The San Juan Star, San Juan, Puerto Rico


by Neftali Fuster

(08/16/98, Copyright © 1998 The San Juan Star)

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects the right of the people "to petition the Government for a redress of grievances".

The right to petition is, in the words of Chief Justice Waite, in the case of United States vs. Cruikshank, 92 US 542 (1876), the "right of the people peaceably to assemble for the purpose of petitioning Congress for a redress of grievances, or for anything else connected with powers or the duties of the National Government, is an attribute of national citizenship, and, as such, under the protection of, and guaranteed by, the United States. The very idea of a government, republican in form, implies a right on the part of its citizens to meet peaceably for consultation in respect to public affairs and to petition for a redress of grievances".

It was a right that came into prominence in the first part of the 19th century, when petitioning against slavery in the District of Columbia began flowing into Congress. It was, certainly, a grievance, which has to be redressed. By 1865, Amendment 13, forbidding slavery, was finally ratified.

Now, another group of Americans is seeking redress for their grievance.

Puerto Ricans, as American citizens, have the right to petition the federal government "the President and Congress" for the redress of a grievance.

After a century of political inferiority, the permanence of a colony under the American flag is a situation, which goes against the fundamental tenets on which out nation, is founded. It is, certainly, a grievance, which merits due redress.

Unfortunately, Puerto Rico has the dubious distinction of having the only political party in the whole world, which still supports inferiority for its own people. The Popular Democratic Party is a political anachronism, which created for itself an island of fantasy. No wonders they dread the moment of decision so much.

As in fairy tales, when the moment of truth comes, illusions go away. And the fairy tales of the PDP are finally coming to an end.

The U.S. House of Representative, in its March 4, 1998, session passed the "U.S. Puerto Rico Political Status Act", and a bill, which defines commonwealth the way it is: a territory; a colony &; under the sovereignty of the U.S. Congress.

But PDP leaders are angry at any proposition for the self-determination of our people regarding their destiny. They will be angry at any legitimate attempt to solve the perennial status problem, be it the Young bill, the Craig bill or the Murkowski bill.

PDP leaders lobbied intensely in the House to defeat the Young bill. They argued that Puerto Ricans were unfit to be a part of the nation. Their lobbying campaign was, in fact, a negative and demeaning campaign against Puerto Ricans.

They tried hard, very hard, with the complicity and support of Rep. Gerald Solomon, to defeat the Young bill, but they failed. The bill for the decolonization of Puerto Rico was passed.

In the U.S. Senate, the bill has been the subject of public hearings, and a substitute bill even drafted by Sen. Murkowski.

The process has been going on in the upper chamber of congress, even while the PDP had made contact with Sen. Trent Lott, the majority leader, and the man from Mississippi who seems to be uncomfortable with the idea of having two Puerto Rican senators as his colleagues.

There is still a real chance that the decolonization bill will be passed in the Senate, notwithstanding the prophecy of Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, interim president of the PDP, that the bill will fail.

But the colonial relationship the United States has maintained in Puerto Rico for a century still remains. It poses a moral question, which remains to be solved by Congress. However, Puerto Ricans should not stand idle.

The elected representatives of the people of Puerto Rico, the senators and representatives, have chosen to exercise our right to petition Congress for the redress of a grievance.

The Legislative Assembly has passed House bill 1903, whose purpose is to instrument that right for the final solution of the century-old status problem.

For those who think; as do the PDP leaders; that there is no grievance to be redressed, we should point out the opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court in Harris vs. Rosario, 446 US 651: "Congress, which is empowered under the Territory Clause of the Constitution, Art. IV, sec. 3, CL.2, to make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory; belonging to the United States, may treat Puerto Rico differently from states so long as there is a rational basis for its actions".

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