Fortuno Expects Bush Puerto Rico Status Report "in the very near future"… Acevedo Writes Every Member Of Congress On His Status Proposal… Puerto Rican Leader Criticizes Puerto Rican Who Opposed Cifuentes… Capitol State Statues Proposed For Non-State Jurisdiction

February 25, 2005
Copyright © 2005 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

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Fortuno Expects Bush Puerto Rico Status Report "in the very near future"

Puerto Rico’s representative to the federal government, Resident Commissioner Luis Fortuno (statehood/R), wrote Thursday that he expects a progress report from the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status "in the very near future."

The Task Force is charged with advising on Puerto Rican proposals for the territory’s future status and the process by which the current status can be replaced with one that is democratic at the national government level.

President George Bush has directed the Task Force to issue a report on progress towards resolving the issue by this December. Task Force White House Co-Chair Ruben Barrales, Bush’s director of intergovernmental affairs, has said that the report may be made earlier in the year.

Fortuno stated the expectation that the report would be made soon in a letter to Bush taking issue with a major element of Governor Anibal Acevedo Vila’s ("commonwealth"/D) proposal for changing Puerto Rico’s status.

A bill that Acevedo has proposed to Puerto Rico’s Legislative Assembly would call a referendum on whether to seek a new status through a "Constitutional Assembly" or through a petition to the federal government for a federally-authorized referendum on status options. The assembly would determine what governing arrangement Puerto Rico would seek from the federal government. The petition to the federal government for a referendum would request a choice among congressionally-provided "Commonwealth", statehood, and independence options.

Fortuno wrote Bush that Acevedo’s "Constitutional Assembly" option would be "insufficiently democratic." His letter followed one that Acevedo wrote Bush in which the governor asserted that his proposal to let voters decide whether to pursue the issue through a "Constitutional Assembly" or through a federally-authorized referendum represented "true democracy."

Fortuno explained that the assembly would empower "a small group of officials to unilaterally propose a new status for the territory to the federal government." By doing so, "it would deny the people of Puerto Rico their long-recognized right to self-determination, that is, to select the status that they want from among constitutionally viable and non-territorial options," he wrote.

Fortuno also noted "that all the previous unilateral and not congressionally-sanctioned status initiatives held on the island have been futile."

Puerto Rico’s Republican National Committeeman, Fortuno pointed out to fellow Republican Bush that Acevedo is a national Democrat and that he, Fortuno, favors a status process consistent with the 2004 Republican National Platform. He said that this "more productive and democratic process would be one where the people of Puerto Rico would exercise their inalienable right to self-determination by choosing the status of their preference from among federally-sanctioned and constitutionally-viable status options."

The resident commissioner also took issue with the criticism in Acevedo’s bill that Bush’s Puerto Rico Status Task Force "has yet to generate progress" on the issue. Fortuno said that the Task Force had done "hard work" and recalled Bush’s report deadline and Barrales’ commitment to meeting it.

Acevedo Writes Every Member Of Congress On His Status Proposal

Acevedo, meanwhile, wrote every Member of the Congress touting his proposal.

The letters were a part of his campaign to win federal support for the proposal, which is opposed by majorities in each house of Puerto Rico’s legislature in addition to Fortuno. Acevedo hopes that federal backing -- in addition to local public support -- will pressure the statehood party majority of the Legislative Assembly to accept his proposal.

In addition to the letters, Acevedo’s Washington office is calling and faxing key congressional leaders.

Acevedo’s proposal has predictably been endorsed by the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Democratic Caucus, Robert Menendez (NJ). Menendez, number three in the House minority leadership, has been a strong backer of Acevedo and the "commonwealth" party. He was enlisted into supporting the commonwealthers by longtime ally Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), the "commonwealth" party’s main agent in the House.

The statehood party has proposed a referendum along the lines that Fortuno wrote Bush. It would petition the federal government to identify the options under which Puerto Rico would no longer be subject to the U.S. Government’s powers regarding unincorporated territory of the U.S.

The main difference between the referendum that statehooders have proposed and the second referendum in the Acevedo bill is the possibility of a "Commonwealth" option. Although Puerto Rico’s current status is often popularly called "commonwealth," Puerto Rico is actually unincorporated territory of the U.S. Thus, the status quo would not be an option if a majority of the vote in the statehooders’ proposed referendum is for petitioning the federal government for options other than unincorporated territory status.

Acevedo, however, has proposed a "New Commonwealth" under which Puerto Rico would not be subject to the U.S. Government’s unincorporated territory powers. Under this arrangement, the "Commonwealth" would determine the application of U.S. laws and enter into agreements as if it were a sovereign nation while the U.S. continues to grant citizenship and all current assistance to Puerto Ricans plus new funding that the Commonwealth could spend as it wishes.

Federal officials have rejected the proposal as impossible. But Acevedo hopes that a "Constitutional Assembly" vote for it in the name of the people of Puerto Rico will pressure the federal government into going along.

Puerto Rican Leader Criticizes Puerto Rican Who Opposed Cifuentes

There continues to be fallout from the recent, hotly contested election of one of five vice chairmanships of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

U.S. Rep. Mike Honda (CA), an appointed Deputy Chair of the DNC, won the election by about a tenth of the vote over former Puerto Rico Secretary of the Governorship Alvaro Cifuentes, the DNC’s Hispanic Caucus Chair. The contest was the most heated that party officials can recall for the position, which has no defined responsibilities.

This week, the highest ranking elected official of Puerto Rican heritage in Pennsylvania criticized a fellow Pennsylvanian Puerto Rican leader for undermining Cifuentes’ candidacy.

Representative Angel Cruz took aim at former DNC Hispanic Caucus Chair, Philadelphia Solicitor and judge, and U.S. Housing and Urban Development General Counsel Nelson Diaz, who also ran for the post. Cruz was especially critical of Diaz for withdrawing from the race and endorsing Honda immediately before the balloting.

Diaz became a candidate with the support of Puerto Rico "commonwealth" party leaders. They opposed Cifuentes because of his association with the president of the statehood party, Senator Pedro Rossello (D), who Acevedo edged out in last year’s gubernatorial election and who is thought to want a rematch in 2008.

Diaz’s candidacy, however, never really took off the ground. He only obtained support from 17 other DNC members although he publicly claimed endorsements from ten times that number. Almost all of his support came from DNC members living relatively near Philadelphia.

Cruz was also critical of Acevedo for supporting Honda over a fellow Puerto Rican.

A number of Hispanic DNC members have also criticized Diaz privately.

Cifuentes, by contrast, won praise this week for his campaign. Vermont DNC Member Charles Ross wrote Cifuentes, "you certainly invigorated our party and the way you handled the competition makes us all proud." DNC Executive Committee Member Marianne Spraggins wrote, "You ran a strong, spirited campaign of which you should be quite proud . . . I was most impressed at your

graciousness during our Executive Committee meeting." Spraggins referred to a meeting right after Honda’s victory in which Cifuentes received a standing ovation and then asked for Honda to receive applause.

But another DNC Member said it best when she wrote, "It took the Minority Speaker of the House and her staff along with five congresspersons and their staff to beat you. Be proud." House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (CA) reportedly worked for Honda’s election as a counterbalance against former Vermont Governor and presidential candidate Howard Dean’s election as DNC chair. Honda was also actively supported by other House members and by the nation’s largest labor organization, the AFL-CIO, for reasons unrelated to Cifuentes.

Capitol State Statues Proposed For Non-State Jurisdiction

The U.S. Capitol Building includes statues of two individuals from each of the nation’s 50 States donated by the States. The statues recognize the States as well as the individuals.

The District of Columbia’s delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives has proposed that the district also be permitted to donate two statues for placement in National Statuary Hall, which is located on the House side of the Capitol.

Like the district, Puerto Rico and the U.S.’ other four territories are not represented in Statuary Hall.

The district, however, can make a claim justifying Statuary Hall recognition that Puerto Rico and the other territories cannot: The district is a permanent part of the U.S.

Puerto Rico and the other territories may not be. Unlike the district, they are possessions rather than parts of the U.S. Because they have not been ‘incorporated’ into the country, they may still be made separate nations.

The Congress would probably not want to add statues to Statuary Hall from jurisdictions that may not be members of the U.S. political family in the future.

The "Washington Update" appears weekly.

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