|February 18, 2005
Copyright © 2005 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.
The Road to Status: A Bumpy Ride
Earlier this week, newly elected Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá kicked off the islands political status debate by delivering a letter to President Bush stating that he proposed giving islanders the choice between a Constitutional Assembly, which he prefers, or a U.S. Congressionally sponsored plebiscite, backed by the opposition New Progressive Party (NPP), now holding control of the Puerto Rican House and Senate.
Acevedos assembly would consist of 100 representatives of the various political status persuasions that would meet to hammer out a consensus position with which to petition Congress for a plebiscite process. He is looking for Washingtons blessings for this approach.
Thus far, the White House has acknowledged receipt of the Acevedo note but has not reacted to it. Clearly the Governor wishes to get out in front of the issue in Washington where, ultimately, it will be decided. The Presidential task force, at work on developing Puerto Rico status options consistent with the U.S. Constitution, are charged with issuing its report no later than December of this year, but sources close to the process tell the Herald that its findings can be expected well before that date.
A spokesperson for the office of (NPP) Resident Commissioner Luis Fortuño indicated that the Congressman was aware of the Governors letter and that "he has been in touch with appropriate authorities." He also indicated that the subject had been on the table when the two elected officials had breakfast together at La Fortaleza last week. According to a local press report, the two "agreed to disagree" on the appropriate process to move forward on the status question. "Ultimately," said Fortuños representative,"the U.S. Congress will decide the matter."
Former Governor Pedro Rosselló, now a Senator representing the district of Arecibo, was critical of the Fortuño-Acevedo meeting on status, saying that it was "useless," since the issue should be initiated by the Legislature. An Associated Press dispatch yesterday quoted Senator Rossellós broadside to the Governor, "The place to establish public policy on fundamental issues such as (status) is the Legislature. The Legislature has invited him to come here to discuss his positions on the status of Puerto Rico."
The Governors idea became "dead on arrival" when it arrived at a Puerto Rican Legislature hostile to the idea. In one of its first acts, the Senate repealed his measure to hold a vote July 10 in which Puerto Ricans could choose between the NPP proposal or the creation of a Constitutional Assembly on status. As a practical matter, the White House could as easily stamp the Governors letter, "return to sender."
In the NPP preferred proposal, already approved by the new Puerto Rican Senate, islanders would first "agree" to the process in a referendum by a "yes or no" vote to petition the President and the Congress of the United States to provide a federally backed method to achieve a relationship with the United States that is "non-colonial and non-territorial."
So far, the only "non-territorial" options previously defined by the U.S. Congress are 1. Permanent association with the United States through statehood, 2. Full sovereignty for Puerto Rico through independence and 3. Full sovereignty through independence coupled with a treaty of association with the U.S. that could be abrogated by either party at any time.
Only by choosing one of these three options would Puerto Rico remove itself from its current status as an "unincorporated territory" of the United States. Only by the selection of the statehood option would persons born on the island be accorded American citizenship.
This state of play has PDP leaders and Commonwealth supporters worried about any process that begins in Washington. None of the three aforementioned options would leave the status quo Commonwealth in place, a disastrous result for the PDPs political base. Diehard "populares" have always taken the position that the current status was made permanent by the Constitution of 1952 and is in no need of being replaced. Their argument to members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives is that the full civil rights of Puerto Ricans would be satisfied by "enhancements" to the current relationship.
Since the desired "enhancements" include treaty authority and the ability to absent the island from selected U.S. laws, the PDP position has not met muster with Constitutional experts. In short, their conclusion has been that the U.S. cannot grant to its territory what it may not grant to any one of its states. As Representative Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) has said, "If Puerto Rico is able to gain these enhancements; I want the same thing for Rhode Island."
Most NPP activists see the Acevedo Vilá preference for a Constitutional Assembly as a tactic to forestall any real movement on the issue of political status. They predict that political parties would dominate the debate with time-worn rhetoric of exaggerations and half-truths, ultimately concluding the process in stalemate. Such a result would be grist for the Governors lobbyists in Washington to proclaim the news to their Congressional contacts that Puerto Ricans "are not ready" to choose between statehood and independence, so it would be better to defer the matter into the future.
To the NPP, further delay is unacceptable to the nearly 4-million American citizens who reside on the island, without proportional representation in Congress and without the power to vote for President every four years. 107 years, they say, is long enough for both Puerto Rico and the federal government to come together for a permanent political status for the island.
The present political realities in Puerto Rico question if either proposal will gain the mutual support of the Fortaleza, now in the hands of the PDP, and the Legislature, controlled by the NPP. Perhaps only a strong expression of popular Puerto Rican support for a process to begin will move politicians to a compromise position allowing a plebiscite to occur within the next four years of "shared" (read "so-far divided") government on the island.
What is your opinion? Should the Fortaleza and the Legislature find common ground to begin a process to permit Puerto Rico to achieve a permanent political status?