July 15, 2005
Copyright © 2005 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.
The Puerto Rico Constitution: Is It Still Relevant?
On July 25, 2005, Puerto Rico will observe the 53rd anniversary of local self-government. On that day in 1952, Governor Luis Muñoz Marin formally proclaimed a Constitution for the island, which would henceforth be called the "Commonwealth of Puerto Rico" in English and "A Freely Associated State" (Estado Libre Asociado) in Spanish. In the five decades of its operation on the island, much has occurred that could not have been anticipated at the time, warranting an examination of its relevancy today.
To begin with, the form of government established is neither a Commonwealth nor a Freely Associated State. It is a local governing arrangement for an unincorporated territory of the United States. In short, the Constitution has done nothing to change the essential condition of the island. It is still the U.S. colony that it became in 1898 when U.S. Expeditionary Forces wrested control of the island from the Spanish. The subsequent Treaty of Paris merely shifted colonial control from Madrid to Washington.
The 1952 document succeeded for a while to dress up the true nature of the relationship, so as to deflect international criticism of the United States during the "cold war" as a colonial power. Obviously, Gov. Muñoz Marin was well aware of the limitations and impermanence of the document. His 1980 obituary in the New York Times quotes him as answering a critic of the Constitution in this way, "Commonwealth is a very funny looking suit for Puerto Rico, but you must remember that Puerto Rico has a very funny looking body."
Is this wry reply, spoken by the guiding force behind the drafting of the Constitution itself, still prescient today? Is the Puerto Rico Constitution continuing to clothe the island in an ill-fitting garment, one that is parting at the seams and frayed at the elbows? Does 1952 tailoring still define the island today? Judging by the almost universal dissatisfaction with the islands political status expressed in recent referenda by all shades of political persuasion, it seems that Puerto Ricans have seen themselves in the mirror and disapprove of the way they look.
In some ways the local government experiment launched by the Constitution has served the residents well. It has helped develop an energetic electorate that generally turns out in large numbers on Election Day. On the other hand, it has spawned a political class that is elite and self-perpetuating. Because it provides constitutional rights for political parties something the U.S. Constitution never has done it has allowed the established parties to trump the will of the electorate by allowing their directorates to name candidates for ballot consideration, as well as replacements for open positions in the legislature. The current crisis in the Puerto Rico Senate is a pregnant example of such extra-electoral power. If Pedro Rosselló achieves the Presidency of the Senate, it will be by constitutional means but not by consent of the governed.
This week the Herald is providing readers the chance to consider the question of the current relevancy of the Puerto Rico Constitution. Below, a link provides a brief history of the establishment of the Puerto Rico Constitution and its operation over the succeeding 53 years. There you will also find a complete transcript of the official document.
What is your opinion? To what extent is Puerto Ricos Constitution relevant 53 years after its drafting?
Please vote above!
Click here for a brief history of the Puerto Rico Constitution and a full text of the actual document.