Fas-Alzamora vs. Colberg-Toro Fight Over Citizenship Emblematic of Irreconcilable Ideological Differences within Party
For 58 years, the Popular Democratic Party (PPD) and its leadership have been quite successful in selling “Commonwealth” to any who would listen—and many “bought.” The great success was due to the relative ease with which the U.N., the U.S. Congress, the President, Puerto Ricans, and mainland Americans were able to sell to each other certain ambiguous ideas about what the changes in Puerto Rico meant.
The U.S. government and the U.N. wrongly agreed that Puerto Rico was no longer a colony; consequently, the U.S. government did not need to report to the U.N. anything about Puerto Rico. The American people—both in Puerto Rico and on the mainland—decided everybody was happy, so they looked the other way and have not looked back since. The subsequent “Commonwealth” governments of Puerto Rico (under the PPD and the PNP) went in search of “Parity” without and to the detriment of equality.
To be clear, everybody knew what the changes meant; they meant self-government without external autonomy or change in the application of Congress’s plenary powers under the Territorial Clause. Everybody, nevertheless, got away with his particular explanation of what happened. The biggest winners were the leaders of the PPD and its membership.
The PPD, under the leadership of its dear leader Luis Muñoz-Marín, so successfully advanced its bent view of what the 1952 constitution did for Puerto Rico (i.e. Puerto Rico was a self-governing and sovereign body politic) that soon the original temporary nature of the “Commonwealth” status was replaced by an elusive construct of what the PPD though could be possible—never mind the U.S. Constitution, or what Puerto Ricans can really get.
From then on, Puerto Ricans have had to view their political status problem not from the traditional lens of previous territories (i.e. statehood versus independence); rather, they have had to endure a farce of the highest quality. They have been asked to choose permanent options from among permanent and territorial options with the idea they will continue to harbor those feelings of never-ending ambivalence that comes with status politics and to which Puerto Ricans have grown quite accustomed.
Now, the PPD finds itself unable to appease its own ranks over the proper definition for their “Commonwealth,” and their permanent option for Puerto Rico.
On one side, Sen. Antonio Fas-Alzamora (PPD)—the longest-serving member of the P.R. Legislative Assembly—is at the forefront of his party’s internal status politics. On the other side is Rep. Jorge Colberg-Toro representing the wing of the PPD that indirectly admits the only ways to secure American citizenship permanently are statehood and the current territorial status, which the PPD would have a very difficult time trying to defend and/or advance as a permanent status.
The recent spat between two wings of the same bird (reported on by El Nuevo Dia on July 30, 2010) began when Colberg-Toro criticized Fas-Alzamora’s recently introduced Pact of Association (see below in “Must Axxess Files” box) as unable to garner the necessary votes within the PPD to be accepted as part of the party platform. Colberg-Toro claims that the document is too much like the free association treaty between the U.S. and Palau, which does not guarantee American citizenship in perpetuity (because the U.S. Constitution does not allow it!)
In response, Fas-Alzamora indicated that his Pact does, in fact, protect “the permanence and transmission of American citizenship of Puerto Ricans, as well as any acquired rights,” and noted that “one thing is to educate, another is to misinform,” referring to Colberg-Toro’s assertions. Fas-Alzamora added that Colberg-Toro cannot speak to what the PPD membership will or will not accept in committee.
To most political observers, such an inconspicuous incident passes as inconsequential, but here at La Chuleta Congelá’ we think that the dispute highlights the biggest problem brewing within the PPD and it has the potential to bring down the “Commonwealth” status with it.
At stake is American citizenship.
In Puerto Rico, there are those who want an independent Republic of Puerto Rico; they account for 3 percent of the total population. The other 97 percent divides between statehood and the status quo of “Commonwealth,” but the two largest parties agree that American citizenship must be protected in any final status solution. Therefore, what we have is roughly 45 percent of the voting population in Puerto Rico wanting American citizenship, placing it outside the bounds of any status negotiation, AND clamoring for some form of government—that is not independence or statehood or the status quo—that will perpetually protect said citizenship.
In an effort to disentangle the PPD’s Gordian knot of securing sovereignty and American citizenship through non-statehood or –independence measures, Sen. Fas-Alzamora has decided to make it his responsibility to get the PPD to confront its status problem.
The problem: the U.S. Constitution recognizes only three statuses for jurisdictional purposes (i.e. statehood, independence, and territorialism (albeit “Commonwealth”). Within the three constitutionally viable statuses, American citizenship can only be granted to states and territories. The U.S. Constitution does not allow American citizenship to be naturally granted to citizens of another country in perpetuity of blood; nor should any country really want to grant citizenship without allegiance.
This is where the PPD’s intra-party dispute between Fas-Alzamora and Colberg-Toro comes in.
Fas-Alzamora’s Pact of Association has four titles: Title I, Intergovernmental Relationship; Title II, Economic Relationship; Title III, Defense and Security Relationship; and Title IV, Conflict Resolution and the Pact Court.
The Pact of Association discusses “Citizenship” in Title I, Article III. In six sections, Fas-Alzamora’s Pact enumerates various legal points on citizenship, from naturalization rights and procedures to the loss of American citizenship by request or conviction of treason, but the Pact’s outline only works as a bridge between the “Commonwealth” territorial status and independence. The Pact makes it clear that all Puerto Ricans who enjoy American citizenship before the Pact becomes operational will be able to keep it. However, and this is where Colberg-Toro’s argument takes hold, Fas-Alzamora’s Pact does not guarantee American citizenship perpetually, which 97 percent of Puerto Ricans want.
After the Pact becomes operational, people born in Puerto Rico to at least one American parent will be able to claim dual citizenship, while any other birth will be conferred with only Puerto Rican citizenship, but said person will have the right to apply for American citizenship through the normal legal channels (and likewise lose it).
Therefore, the Pact does not guarantee American citizenship—perpetually. That’s one of the catches of the Pact. Another is the fact that Fas-Alzamora tries to hide the independence factor by claiming that the U.S. and Puerto Rico governments could sign the pact fast enough to have no need to declare Puerto Rico “independent” before declaring it “associated.” This is a crock! If “sovereignty” will be the result, as Fas-Alzamora claims, then the vehicle will be statehood or independece as Colberg-Toro knows well.
Members of the PPD who find themselves agreeing with Colberg-Toro claim the document is a backdoor entry into independence, which they do not want because they understand the citizenship consequences. Fas-Alzamora claims his plan is the ultimate solution because it “solves” the quandary of permanent American citizenship AND provides Puerto Rico with sovereignty. The Pact does the latter, but not the former.
The truth is that both the “sovereignty” and the “autonomy” wings of the PPD are scrambling to tone down the criticism that is coming down on them from all sides since the release of the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status reports of 2005 and 2007, which hold that “Although the current territorial status may continue so long as Congress desires, there are only two non-territorial options recognized by the U.S. Constitution that establish a permanent [citizenship] status between the people of Puerto Rico and the Government of the United States[;] one is statehood … the other is independence” (2005).
With this in mind, it is time supporters of Puerto Rican self-determination and citizenship equality think big!
If the New Progressive Party, which claimed, “Every vote for the PNP is a vote for statehood,” sees its hands tied until 2011, then let its leaders and members loosen their tongues in the intervening time. Let no Puerto Rican legislator who believes in equality for the Americans of Puerto Rico under the statehood banner remain quiet. Instead, leaders and members of the PNP must speak loudly when questioning the Enemies of Equality about their status solution for Puerto Rico that guarantees American citizenship perpetually. They do not have one!
The PPD and all Enemies of Equality have their work cut out for them as they attempt to extend colonialism by consent (or, as some suggest, bring independence to Puerto Rico through the backdoor), but the PNP has an opportunity to deliver the coup de grâce on the unequal “Commonwealth” status.
We will see.