Acevedo Lobbies For Federal Support For Status Bill In Local Legislature… Puerto Rican Outgunned For Democratic Vice Chairmanship… Spain Rejects Free Association… Fortuno Elected A House Republican Hispanic Leader… Getting Tattooed For Statehood

February 18, 2005
Copyright © 2005 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

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Acevedo Lobbies For Federal Support For Status Bill In Local Legislature

Puerto Rico Governor Anibal Acevedo Vila ("commonwealth"/D) this week began what he says will be an "intense" campaign to win federal support for a political status proposal he has made to the territorial legislature.

Recognizing that the bill is opposed by overwhelming majorities in each house of Puerto Rico’s Legislative Assembly, Acevedo hopes that federal support will force the territory’s law-making body to accept his plan.

February 11th, Acevedo announced that he had written President George Bush in favor of his bill. The letter expressed the hope that the Bush Administration and the Congress would work with him to develop and implement his "local" initiative.

This week, Acevedo’s office in Washington began to seek support from congressional leaders for the local legislation.

Key leaders and staff on the issue privately expressed concern about a major element of the proposal, however. Federal executive branch officials previously expressed similar concerns. This week’s concerns were expressed by Democrats as well as Republicans.

Acevedo’s bill would call a referendum on two alternative status processes. One option would "demand" that the Congress mandate a local "plebiscite" with congressionally-defined "Commonwealth," statehood, and independence options and commit to implement the results. The other option would be for a local "Constitutional Assembly" to make proposals for a new status to the President and to the Congress.

Acevedo has said that he would campaign in the referendum for the "Constitutional Assembly" option. He has also said that he would press the assembly to propose a governing arrangement under which the "Commonwealth" would determine the application of U.S. laws and enter into international agreements as if it were a sovereign nation. Under his plan, the U.S. would continue to grant citizenship and all current aid to Puerto Ricans as well as a new unrestricted subsidy for the local government.

The congressional concern centered on the "Constitutional Assembly" approach. The concern is that it would, to too great an extent, "unilaterally" determine the elements of a proposed new status for the territory.

The concern is heightened by awareness of the governing arrangement that Acevedo wants the assembly to adopt. Federal agency officials have previously said that the arrangement is impossible, unworkable, and undesired.

Congressional aides agree and think that the Acevedo assembly process and plan would be "counterproductive."

Pointing out that many of the questions in Puerto Rico’s status debate are federal questions, the aides said that a process to resolve the issue should include federal confirmation of the viability of proposals before Puerto Ricans settle on the proposals. They also said that both the Congress and the federal executive branch should be involved in the process. Acevedo’s bill provides for the assembly to consult the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status but would not require the assembly to heed federal executive branch positions on the viability of proposals before adopting the proposals in the name of the people of Puerto Rico.

White House staff this week gave no clue as to the Bush Administration’s reaction to Acevedo’s proposal. Aides said that it was being "evaluated" for a response.

Meanwhile, the senior member of the House of Representatives of Puerto Rican origin said he favored a different process for resolving the issue than either of Acevedo’s alternatives, although he said he would accept a Puerto Rican decision on the process.

Representative Jose Serrano (D-NY) said Thursday that Puerto Ricans should press President Bush and the Congress for a referendum in which they could decide if the territory should be headed towards U.S. statehood or nationhood.

Serrano’s proposal is similar to that of Puerto Rico’s statehood party. Its proposal is for a referendum that would petition the federal government for the options under which Puerto Rico would no longer be unincorporated territory of the U.S. The options would respond to Puerto Rican proposals.

The referendum would make clear that a majority of Puerto Ricans do not want Puerto Rico to remain unincorporated territory of the U.S. and want a status under which they would have a democratic form of government at the national level, that is, voting representation in their national government. "Commonwealth" is the popular name for Puerto Rico’s current status.

Substantial majorities of each house of Puerto Rico’s Legislative Assembly are statehood party members. They plan to propose legislation for the process that their party has advocated shortly. Puerto Rico’s Senate has already passed resolutions opposing the "Constitutional Assembly" approach and in favor of the statehood party’s status proposal.

Puerto Rico’s representative to all elements of the federal government, Resident Commissioner Luis Fortuno (statehood/R), also supports his party’s status proposal and opposes Acevedo’s. Fortuno has a seat — but not a vote — in the U.S. House.

Another House member of Puerto Rican origin, Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), Thursday declined to take sides on the process that Puerto Ricans should follow in initiating action on the status issue.

Puerto Rican Outgunned For Democratic Vice Chairmanship

Substantial national political muscle overwhelmed the campaign of former Puerto Rico Secretary of the Governorship Alvaro Cifuentes for a Democratic National Committee (DNC) vice chairmanship February 12th.

Cifuentes, the DNC’s Hispanic Caucus Chair, lost to U.S. Rep. Mike Honda (CA), a DNC Deputy Chair, 231.75 to 184.25. A late push by members of Congress and the nation’s largest labor organization cut Cifuentes’ support from 204 the day before the vote and about 220 earlier.

The Honda steamroller had nothing to do with a campaign apparently undertaken by some Puerto Rico commonwealthers to derail Cifuentes’ election for local political reasons. Cifuentes favors statehood for the territory and remains friendly with Governor Acevedo’s leading political rival, Puerto Rico Senator Pedro Rossello (statehood/D). Rossello was the governor who appointed Cifuentes as his administration’s top manager.

The anti-Cifuentes effort made totally unsubstantiated attacks on Cifuentes’ integrity. The attacks were roundly criticized by DNC leaders and widely raised questions about Puerto Rico’s commonwealthers. So, too, did the failure of three of the commonwealthers on the DNC to support a fellow Puerto Rican.

Honda personally wanted the position, which has no defined responsibilities, and ‘pulled out all the stops’ for it. He said that it would enable him to "tap" fellow Asian-Americans for more than $5 million for the DNC. He acknowledged spending $50,000 on his race -- not counting substantial volunteer help, although his spokesman contended Cifuentes spent more.

The California Democrat recruited numerous members of Congress for his campaign -- including U.S. senators as well as fellow members of the House, using the attraction of his vote in the House. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (NV) and Honda’s fellow Californian, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA), were among those actively pressuring DNC members to support Honda.

Others included members of the House’s ethnic minority caucuses — the Asian Caucus, which Honda chairs, and the Hispanic and Black Caucuses in a show of minority solidarity among House Democrats.

The politics of the Congress virtually require members to support a colleague against someone else. Cifuentes, by contrast, had the support of most Hispanic members of the DNC and many rank-and-file DNC members. Many continued to profess admiration for Cifuentes after he was outvoted, citing his leadership.

Honda’s vote and fundraising pledges were not the only incentives for congressional leaders to campaign for him. A Capitol Hill newspaper, The Hill, reported that Pelosi "redoubled" her efforts for Honda when it became clear that former Vermont Governor Howard Dean would win the DNC chairmanship. Democratic congressional leaders have reportedly been concerned that Dean, a presidential nomination hopeful in the last election, would operate too independently of them.

Honda, who always votes in the Congress for labor union positions, also won the active support of the AFL-CIO group of unions. A large number of DNC members are AFL-CIO members, elected or appointed with AFL-CIO backing.

AFL-CIO lobbying also got powers within the party to lobby DNC members. One of many was Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, who is thought to want to run for president in the next election and to want AFL-CIO support.

Cifuentes was not helped when, just before the vote, U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (NY) and former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department General Counsel Nelson Diaz, who had also run for the vice chairmanship, endorsed Honda. Meeks had discontinued his campaign sometime before and was helping Honda win support, especially among DNC members of African heritage. But Diaz had continued to try to obtain support, although he had only 16 votes according to a count the day before the election. Diaz’s endorsement of Honda over a fellow Puerto Rican raised eyebrows.

Spain Rejects Free Association

The Government of Spain has rejected a "Pact of Free Association" proposed by the country’s Basque region.

The issue has interesting parallels to Puerto Rico’s political status issue, particularly regarding Governor Acevedo’s status proposal. It is also of interest because Puerto Rico was a Spanish area before becoming a U.S. possession and because many Puerto Ricans have clung to aspects of their Spanish heritage.

Under free association, an area becomes a nation but lets a larger nation exercise some of its sovereign powers on a temporary basis. The U.S. has Compacts of Free Association with three island "states" (nations) in the Pacific.

The Spanish parliament recently voted down the Basque free association proposal 313 to 29. It had been approved by the Basque regional parliament December 30th by a 51 percent majority.

In a further effort to force the Spanish government to agree, however, the Basque region’s president said he will call a regional referendum on the proposal.

The pact would give the Basque region judicial and fiscal autonomy from Spain. The freely associated state would also be able to issue identity cards and control its borders.

Spain’s prime minister opposed the proposal as unconstitutional and contrary to the will of Spain.

He also said, "One can’t construct a new order of living together based on the imposition of 51 percent of the population. Let’s seek 70 percent, 80 percent, 100 percent." He offered to discuss other measures for the Basque region but the region’s president refused to compromise.

The only votes in the national parliament for the Basque proposal were from legislators from small regional parties that want greater autonomy for their regions as well. Many of Spain’s 17 regions are said to want a loosening of ties with the national government.

U.S. officials have rejected Acevedo’s permanent association status proposal on constitutional and other grounds. Acevedo hopes to have the proposal approved by a bare majority in a "Constitutional Assembly" and use that ‘mandate’ to pressure federal officials to accept the proposal.

A minority of the "commonwealth" party advocates free association with the U.S. but many of the free association advocates want the U.S. to continue to grant citizenship under the nationhood status. U.S. officials have said that citizenship would not be granted under free association. The U.S. does not grant citizenship to citizens of the three Pacific island nations in free association with the U.S.

Fortuno Elected a House Republican Hispanic Leader

Resident Commissioner Fortuno Wednesday was elected vice chair of the House’s Hispanic Conference. The group is the Republican counterpart to the House’s Democratic Hispanic Caucus.

In addition to the House’s five Republicans of Hispanic heritage, the Hispanic Conference includes its two Republicans of Portuguese origin. One of the two is Representative Richard Pombo (CA), chairman of the Resources Committee, the lead committee on territorial affairs.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was elected Hispanic Conference chair.

Earlier, Fortuno was elected vice-president of the House Republican "freshmen" (first-term members)

Getting Tattooed for Statehood

An unprecedented number of Americans have gotten tattoos in recent years. The permanent body markings have become a popular fad among the young.

An increasing number of young people in Washington, DC are getting the District of Columbia flag tattooed on their bodies.

Some of the individuals want to make a cultural statement but many want to convey a political message. In some cases, the message is simply pride in the community. In others, however, it is support for DC statehood.

In a tattooing that got a lot of notice, two young women who are champions of DC statehood had DC flag designs injected into their arms. They got the tattoos to draw attention to the DC statehood cause as they approached a trial for unlawful entry into the office of Speaker of the House of Representatives J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) while trying to deliver petitions.

The "Washington Update" appears weekly.

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