June 22, 1998

The San Juan Star
PO Box 364187
San Juan, Puerto Rico 00936-4187

Dear Editor:

        The commentary by Dr. Antonio Fernós, asserting that his legal scholarship is superior to that of former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh (STAR, June 19), argues that resolution of Puerto Rico's status is a matter ruled primarily by international law and conventions rather than the U.S. constitutional and political process.

        To understand the relationship between international and national law, it is necessary to recognize that the international treaties and conventions to which Dr. Fernós refers are not self-executing or applicable of their own force. Rather, the practice of nations with respect to both customary and treaty-based international law is normally determined through the constitutional and domestic political process by which each nation exercises its national sovereignty.

        Puerto Rico, of course, is not a national party to any of the conventions to which Dr. Fernós referred. The U.S., rather than Puerto Rico, is the nation recognized by the international community as competent to become a party to these conventions and determine their implementation in the United States, which under international law currently includes Puerto Rico.

        Thus, U.N. General Assembly Resolution 748 recognizes the principle of self-determination in the case of Puerto Rico, but its implementation is still to be determined through the U.S. constitutional process. Resolution 748 also recognizes that commonwealth status can be changed or ended in favor of separate national sovereignty through the U.S. constitutional process rather than under any form of U.N. supervision.

        Since the current form of local self-government was established in 1952, the U.S. recognized the right of the people of Puerto Rico to choose separate sovereignty. Thus, if the people of Puerto Rico choose to convert their cultural identity into separate legal and constitutional nationality, U.S. sovereignty and citizenship in Puerto Rico will end.

        Then in its own name and right, Puerto Rico can become a party to all the treaties and conventions Dr. Fernós cites. Unless that happens, Dr. Fernós remains like the Wizard of Oz. He cites international law in high-sounding abstract terms, without explaining how international doctrines are implemented by sovereign nations in the real world.

        Simply put, international doctrines are not the law of the land in the U.S., including Puerto Rico, unless recognized by the U.S. and implemented through the federal political process. Moreover, the U.S. has never recognized any doctrine or ratified any treaty or convention which eliminates the authority of the U.S. Congress to determine the "civil rights and political status" of the inhabitants of Puerto Rico pursuant to Article IX of the Treaty of Paris and the Territorial Clause.

        Finally, being from a U.S. unincorporated territory with permissive citizenship and a political status defined by Congress under the Territorial Clause is not a form of "slavery" as Dr. Fernós asserts. Rather, the people of Puerto Rico have consented to internal self-government under a local constitution in 1952, but have not achieved equal rights to participate in the political process through which the supreme law applicable to Puerto Rico is made. To cure this inherently defective status, the people of Puerto Rico have the right to exercise their inherent sovereignty in favor of becoming a state of the union, or to go outside the U.S. constitutional system as an independent nation.

        Statehood is the only way to have equality in permanent union with the U.S. and irrevocable U.S. citizenship for future generations. Like independence, statehood will end the power Congress has over Puerto Rico under the Territorial Clause. Of course, statehood has never been handed to any territory on a silver platter. It is something that the people of previous territories have struggled to achieve. Like the option of independence, statehood will have to be worked out with Congress over a period of years. That is what the current status proposals before Congress will make possible.

        I regret that rebuttal of Dr. Fernós' commentary has required so many words, but one of the clearest lessons of the Puerto Rico political status process is that clarifying half-truths takes more effort than telling the half-truths in the first place.




(s) Herbert W. Brown III


Herbert W. Brown III President


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