back language from the 2000 Platform.

Romero’s amendment was to add three key thoughts to the draft:

  1. Democrats in the White House and the Congress would work to enable Puerto Ricans to choose the territory’s ultimate status -- versus simply support a choice.
  2. The options have to be realistic -- versus Acevedo’s impossible proposal.
  3. Democrats would try to fund Puerto Rico and the other U.S. territories more equally in federal programs.

Romero’s amendment also made it clear that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens without voting representation in the federal government.

The Puerto Rico representative then asked Kerry representatives if they had any problem with her amendment. They did not since it was consistent with the Kerry-Edwards statement and their draft Platform amendment as well as with the 2000 Platform.

Armed with this endorsement, Romero lobbied committee leaders to have the amendment incorporated into the expected package of Kerry changes to the draft platform. On the eve of the meeting, she met with Platform Committee Chair Vilsack and U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro (CT), a Co-Chair of the Committee.

She also met with Kerry’s top representatives at the meeting, senior campaign officials and a leading campaign representative in the membership of the Committee, Fred DuVal of Arizona. DuVal was well-versed on the issues having served as a Co-Chair of the Clinton-Gore Administration’s Interagency Group on Puerto Rico.

At the request of a Kerry representative, Romero also tried to work out the amendment with Hernandez Mayoral. He declined to discuss the issue. He also said that he would not submit an amendment.

Romero formally filed her amendment with the Committee in advance of the meeting to further ensure its consideration. Guam’s Legislature Speaker and the Virgin Islands’ Delegate also filed amendments pledging economic assistance to the territories.

The Kerry campaign then formally included Romero’s amendment into its amendment package. A few minor, non-substantive changes on the economic assistance commitments were made to incorporate words proposed by Guam’s Speaker and the V.I. Delegate.

Hernandez Mayoral was the first to object when Vilsack presented the Kerry package in the televised committee meeting. In eloquent and heated remarks, he criticized two aspects of the language in particular.

One was the reference to Puerto Ricans as "disenfranchised citizens." Hernandez said that this was an "insult" to what he termed Puerto Rico’s "commonwealth status." His argument was that Puerto Ricans had chosen not to have voting representation in their national government. He did not, however, explain his basis for this statement.

Hernandez’s second complaint was the pledge that Democrats in the White House and the Congress would enable Puerto Ricans to choose their status, clarifying the realistic options. He asserted that Puerto Ricans should be able to determine the components of the status they want before federal officials say what is possible.

Hernandez’s arguments made two of the most basic points that Acevedo and Prats and other conservative, doctrinaire commonwealthers make regarding the issue:

  • Puerto Rico’s current status is acceptable even though Puerto Ricans do not have votes in the government that makes and implements their national laws and they should have such votes.
  • Federal officials should not act to help Puerto Ricans resolve the question of the territory’s ultimate status except to the extent that they are officially requested to do so by the territory’s local government.

The arguments were a surprise since Hernandez is sometimes identified with the "commonwealth" party’s autonomist/serious about status wing. The free association faction of this wing in particular considers the Commonwealth’s status to be unacceptably "undemocratic" -- a word used to describe it by Hernandez’s father, three-time Governor Rafael Hernandez Colon. The faction also wants federal officials to clarify the Commonwealth’s true status options.

In the debate, Romero so clearly articulated the arguments for the Romero-Kerry amendment that Vilsack gave Hernandez a second chance to make his case. After he spoke, Kerry representative DuVal made the points that the language had been approved by a large number of key people, and, most importantly, that it was consistent with Kerry’s policy.

The ensuing voice vote by the Committee of 189 Democratic leaders from around the country was so clear that a count was not taken.

Hernandez reacted bitterly immediately after the vote. So did Prats. He complained that a deal had been broken but did not explain how.

In public, however, they took a totally different approach. Recognizing the finality of the decision, Prats put out a news release while the meeting was still going on claiming "victory" and complimenting Hernandez. He told reporters that month-long lobbying by statehooders had failed in their attempt to include language that would have "dismantled" what he called "commonwealth."

Prats was unable to substantiate his claim and Kerry campaign and Democratic National Committee sources confirmed that there was no other lobbying or other proposals by statehooders.

Hernandez -- who railed against the Platform language just hours before -- minimized the issue in talking to reporters. He also said that he was pleased that the Platform did not reflect the Kerry policy that Puerto Rico’s current territorial status is impermanent -- even though it does, is considered to by the Kerry campaign, and the Platform language was officially offered and endorsed by Kerry’s top representatives.

Prats also addressed the issues of the temporary nature of the Commonwealth’s current status and that the status is not a fully-democratic. He said Kerry’s true policy was not reflected in the Platform or by the Kerry campaign in written and verbal statements.

Instead, Prats asserted, Kerry’s real position was stated in an earlier letter to Acevedo that included "commonwealth" as a status option. Prats did not note, however, that the letter termed the Commonwealth a "territory," which is an impermanent status, and that it referenced legislation that Kerry had sponsored. The bill provided for Puerto Ricans to choose the Commonwealth’s ultimate status in periodic referenda that would continue until Puerto Ricans chose statehood, independence, or free association.

"Commonwealth" party leader and gubernatorial candidate Acevedo, Puerto Rico’s current resident commissioner, also put his spin on the matter. The Democrat suggested the position of the leaders of his national political party was meaningless.

Acevedo Misleads on Crime and Food Funds

Resident Commissioner Acevedo, spending almost all of his time on his gubernatorial campaign and defending his past use of campaign contributions, has had little time to improve upon his legislative record in the Congress. Over the past week or so he has sought to make up for this by issuing misleading statements on congressional actions of concern to Puerto Rico.

In the most recent, he hailed U.S. House action appropriating funds for the food program for low-income Puerto Ricans. Acevedo claimed that a two percent increase in the amount of the funds did justice to them.

He did not point out that the increase was a regular inflation adjustment that was included in the program long before he first came to Capitol Hill. He also did not note that the bill did not provide for an additional $10 million increase he previously had announced. And he did not explain that the special Puerto Rico program, made possible by the Commonwealth’s territorial status, provides hundreds of millions of dollars less in aid than Food Stamps would.

Earlier, Acevedo announced that an anti-domestic violence program at the Catholic University in Ponce, PR was to get funding under another appropriations bill. He did not explain that the House Appropriations Committee report on the bill merely requires the U.S. Department of Justice to consider and report on funding for the university’s program.

He also did not explain that he failed to obtain increased funding for Puerto Rico that he had sought in the bill’s appropriations for a program of grants to police departments. . .or that he tried to block funding for the large San Juan suburbs of Bayamon and Guaynabo in the program.

Acevedo made his funding proposal when he learned that Committee leaders had agreed to the requests of Bayamon and Guaynabo for "COPS" funds. His proposal would have diverted police funding away from the two municipalities.

The Committee, however, rejected his request and continued with its plan for the Bayamon and Guaynabo funding.

The "Washington Update" appears weekly.

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