Gutierrez Believed Behind Campaign Against Resolving Status Issue… Top House Hispanic Reiterates Claim Kerry Supports "Commonwealth"... Puerto Ricans Gain Political Credit at Democratic Convention…

July 30, 2004
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Gutierrez Believed Behind Campaign Against Resolving Status Issue

Delegates to the Democratic National Convention this past week were repeatedly given a slick flyer that primarily opposed the president and the Congress of the United States acting to resolve Puerto Rico’s political status issue.

The two-page paper was entitled, "A PUERTO RICAN/LATINO CALL TO CONSCIENCE: An Appeal to Reason — To John Kerry and the Democratic National Convention." It was decorated with a truncated version of Puerto Rico’s territorial flag and smaller but accurate pictures of the national flags of 18 countries that have a predominantly Hispanic heritage.

The crafty lobbying document was identified as being issued by a "National Boricua Human Rights Network & La Campana Familia Latina Unida." Puerto Rican leaders at the Convention -- both from the territory and those of Puerto Rican heritage representing States -- did not know whether either was a real organization.

Some did learn that young women distributing the paper were Chicagoans of Mexican parentage. Their identity was one factor that led delegates to guess that the flyer was the work of U.S. Representative Luis Gutierrez of Chicago, IL.

Another basis for their guess was that the paper’s one non-Puerto Rico request sought support for congressional legislation identified as the "Congressman Gutierrez-Menendez-Kennedy Solve Bill." The paper did not explain what the bill would do but it mentioned deportation of "more than 10 million immigrants."

Gutierrez is also known to hold the positions reflected in the flyer’s primary and secondary requests: opposing resolution of Puerto Rico’s status issue and a package of benefits to residents of Vieques, PR based on misleading information. The Vieques package includes compensation for claims of "many" deaths and fatal illnesses due to military target practice in a portion of the island that was a U.S. Navy training range before it was closed in May 2003 as a consequence of a 2000 agreement among then Governor Pedro Rossello (statehood party/D), then President Bill Clinton, and U.S. military officials.

Studies have disproved allegations of deaths and fatal illnesses due to the target practice. (One range employee was killed, however, when he wandered on the range outside of a safe shelter during an aerial bombing practice at the time that a bomber pilot was mistakenly led to believe that the observation tower was his target.)

The flyer also called for 75% of the island to be transferred from U.S. Navy

control to ownership by the island’s residents, who number about 10,000. One problem with this request is that the Navy controls little acreage on the island and formerly never owned more than 65%.

A quarter of the island was transferred from Navy control to local ownership over three years ago and the Navy’s other 40% of the island was transferred to U.S. Interior Department control over a year ago. Further, a federal law prohibits the Interior Department from giving up the land.

Additionally, Gutierrez has declined to sponsor legislation to transfer ownership of the land to the Vieques, recognizing that such a bill has no chance of passage by the Congress. In fact, the law transferring the land to Interior Department control includes a specific provision prohibiting the agency from trying to relinquish control of the land.

Under the Clinton-Rossello agreement, three quarters of the 40% (an additional 30% of the island) was also to be available for local ownership in addition to the 25% of the island that the Navy first gave up. The Interior and Navy Departments sponsored legislation to give up the additional 30% but dropped it in 2001 when Governor Sila Calderon ("commonwealth" party/no national party) denied the existence of the Clinton-Rossello agreement -- which had largely been enacted into federal and Commonwealth law -- and took actions that the Commonwealth had specifically pledged in the agreement to not take.

Gutierrez encouraged Calderon’s actions.

The flyer also asked Kerry for an "immediate clean-up of the lands and waters off Vieques." The U.S. Navy, however, has begun a multi-year clean-up program that will spend tens of millions of dollars. The Environmental Protect Agency has been trying to obtain support from Bush’s budget office for a more extensive "Superfund" clean up of the land.

The clean-up efforts are falling short of some Puerto Rican expectations, however, because they are cleaning the land to the extent required for its status. Since human access to the land is prohibited or can be restricted, the clean-up standards are less than they would be if the land could be used for human habitation.

The U.S. military also generally does not clean-up waters adjacent to closed military facilities.

The self-stated first goal of the flyer was to encourage Kerry and Convention delegates, especially those of Hispanic heritage to "vigilantly oppose any attempt to create a U.S. congressionally driven ‘process’ for Puerto Rican self-determination."

Gutierrez is one of the Congress’ two most ardent supporters of Puerto Rico’s current status as a U.S. territory, which denies Puerto Ricans democracy at the national government level. The other is Calderon’s resident commissioner in the U.S. House of Representatives, Anibal Acevedo Vila, the "commonwealth" party’s candidate to succeed Calderon and defeat Rossello, the leader in the Commonwealth’s gubernatorial race.

Both Gutierrez and Acevedo say that they also support other status visions but Gutierrez thinks Puerto Ricans are not ready for the independence he claims to advocate and Acevedo’s proposal for Puerto Rico to have most national government powers with U.S. citizenship and almost all-federal aid to States has been uniformly rejected by federal authorities as impossible.

Gutierrez also believes that Puerto Ricans are incompatible with other U.S. citizens.

The flyer additionally asserted that "Latino support of Democratic candidates (and by extension the Party) greatly hinges on . . . supporting these calls for justice." It contended that citizens of States of Puerto Rican heritage will be "the decisive vote," in this year’s elections "in some of the most important swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and New Jersey."

Contrary to the paper’s assertion, however, surveys and statements by leaders of Puerto Rican origin in the States suggest that pledging to work to enable Puerto Ricans to attain a fully democratic status from among all the options is a popular appeal in the States. The Springfield (Massachusetts) Republican, reported just this past Thursday that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry was winning votes through his recent statement committing to enable Puerto Ricans to obtain a status that provides equal voting representation in the government that makes and implements Puerto Rico’s national laws through a choice among all of the options that are not incompatible with the Constitution and basic policies of the U.S. that they want to consider.

Kerry’s position paper on Puerto Rico has been praised by Puerto Rican leaders in the States as well as in the territory who favor nationhood for the Commonwealth -- including through free association with the U.S. -- or U.S. Statehood. It reflects a basic Democratic Party policy that was reiterated in the ‘Platform’ adopted during this week’s convention and that was initially established in 2000.

The policy was grudgingly accepted by Puerto Rico "commonwealth" party leaders who headed the territorial Democratic committee in 2000 but it was objected to by their successors this year, most prominently in the Democratic Platform Committee.

After their objections were roundly defeated in the Committee, they quickly changed gears on the issue and proclaimed the policy a "victory" for "commonwealth" and a setback to Statehood.

The flyer distributed at the Democratic Convention by the young Americans of Mexican origin appeared intended to counter the Kerry/Democratic Party policy.

Top House Hispanic Reiterates Claim Kerry Supports "Commonwealth"

The highest-ranking Hispanic in the U.S. House of Representatives reiterated to Puerto Rico reporters as the Democratic Convention opened his claim that presidential candidate Kerry supports "commonwealth" being an option for a permanent status for Puerto Rico.

Independence, free association, and statehood would cease being options if "commonwealth" is a permanent status and is finally chosen by Puerto Ricans.

House Minority Whip Robert Menendez (D-NJ) said that aides to Kerry had not corrected him after he made the assertion. However, an official Kerry spokeswoman did explain to reporters after Menendez made the statement that the Commonwealth’s current status is only a temporary option from the view that Kerry shares with other federal authorities. The reason is that it cannot provide a fully-democratic form of government -- a continuing right of all people.

After a meeting with Puerto Rico delegates this past Wednesday, Menendez denied he supported "commonwealth." He also said he would favor a fair Puerto Rican status choice.

Puerto Ricans Gain Political Credit at Democratic Convention

A few Puerto Ricans advanced their political aspirations at this past week’s Democratic Convention.

The biggest winner was the "commonwealth" party’s resident commissioner candidate, Senator Roberto Prats. As the Chair of Puerto Rico’s non-functional Democratic committee, he served as the Chair of the territory’s substantial delegation to the Convention.

Prats did not achieve his top objective -- being able to speak to the Convention -- but his political situation was improved in other ways.

  • He was able to get pictures taken with vice presidential candidate John Edwards and Kerry’s wife. ????????
  • He won the appreciation of the Kerry-Edwards campaign by accepting the Democratic Platform and Kerry-Edwards language on Puerto Rico and by cooperating with them on issues of dispute between the half of the delegation that he named and the half that was named by Senator Kenneth McClintock (statehood) as Delegation Vice-Chair.????????????
  • The appearance near the Convention of Prats’ statehood party opponent, Luis Fortuno, on the official Republican team criticizing Kerry motivated several Democrats to support Prats. Republican National Committee Member Fortuno’s participation in the GOP attack Kerry squad even resulted in Fortuno being criticized by fellow statehooders at the Convention -- including McClintock, former Resident Commissioner and Governor Carlos Romero-Barcelo, and former Senate President Charlie Rodriguez.

Prats was helped most by his own energy and reasonable judgment. He was also aided, however, by a bevy of aides to Governor Calderon and political consultants to the territorial government. Whether they were being paid for their time and expenses at the partisan activities is not known.

According to delegation members, several petty issues arose during the course of the four days of Convention meetings. The most significant concerned local political signs.

The Convention’s organizers limited the entry of large signs into the hall to approved messages. The primary reason was to facilitate the projection of the Kerry campaign’s signs on television. Thinking that statehood party members would sneak in pro-Puerto Rican statehood signs, some commonwealthers on the delegation had pro-"commonwealth" signs printed and brought into the hall. At the request of the Kerry campaign, Prats and McClintock agreed that no Puerto Rico signs would be used.

Shirts stating "Puerto Rican commonwealthers for Kerry," and signs reading "President Kerry Please Make Puerto Rico the 51st State," were only taken out and displayed at the very end of the Convention.

Another dispute concerned the naming of the Kerry ‘whips" in the delegation. The whips were responsible for ensuring delegates were present, cuing them on when to use Kerry campaign signs, and conveying the Kerry campaign message of the day.

In separate consultations with Prats and McClintock, the Kerry campaign designated Puerto Rico House of Representatives Secretary Nestor Duprey and Young Democrats President Francisco Domenech respectively as Puerto Rico whips. Prats and other ‘commonwealthers’ objected to Domenech because Prats was not consulted and was unhappy about the recognition by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) of Domenech as president of the Puerto Rico Young Democrats. Prats accepted the Kerry campaign decision to keep Domenench as a whip, however. The campaign then also added commonwealther Francisco Chevere as a third Puerto Rico whip.

Prats and McClintock also resolved issues of who could sit where in the 56-member delegation.

McClintock also earned the appreciation of the Kerry campaign for his cooperation. He, like Prats, had to contend with delegates who did not want to compromise on the issues.

Also contributing to relative harmony in the delegation were nine labor union members led by Jose La Luz of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees and several delegates who were homosexual.

Another Puerto Rican Convention winner was DNC Hispanic Caucus Chair Alvaro Cifuentes. Rossello’s Secretary of the Governorship was a member of the Maryland Delegation. He demonstrated his clout within the national Democratic Party though meetings that attracted Mrs. Kerry and Senator Hillary Clinton as well as many hundreds of delegates. He was also lavishly praised by other national party leaders.

Fortuno also has to be counted among the week’s winners, although he helped the causes of Prats and the commonwealthers within the Democratic Party. He was personally asked by Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie to be one of the GOP’s spokespeople in attacking Kerry. His willingness to do so, not having been elected to Congress and before an election in which he will need the votes of many Puerto Ricans who will favor Kerry, should count for something at the White House and in GOP circles.

The "Washington Update" appears weekly.

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