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SEPTEMBER 24, 2004
Copyright © 2004 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved. 

The Presidential Debates: The Question They Won’t Answer!

The inhabitants of Florida, who of late have endured the unfriendly visits of hurricanes Mr. Charlie, Ms. Frances, Dr. Ivan and Sister Jeanne, are about to host the "perfect storm" of presidential politics, the first face-to-face confrontation between President George and Senator John.

Just four weeks before the nation votes on November 2, 2004, the first Presidential debate between George W. Bush and John Kerry is scheduled for next Thursday, September 30th , in Miami. The theme of this first debate is foreign policy. Public Television’s host of the nightly News Hour program, Jim Lehrer, will be asking the questions and moderating the debate.

Almost certainly, there is one question that he is not now planning to ask. Can you guess what that is? Could it be related to Puerto Rico political status?

Let’s play "Jeopardy!" You know the game. The moderator gives the answer and you pose the related question.

Here’s the answer!

"From the first day of my Presidency, I will work to resolve the question of Puerto Rico’s ultimate status by first doubling the budget of the Presidential Task Force on Puerto Rico Status and will charge it to accelerate its work. Secondly, I will engage in an objective public education campaign on the constitutionally valid options (for Puerto Rico) -- national sovereignty, either fully independent from or in free association with the United States, or to join the Union as a state. Finally, I will authorize a referendum for the Puerto Rican people to choose (an option)."

Now you must ask the question that fits the above answer.

If your question is:

"What did George Bush say on the campaign trail?"

BUZZER … You’d be wrong!

If your question is:

"What did John Kerry say on the campaign trail?"

BUZZER … You’d be wrong!

The correct question is "What did retired General Wesley Clark say in his Democratic presidential campaign statement, "Fulfilling America’s Promise to the People of Puerto Rico," issued before he withdrew from the race. It was the last time an unambiguous statement of intention regarding Puerto Rico status was issued by any presidential candidate in the current race.

President Bush refers questions about Puerto Rico to the bureaucratic task force that has been stalling for four years and John Kerry seems to be watching the "see-saw" game being played by his Puerto Rican advisors, some of whom want no change in the territorial status quo and others who want a statement by the candidate similar to that of Gen. Clark’s.

This first debate will be held at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida. Subsequent debates will be moderated by ABC's Charlie Gibson in St. Louis, Missouri, and CBS's Bob Schieffer in Tempe, Arizona. Next week, a debate between the two Vice Presidential rivals, Dick Cheney and John Edwards will occur in Cleveland, Ohio.

The Florida venue is appropriate for the first battle of wits between the candidates representing the Democratic and Republican Parties, especially since the Y-2000 election in that state was so close between them, with a mere 537 votes deciding the election in favor of George W. Bush. Current polls project a statistical dead heat between the two candidates in Florida.

Also, "The Sunshine State" is a suitable site for the first debate, since it is home to a significant number of Hispanic voters and both candidates are furiously beckoning them to gather under their respective banners. The large Cuban-American community of South Florida, whose overriding issue is the Fidel Castro regime in Cuba and the U.S. policy towards the current trade embargo and limited access to the island for U.S. citizens, is expecting the debaters to expand on this point, and you can bet that they will.

Florida is destination for many immigrants, not exclusively Hispanic, and not just Cuban. Haitians and other immigrants from the Caribbean, Central and South America have settled in Florida. Federal immigration policy is of concern to Hispanics and is controversial in the general population. It is possible that questions about immigration policy in the first debate might be considered "domestic" and relegated to a future venue, but it could easily qualify since immigration does impact on U.S. relations with the immigrants’ countries of origin, especially Mexico.

Questions about Puerto Rico’s political status might not be considered sufficiently oriented to foreign policy to qualify for a question in Florida, although it has important foreign policy implications for the image of the United States abroad, a country that is rhetorically strong in the promotion of democracy all over the world, but has yet to gather the political will to grant it to all of its citizens, specifically Puerto Ricans, a point that the Cuban Government makes every year in the United Nations.

Whether or not the question is asked, the candidate in the first debate that speaks forthrightly about Puerto Rico is likely to help himself among the large and growing Puerto Rican community settled in Florida, where much campaigning has and will continue to occur and where extensive voter registration drives have been undertaken to help build a Puerto Rican "block" of voters in this election. As American citizens, they may legally vote once they establish residency in any U.S. state.

The second presidential debate, to be held on October 8th, is the most likely to produce a question about Puerto Rico’s political status. It is to be in a "town hall" format, with questions posed by members of a specially invited audience of "undecided" voters. These invitees must qualify as "soft" supporters of each candidate chosen by the Gallup Organization and the total numbers of participants in each category must be equal.

If you wish to ask the candidates, "Where do you stand on equal democratic rights for the 3.9 million Puerto Ricans living on the island, who for 87 years have been American citizens but who have been unrepresented in the U.S. Congress and are unable to vote for either of you standing at those podiums?", then you had better hope that Mr. Gallup has you listed as an "undecided voter" with a "soft" preference for one of the two contenders.

If you want to hear one of the network anchors articulate the question, "As President, will you offer the residents of Puerto Rico non-colonial and constitutionally valid choices for a permanent political status, so that after more than a century under the U.S. flag, they may end their territorial status and finally enjoy the dignity of either independence or U.S. statehood?", then you had better start writing postcards and emails to the network offices of the media icons who are hosting the debates.

What do you think will happen? Will the candidates address the question of Puerto Rico’s political status in the upcoming debates?

Please vote above!

Contact Information for Presidential debates:

Presidential Debates

Sep 30th, Miami, FL Jim Lehrer (PBS) 703-998-2150

Oct 8th, St. Louis, MO Charlie Gibson (ABC) 212-456-5975 not available
Oct 3rd, Tempe, AR Bob Schieffer (CBS) 202-457-4481


Vice Presidential Debate

Oct 5th, Cleveland, OH Gwen Ifill (PBS) 703-998-2600

This Week's Question:

Will the candidates address the question of Puerto Rico’s political status in the upcoming debates?

US . Residents
. PR
They will address status

75% They will not address status

11% I’m not sure



.To submit your idea for a future PR Herald poll question or "Hot Button" issue, please click here.

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