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Status Gets Its 30 Seconds Of Fame At The Democratic Convention

by Lance Oliver

August 18, 2000
Copyright © 2000 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

I guess patients bills of rights, HMO abuses, Medicare funding and the plight of the uninsured just aren’t exciting enough topics for former pediatrician Pedro Rosselló. Sure, he mentioned health care, as advance billing had called for, but the governor also used some of his time at the podium during the Democratic National Convention to talk about Puerto Rico’s political status.

Rosselló did devote a paragraph in his prepared remarks to health care issues. But of course the talk that got all the attention back home was about status.

Let’s face it, for a mainstream U.S. television audience, either the arcane details of the island’s status question or actuarial tables outlining how much the government needs to spend to help senior citizens buy prescription drugs are likely to induce any network television producer to cut to an interview in the booth. At least the governor’s speech perked up the pro-statehood delegates from Puerto Rico, prompting a few cheers from an audience that usually ignores the droning at the podium except when the presidential candidate, his wife or his running mate is doing the talking.

Rosselló returned to the usual theme.

"Our nation has been the chief apostle of democracy in the world and we must therefore lead by example," the governor said. "But we have unfinished business of democracy here at home.

"Puerto Rico has been under U.S. sovereignty for over a century and Puerto Ricans have been natural-born citizens since 1917, but the island’s 3.9 million residents still do not have voting representation in their national government."

Rosselló added that Democratic candidate Al Gore was "committed to work with Congress to clarify the options" on status.

That was it, basically, for status talk at the 2000 Democratic National Convention, but it was enough to wring out some press coverage on the island and give the statehooders in Los Angeles a reason to cheer for a moment.

It was, of course, nothing new. No significant minority, must less a majority, of the members of Congress has any intention of making serious progress on the status issue. And if Congress continues to remain in Republican control and Gore does win, he will have little leverage. What leverage he does have is unlikely to be spent on the peripheral issue of Puerto Rico’s political status.

As Eudaldo Báez Galib, a pro-commonwealth politician and president of the Puerto Rico Chapter of the Democratic Party, noted after the governor’s speech, former President George Bush supported statehood in his presidential inauguration speech and nothing has changed nearly 12 years later, so what importance could Rosselló’s speech possibly have?

Not that the pro-commonwealth forces have any better ideas. They have the considerable advantage of defending the status quo instead of trying to bring about wholesale change, however. That’s why Popular Democratic Party candidate for governor Sila Calderón lets the status dog lie sleeping as consistently as Rosselló uses every possible opportunity to make it howl.

This week, Calderón said she would not bother participating in a presidential vote, if the Legislature arranges for one in the aftermath of federal Judge Jaime Pieras’ ruling that Puerto Ricans have the right to vote for president. Even as federal judges issue provocative rulings centered on the status issue and Rosselló uses a rare national soapbox to wave the flag of the statehood cause, at least briefly, the PDP feels comfortable ignoring the issue in hopes it will remain quiet.

With Rosselló sniping at generally popular figures such as Comptroller Manuel Díaz Saldaña and Acting U.S. Attorney Guillermo Gil, with party Vice President Norma Burgos handing out instructions to voters on how to vote a mixed ballot instead of following party lines, with corruption indictments stinging the New Progressive Party and hampering Carlos Pesquera’s campaign for governor, and with the threat of more indictments to come, the statehooders may be in enough disarray that the pro-commonwealth party figures it can coast from here to November.

Like a certain former and colorful governor from Louisiana who once said the only way he could lose an election would be to get caught in bed with "a dead girl or a live boy," the PDP strategists may think they only need to avoid disaster to win power in November and put themselves in a stronger position to ensure there are no more efforts to press for statehood. If they’re right, all the convention speeches in the world won’t change Puerto Rico’s status.

Lance Oliver writes The Puerto Rico Report weekly for The Puerto Rico Herald. He can be reached by email at:

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