Archive for the ‘Self-Determination’ Category

Why U.S. Statehood for Puerto Rico is Inevitable

In Citizenship Equality, Commentary and Analysis, Enemies of Equality, Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico Democracy Act, Puerto Rico Independence, Puerto Rico Statehood, Self-Determination, Soberanistas vs. Autonomistas, The Big Lie: The PPD's "Commonwealth" on September 26, 2012 at 2:21 PM

THE FOLLOWING ESSAY is from ABC-CLIO‘s World Geography: Understanding a Changing World website

By Javier Arvelo-Cruz-Santana

Puerto Ricans have repeatedly made clear that their American citizenship is non-negotiable. Successive presidents and Congresses have elucidated their official welcome to Puerto Rico as a state if petitioned. The commitment to the union and its ideals borne out in the prolific participation of Puerto Ricans in the armed forces is a matter of record. Both major mainland political parties have enshrined their support of Puerto Rico’s right to statehood in their respective platforms. The precipitous decline in support for the “Commonwealth” has been well documented since the early 1990s.[1] The notion of an “enhanced Commonwealth” status is universally rejected by both chambers of Congress, various presidential reports, and the U.S. Department of Justice. Similarly, Puerto Ricans have rejected sovereignty through independence or free association. The original intent of the U.S. territorial status as temporary has regained its currency and recognition. Inviolable, natural American citizenship is now inextricably coupled with the Puerto Rican desire to be free and equal, and participate in their national government. In so doing, Puerto Ricans will finally control their political, economic, civic, and legal destinies.

These facts necessarily lead reasonable observers to conclude that the small-in-size, but big-in-population archipelago inevitably will become America’s 51st state.


Congress holds, under the U.S. Constitution’s Territorial Clause, all powers over Puerto Rico. When the first Congress established the  Northwest Ordinance (1787) to manage the first of many organized territories, it worked to design a blueprint for administering the powers derived from the Territorial Clause. In Puerto Rico’s case, a series of U.S. Supreme Court cases between 1901 and 1922, known as the Insular Cases, distorted the traditional territory-to-statehood trajectory partly for socio-cultural, religious, and ethnic reasons.

Puerto Rico still struggles with the residue of those biased distortions, mainly the Supreme Court’s concoction of the idea of unincorporated territories “appurtenant and belonging to the United States, but not a part of the United States.”[2] Before these rulings, every organized territory under the power of the federal government was understood to be on its way to statehood, as territorial status was considered temporary tutelage in republican democracy and economic development. When the residents of a territory with a large-enough population organized a republican system of government, they could petition for admission to the union and Congress would accept them as equals. Things rapidly changed when the U.S. territorial expansion that began with the Louisiana Purchase (1803) and continued with Manifest Destiny through the Mexican-American War (1848) culminated with the acquisition of Pacific and Caribbean islands after the short-lived Spanish-American War (1898). Despite these now-moot, radical decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court, Puerto Rico remains an exemplary candidate for statehood. Puerto Rico will be the next state precisely because the Americans of the territory want U.S. citizenship in perpetuity and equality in benefits and responsibilities (as all free people do), and the federal government supports the goal, following Puerto Ricans’ petition.

Puerto Rico became a territory of the United States more than a century ago after the signing of the Treaty of Paris (1898)[3] with the Kingdom of Spain. After American forces landed in Guánica Bay and wrested control of the small archipelago from Spain, most Puerto Ricans welcomed the Americans not as occupiers but as liberators. That sense of liberation was buttressed by the words of General Nelson A. Miles upon the American arrival on July 25, 1898: “We have not come to make war upon the people of a country that for centuries has been oppressed, but . . . to bring you protection . . . to promote your prosperity, and to bestow upon you the immunities and blessings of the liberal institutions of our Government [emphasis added].”[4]

Despite the promises of “protection,” “prosperity,” and “immunities and blessings,” the sovereign power of Congress over Puerto Rico has remained unchanged since. Though afforded enfranchisement through limited local self-government in 1952, 3.7 million Puerto Ricans remain subordinate to laws enacted by Congress without their participation. The “Commonwealth” status, translated by island-based supporters as “Free Associated State,” is neither free, nor associated, nor a state, and cannot provide citizenship equality with full democratic rights. Puerto Rico can only attain equality through the attainment of statehood, which brings proportionate voting representation in Congress and the right to vote for electors in the presidential election. There can be no political or citizenship equality within the union without statehood.


Myths and lies abound about Puerto Rico’s status and are put forward with the purpose of denying equality to Puerto Rico to benefit a few who have found it politically convenient, and others who find it impermissible. Although U.S. citizens, Puerto Ricans are routinely linked to immigration and assimilation debates they should not be subjected to, with the intention of marginalizing island residents who are overwhelmingly Hispanic. Puerto Ricans are Americans, residing on American soil, and citizens since 1917 who have fought alongside their mainland fellow citizens. Only a small minority in Puerto Rico would readily discard U.S. citizenship for political independence, but island-based supporters of the territorial status seek to protect the status quo for narrow political and economic ends, and a majority of them would never discard their American citizenship.

Puerto Rico’s American citizenship has three unpalatable classes. Though granted statutory citizenship in 1917—meaning by act of Congress, not by the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment—Congress passed and President Harry Truman signed a law on June 27, 1952,[5] that retroactively declared all persons born in Puerto Rico on or after January 13, 1941, to be natural-born U.S. citizens and all persons born between April 11, 1899, and January 12, 1941, to be statutory citizens of the United States as of January 13, 1941.

Thus, one can argue, there are three classes of American citizenship in Puerto Rico. Someone born before 1941 remains a statutory citizen and Congress can take that citizenship away. Comprising the second class are persons born in Puerto Rico who have natural citizenship that Congress cannot take away through law, but who reside in the island without full political rights. Finally, first-class-citizenship Puerto Ricans are those born in Puerto Rico and who for various reasons—principally economic exile—decide to relocate to a state; they enjoy full political equality as bona fide residents of the states.

A further argument can be made that yet a fourth class exists: that of the Puerto Rican unborn, whose impermanent citizenship rests in the hands of future Congresses. This is one of the embroiling differences between a U.S. state and an “unincorporated” territory.

Language & Culture

Arguments offered by opponents of statehood—in the pro-status quo Popular Democratic Party (PPD) and on the mainland—mislead the uninformed, lack foundation, and are often intellectually dishonest. Equality opponents cite Spanish as an obstacle to statehood, a position for which there is no precedent in the admission of new states. Supporters of English-only claim it would protect America’s linguistic culture. Both opponents of statehood and supporters of English-only misrepresent their intentions.

Hawai’i is an officially bilingual state. The States of Maine and Louisiana have no official language, but recognize English and French. New Mexico publishes government documents in English and Spanish. Alaska recognizes Native languages. California has official English, but recognizes eight languages for government documentation, nine languages for a commercial driver’s license, and an outstanding 32 languages for a regular driver’s license. Arizona has made English official but recognizes a variety of Native languages for elections. The States of New Mexico, Rhode Island, Oregon, and Washington promote multiple languages through “English Plus.”[6] The 2010 federal Census was made available in over 60 languages.

Puerto Rico is officially bilingual since 1902, and its constitution is written and its laws promulgated in English and Spanish. No state officially recognized English before Puerto Rico! In fact, most states with “official” English have carved out many exceptions required by statute, state constitutions, and/or the U.S. Constitution. Ultimately, most state-based official English laws simply require state governments to print and promulgate their official business in English, at least.

Many states have adopted English as their official language, others have chosen not to adopt an official language, a few have recognized multiple, and one is officially bilingual. As such, choice of official language is an established states’ right. Multitudes of communities throughout the country speak languages other than English without detriment to the national or state social identity.

Opposition to Puerto Rican statehood based on sociological cohesion among island Americans conveniently overlooks that Puerto Rican self-identity is as strong as it was in 1898, and that culture is not static. Puerto Ricans pride themselves in their multicultural ancestry, and have absorbed as much American culture in the last century as they did Caribbean and Spanish culture during the 400-year-long Spanish domination.

Opponents of statehood suggest that social and cultural identity are barriers to statehood and suggest Puerto Ricans could never integrate successfully, ignoring the fact that California, Vermont, and Texas were independent countries, and Hawai’i an independent kingdom, with non-English-speaking populations before their admission as states. To pretend that their identity, culture, language, and nationhood were impediments to their successful integration belie the facts![7]

Neither language nor social identity has ever been a prerequisite for statehood. Rather, a working government and population size have, and Puerto Rico more than meets those requirements. The local economy is what Puerto Ricans have not been able to build to the fullest under the deficient, territorial “Commonwealth” status. That is a problem.

Territorial Economics

While congressional process is integral to ending territorialism in Puerto Rico, the economic promise and benefits of statehood for all Americans cannot be understated. In 2009, federal transfer payments to Puerto Rico cost mainland taxpayers over $22 billion—over $400 per household[8]—and another $11 billion in tax expenditures for mainland and foreign corporate interests on the island. Though economic advances were made after the 1950s, growth has been flat since the 1980s, and the uncertainty of the island’s territorial status is to blame. Some argue federal taxes in Puerto Rico would sink the local economy, but do not mention the disproportionately high local taxes, their effects on the economy, and most importantly the federal income tax thresholds. Once the federal income tax system is integrated, local taxes will require adjustment to rebalance taxpayer burden.

Like mainland taxpayers, Puerto Ricans participate in the federal payroll tax system, which funds Social Security and Medicare. Statehood will alleviate the public costs of inequity with an initial infusion of federal funding, which will be reciprocated to the U.S. Treasury as island-based corporations and individuals pay federal taxes after statehood.

Americans in Puerto Rico do not get their proportionate share of federal healthcare,[9] transportation, or infrastructure funding. For example, Puerto Rico gets 50% of its Medicaid funding from the federal government; if it were a state, the federal formula would award the maximum 83%. Simultaneously, Puerto Rico operates quasi-independently of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) structure with a patchwork of preferential tax treatments for various commercial interests that cost mainland taxpayers billions per year. Territorialism imposes artificial constraints on the island’s economy. With parity, Puerto Rico will be able to manage its economic future with reliability the “Commonwealth” cannot supply. Statehood will reduce the unbalanced fiscal burdens that the “Commonwealth” status forces all Americans to endure, and it will progressively produce billions for the U.S. Treasury.

Statehood for Puerto Rico will not be a burden to Americans on the island or the mainland. Besides, if it were, for justice it should be viewed as the inevitable result of a century of neglect in territorial limbo. Regardless, any “extra fiscal burden” will be short-lived because it is indisputable that territorial economies—after statehood—experience faster-than-average economic growth.[10]

If Puerto Rico had chosen statehood in 1952, instead of “Commonwealth,” by 1994 island real per capita income would have been—conservatively—at least $6,000 higher, or $13,000.[11] Nevertheless, if the island had chosen statehood in 1993, the per capita income would have increased over $8,000 by 2010 and another $15,000 by the year 2025—all in addition to the anemic growth under “Commonwealth.” In other words, if statehood had been achieved in 1994, when the real per capita income of the island territory was $7,000, by 2010 the island’s real per capita income of a little over $16,000 would have stood at about $24,000. That same year, 2010, Mississippi had a per capita income of roughly $31,000, or 93% higher than Puerto Rico’s[12]. In 2010, Mississippi would still have outranked Puerto Rico as a state, but remarkably by only 29%. This “economic opportunity gap” is the direct result of the “Commonwealth” status, sustained by its creators and defenders in the Popular Democratic Party.

‘Commonwealth’ & the PPD

“Commonwealth” status won the 1967 referendum with 60.4% of the vote, and though supporters of statehood boycotted the plebiscite, statehood garnered 39% and independence 0.6%. In 1993, “Commonwealth” won a plurality of the vote with 48.6%, statehood 46.3%, and independence 4.4%. Notably, it was the first time a majority of Puerto Ricans voted against territorial status. By 1998, the territorial option had dwindled to a 0.06% share of the vote with statehood garnering the plurality among the permanent options with 46.49%, independence with 2.5%, and independence in free association with 0.29%. “None of the Above” captured a 50.3% majority.

The pro-status quo PPD, founded in 1938, evolved from an independence party. In the lead-up to the adoption of the local constitution approved by Congress, Luis Muñoz Marín, the charismatic leader of the PPD, settled the fight between the sides that advocated statehood or independence for the island. Muñoz Marín proposed a temporary compromise—the “Commonwealth” status—through which Puerto Rico could build up its government institutions, lagging economy, and civic strength so that at a not-too-distant future, a choice could be made between statehood and independence. Muñoz Marín’s plan succeeded. In 1948, he became the island’s first popularly elected governor since Christopher Columbus claimed the island on behalf of the Spanish Empire in 1493.

Muñoz Marín served four four-year terms as governor. In that longest-of-gubernatorial-reigns, he worked to consolidate power to make his party indispensable to Puerto Ricans. From the beginning, Governor Muñoz Marín decided that the temporary “Commonwealth” status was to remain in place permanently, so the PPD began a campaign to build the arguments in favor. First, the PPD embarked on a scheme to portray the “Commonwealth” status as permanent. In fact, four years later, in 1952, when Congress allowed the island a local constitution, he lobbied Congress to name the new status the “Free Associated State of Puerto Rico,” which the Congress rejected as misleading. Having failed to garner congressional support, the governor used the English-Spanish language divide to promote the misleading title in the island. He chose the word “Commonwealth,” which in English is devoid of meaning as a political status, but once in Puerto Rico, the constitutional convention decided to use “Free Associated State” as the name for the “new” entity.

Subsequently, the PPD leadership moved to build the now-universally-rejected argument that Puerto Rico stopped being a territory of the United States under the Territorial Clause. Their argument’s central point was that Congress ceded its plenary powers over the territory. Simultaneously, dissatisfaction with the “Commonwealth” status began to simmer as the local economy stagnated. Immediately, the PPD began its now-infamous campaign of “enhancement,” which promised Puerto Ricans that the PPD would convince Congress to grant more local autonomy. Congress rejected the idea, stating that the territorial status will remain as is—no more, no less. The PPD still promises “enhanced Commonwealth” as an “acceptable solution,” while continuing to claim (erroneously at best, misleadingly at worst) that Puerto Rico has a bilateral treaty with the U.S.

To add insult to injury, the PPD now rejects any plebiscite put before the people of Puerto Rico. It is clear its leadership is content to keep a majority of Puerto Ricans under the territorial status. Surely, a minority in Puerto Rico does not have the democratic right or the moral authority to keep a majority of its compatriots under the shackles of inequality and the shadow of economic stagnation. That the “Commonwealth” status has cost Puerto Rican families thousands of dollars in economic growth is irrefutable.


Admission to the union does not require extraordinary constitutional measures; neither constitutional amendment nor state convention is required. Statehood merely requires petition, simple majorities in Congress, and the president’s signature on a Statehood Enabling Act. The fact is that after the original 13 colonies, Congress has admitted 37 states and has never refused a petition for statehood. Though it did temporarily ignore eight requests for admission, those states joined through the now-famous Tennessee Plan.

Puerto Ricans have contributed significantly to all facets of American national life and have served in all branches of the armed forces.  Puerto Rico’s participation in the military is one of the highest among the states, yet hundreds of thousands of island veterans do not share the equal rights enjoyed by their mainland counterparts. Unequal citizenship is the result of continued territorial status and the absence of equal representation in Congress. Puerto Ricans elect one delegate with no voting rights to the House of Representatives instead of a full, voting delegation of up to five representatives. They remain voiceless in the U.S. Senate. Without voting representation, Puerto Ricans do not have a say as to whether their sons and daughters will fight wars approved by Congress; similarly, they cannot vote for their commander-in-chief.

That Puerto Ricans have demonstrated their commitment to the United States during this longest-of-territorial-relationships is undeniable. To suggest that a lower class of citizenship is acceptable by virtue of limited self-governance must be anathema to the just principle of equity. That suggestion belongs to times in our national history when paternalism and bigotry once held that minorities desired to be led by others and had neither capacity nor yearning for political rights and empowerment. Such beliefs are unacceptable and opposed to America’s values and principles.

“Almost complete administrative autonomy,” as the PPD claims, cannot supplant full citizenship equality, for the price of being a democratically deficient colony and an economically starved society already has proven too heavy a price. The peddled notion that Puerto Rico should not concern itself with the status issue because of the “more pressing” social issues facing residents exposes the intellectual disconnect the PPD manipulates and exploits. The brain drain, crime, and continued destruction of the social fabric in Puerto Rico due to the lack of economic progress is the true threat to the very society the PPD pretends to defend through its obstruction. The fact is these problems—as serious as they are—are but acute symptoms of a chronic disease called “Commonwealth” status, which is territorial and has stagnated Puerto Rico’s economic progress to the detriment of multiple generations of American citizens. Worse, it continues to give them an uncertain future.

Justice dictates that equal rights and citizenship should not be usurped by intellectual dishonesty. Language, culture, and geography have never been prerequisites for the admission of states; rather, commitments to republican governance, democratic principles, patriotism, population size, and economic considerations have. Puerto Rico meets all those necessary requirements to become the 51st state. Absent statehood, Puerto Rico can never be equal under the U.S. Constitution and will never attain economic parity with the states. Americans in Puerto Rico deserve equal citizenship, democratic and civil rights, and a sovereign voice in their political and economic futures. Equality through statehood, now!


[1]    To see the decline of the “Commonwealth” option’s favorability through the three status plebiscites held in Puerto Rico, visit:

1967    <http://eleccionespuertorico.org/cgi-bin/events.cgi?evento=1967>,
1993    <http://eleccionespuertorico.org/cgi-bin/events.cgi?evento=1993>,
1998    <http://eleccionespuertorico.org/cgi-bin/events.cgi?evento=1998>.

[2]    Downes v. Bidwell, 182 U.S. 244 (1901) and Balzac v. Porto Rico, 258 U.S. 298 (1922).

[3]    A Treaty of Peace Between the United States and Spain, U.S. Congress, 55th Cong., 3d sess., Senate Doc. No. 62, Part 1 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1899), 5-11.

[4]    Karl Stephen Herrman, A Recent Campaign in Puerto Rico by the Independent Regular Brigade under the Command of Brigadier General Schwan (Boston: E. H. Bacon, 1907), 10.

[5]    Persons Born in Puerto Rico on or After April 11, 1899. United States Code, Title 8, Chapter 12, Subchapter III, Part I, § 1402.

[6]    Statement of Purpose: Founding document of the English Plus Information Clearinghouse, EPIC, accessed March 18, 2012, <http://www.massenglishplus.org/mep/engplus.html>.

[7]    Of course, it would be a bit disingenuous to say California was a republic without mentioning the fact that the “Bear Republic” lasted less than a month; however, the fact that the land and many of its inhabitants pre-statehood felt and were different: they  were Californianos! In much the same fashion, the people of Texas to this day feel “American” but also strongly “Texan.”

[8]    Alexander Odishelidze and Arthur Laffer, Pay to the Order of Puerto Rico (Fairfax: Allegiance Press, 2005), 11.

[9]    Kathryn G. Allen, U.S. Insular Areas: Multiple Factors Affect Federal Health Care Funding, (Washington, D.C.: Government Accountability Office, October 2005) <http://www.gao.gov/assets /250/248141.pdf>.

[10]    Glenn P. Jenkins and J. Tomas Hexner, Puerto Rico: The Economics of Status (The Citizens Educational Foundation, 1994), 11-20.

[11]    Ibid., 18.

[12]    Personal Income and Per Capita Personal Income, by State and Region, 2006-2010, Bureau of Labor Statistics, accessed March 3, 2012, <http://www.bea.gov/newsreleases/regional/ spi/2011/xls/spi0311.xls>.

“Why U.S. Statehood for Puerto Rico is Inevitable.” World Geography: Understanding a Changing World. ABC-CLIO, 2012. Web. 26 Sept. 2012.


Three-Way Fight: Statehood vs. Independence vs. … Independence?

In Citizenship Equality, Commentary and Analysis, Enemies of Equality, Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico Independence, Puerto Rico Statehood, Self-Determination, Soberanistas vs. Autonomistas, The Big Lie: The PPD's "Commonwealth" on August 26, 2012 at 4:00 PM
How Puerto Rico’s Plebiscite Unfairly Opens the Back Door to an Unwanted Status

The latest status plebiscite in Puerto Rico will be held on Election Day (November 6, 2012). On that day, the people of the American territory will be asked to vote “yes,” or “no” on whether to keep the current territorial “Commonwealth” status. A “yes” vote would perpetuate the current unequal, colonial status; a “no” vote would reject, but would not end, the colonial “Commonwealth” status per se. To do that, the voters will have to answer a second question on the same ballot: which sovereign option do you want?—statehood, independence, or … independence!

Yes, the “independence” option appears twice. Why?

First, let us ask a different question: what is the purpose of all these plebiscites we all hear about?

The answer: to terminate a territorial status that very few in Puerto Rico believe in, and to achieve sovereignty for the people of the island. “Sovereignty,” as such, is the power of a people to make decisions about its own political future without the interference of outsiders. Sounds like “independence,” huh? Well, the American system operates under a sovereignty model we call federalism. In federalism, the people of a sovereign “state” (in this case an American state and not an independent nation-state) agrees to delegate a degree of its own sovereign powers to the federal government so that through the collective delegation of 50 sovereigns ALL members of the union can maximize their own fortunes in an equal union of different peoples—politically and economically. The states and their respective peoples retain all sovereign powers NOT delegated to the federal government, and the other states in the union are not seen as “outsiders” by each other but as partners—family!

Sovereignty for Puerto Rico, then, comes in two flavors under American and international law: full annexation through American statehood, or full disintegration through international independence.

What are other forms of sovereignty? There are no others.

There is what in international law is known as “free association,” which is created between two independent nations and which can be broken at the desire of either nation and at any time and for whatever reason. The actual treaty that creates the free association status is typically known as a Compact of Free Association. The U.S. is currently a signatory to three such agreements with the independent nations of Palau, The Federated States of Micronesia, and The Marshall Islands.

These free association treaties can last forever, but are not perpetual in-and-of-themselves. They only can last forever if the two nations that signed the Compact of Free Association remain satisfied with the association.

In Puerto Rico’s November plebiscite there is a third option written into the law as “ELA Soberano.” “ELA” is an acronym that stands for Estado Libre Asociado (Free Associated State) and it is the official, Spanish name of the island’s government, so combined with the word “Soberano,” it means “Sovereign Free Associated Nation-State.” “ELA” in Puerto Rico means what “Commonwealth” means to the rest of the world as it relates to American federal territorial law and not as it relates to actual states of the union that use the old term. The “Commonwealth” of Puerto Rico is not the same (legally) as the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, or Virginia, or Massachusetts, or Kentucky.

So there is the second “independence” option. Puerto Rico cannot enter into a Compact of Free Association with the United States of America unless it declares independence, and nothing could stop Puerto Rico from entering into a free association treaty with a different country, i.e. Venezuela, China, or Russia if it so desired. Some say that Puerto Rico can indeed enter into free association without declaring independence from the U.S., but that belies the fact that the very essence of free association is that it can only happen between two sovereign, independent nations. A U.S. territory cannot sign a Compact of Free Association with the U.S. because all sovereign powers reside on one side: Congress. So, the third option in Puerto Rico’s plebiscite makes the island a republic separate from the U.S. and out of the control of Congress. Why is this important?

The Americans of Puerto Rico do not want independence and they have shown as much in every plebiscite and poll in the past 114 years. To independence supporters this is just the result of mass brainwashing. To the vast majority of Puerto Ricans who love their American citizenship and their Puerto Rican identity this is just the result of democratic sanity and political shrewdness.

The danger is that this third “option” will confuse the voters. In their minds, “ELA Soberano” must be something different, or else why would it be there?

The pro-territorial “Commonwealth” Popular Democratic Party (PPD) in the island has been offering voters something “different” for the past 60-plus years. The PPD contends that neither statehood, nor independence is good enough. The party has promised something better. The leadership of the PPD wants the benefits of both statehood and independence; all the rights and benefits of American statehood and all the perquisites of international recognition—including the ability to veto federal laws that the governor of Puerto Rico sees as “inoperable” in the island and the ability to join international bodies as a nation. The federal government has rejected the proposal as incompatible with the U.S. Constitution. In other words, if Puerto Rico wants to end the current territorial status it has two—and only two—options: statehood or independence.

Once Puerto Rico becomes an independent nation—if the people of the island so choose—then the new, separate nation of Puerto Rico can work with the American government to bilaterally enact a Compact of Free Association.

The pro-statehood New Progressive Party (NPP) currently controls the governorship and both chambers of the legislature by supermajorities. So why would a statehood supermajority write a law that distorts the statehood-versus-independence reality that is needed to end the territorial status? The NPP is calling the PPD’s 60-plus-year bluff.

Today, the PPD is internally split between two wings: the so-called Autonomistas and the Soberanistas. The Autonomistas want more … well … autonomy. They are the establishment wing, the conservative wing, and they wish to remain a territory of the U.S. under the Constitution’s Territorial Clause, but they want Congress to devolve many of its powers to the people of Puerto Rico. Congress has made it clear that Puerto Rico has all the autonomy that the federal government is willing to grant—no more!

The Soberanistas are the liberal wing of the PPD and they want sovereignty—just not under statehood. They want sovereignty and the only other options for sovereignty is independence, but they will not say that because the word “independence” is political suicide in Puerto Rico. They have come up with a more elegant way of asking for independence that does not actually use the word independence: free association or “ELA Soberano.” Very clever indeed. Independence through the back door.

Unless the statehood party supplements its desire for U.S. annexation with a robust education effort, the results of the latest plebiscite will at best be another indecisive failure in the part of a confused electorate, or at worse the ostensible rejection of statehood by two independence pluralities that would add up to an independence majority.

The same way Congress will not accept a statehood petition with less than a strong majority (55 percent plus), it will not accept an independence petition with any less. However, independence and independence in free association supporters can already be heard claiming a majority for a petition for independence if between the former and the latter there is a combined 50.1 percent vote. That would be unfair to statehood supporters.

In that case, perhaps the statehood party in charge should amend the law if not to delete the superfluous “ELA Soberano,” at minimum to balance the ballot with a fourth option: “ELA Statehood.” Make it a Statehood vs. Independence vs. Independence vs. Statehood! Why not?

Seventy-something days away from the general election and the referendum on status, and without a robust educative effort in the part of the pro-statehood NPP things could get messy. On the day after the election, the results will be fodder for all political parties willing to spin confused chaos into logical voter support, but those same results will not provide a solution to the century-old problem of democratic inequality, lack of political sovereignty and human dignity in Puerto Rico.

Indecisiones y Desconciertos

In Citizenship Equality, Jose Celso Barbosa y Alcala, Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico Independence, Puerto Rico Statehood, Self-Determination, The Big Lie: The PPD's "Commonwealth" on July 27, 2011 at 10:03 AM

Dr. José Celso Barbosa y Alcalá | El Tiempo, 11 de mayo de 1913

Con motivo del inusitado triunfo de los demócratas en los Estado Unidos y de la toma de posesión de Mr. Wilson, el cual, por haberle cogido de improviso su triunfo, no ha tenido tiempo de prepararse para la intervención en los grandes problemas nacionales y exteriores de la República Norteamericana, y al que las gentes, en alas de la exaltación imaginativa de los soñadores políticos, atribuyen conceptos, ideas y determinaciones sobre asuntos acerca de los cuales ni aún ha tenido tiempo de pensar; está bullendo otra vez en esta Isla, el hervidero político, y sería motivo de risa, si no causara mucha pena, ver la falta de fijeza de algunos hombres a quienes se tenía por inteligentes y conocedores de la política, o, por lo menos, dotados de un buen sentido práctico, andando por esas calles, y saltando de sitio en sitio, como el colibrí va de flor en flor, esparciendo ideas tan contrarias y sin ilación con los hechos, que asombra oír en sus pareceres, y algunas veces se pregunta uno, si estamos en una casa de locos, o si estamos en una sociedad civilizada que tiene el ardiente deseo de asegurar lo mejor posible su bienestar y su porvenir.

Hay por ahí personas muy serias que hablan de cartas recibidas de los Estados Unidos y atribuídas al Presidente, que hasta ahora el buen señor ni siquiera ha pensado escribirlas; se atribuyen pareceres a personajes que todavía no han hablado ni dicho siquiera esta boca es mía; y sobre todo, aquellas imprudentes frases que dijera el presidente Taft acerca del futuro de Puerto Rico cuando expresó su parecer de que la tendencia política de los Estados Unidos respecto de Puerto Rico no iba por el camino del Estado, imprudencia que sólo puede mitigar el deseo que tuvo el anterior Presidente de dar a entender, como así creemos, que es realmente, que la concesión de la ciudadanía a los puertorriqueños, en nada prejuzgaba la constitución política definitiva de este país, han servido de norte a algunas personas para asegurar enfáticamente que no hay más camino para nuestro porvenir que la independencia o la autonomía colonial; esto es, un riesgo o un desacierto.

Ciertamente que sólo llevamos catorce años de convivencia íntima con la nación americana, y ha sido poco tiempo para acostumbrarnos bien a lo política americana, y para curarnos de los resabios de la política europea que no encajan en ésta, por la fundamental diferencia entre una y otra, de que la europea se inspira en la tradición monárquica y la americana descansa en la soberanía del pueblo. Pero ese poco tiempo no sirve de disculpa para que exista tanta indeterminación en el pensamiento de algunos políticos puertorriqueños, y para que por no haberse obtenido en seguida todo lo que se deseaba, se cambie de rumbo y se modifiquen ideas, lo que viene a sembrar una grandísima confusión y hacer que no nos entendamos, por todo lo cual no debe sorprendernos que luego nos digan los de afuera que no saben lo que queremos, ni lo que pensamos.

Para el mejor examen y discusión de nuestro problema local, no nos olvidemos de dos puntos esenciales: uno, cuál es la solución más adecuada a nuestro propio bienestar; otro, cuál es la solución más conforme a la política norteamericana.

Examinemos ligeramente el primer punto. No sólo por el natural sentimiento de todo pueblo llegado a su madurez política y social, de gobernarse por sí mismo, sino por la manera como se desarrolló nuestra vida cuando formábamos parte de la nación española, todo puertorriqueño aspira a la independencia de su país, y, como es natural, surge en seguida el problema de cómo se ha de entender y organizar políticamente ese sentimiento de la independencia para el funcionamiento del gobierno propio.

Afortunadamente, nos encontramos casi a la mitad del camino, porque por el influjo de la democracia americana, hemos resuelto todos los fundamentales problemas de la política general de un país, que todavía están dando mucho que hacer en naciones tan diestras en el manejo de los negocios públicos como Francia y España, que sucesivamente llegaron a dominar en el mundo entero. La más amplia libertad en el orden del pensamiento, de la conciencia, de la palabra, y de la acción, tanto en el individua considerado en sí, como actuando en el ambiente social, está asegurada afortunadamente en este país: se van desarrollando progresivamente todas las fuentes de la producción, y la paz está garantida. Son pocos los pueblos que hoy gozan de esas tres magníficas condiciones, y por lo que a América se refiere, no hay más que tres territorios que las disfruten: las colonias inglesas, la República Norteamericana, y la isla de Puerto Rico.

Examinando el resto de América, esperamos que se nos diga cuál de los otros de los distintos pueblos que existen en este continente, goza en mejor grado de las condiciones de libertad, de desarrollo en su riqueza y de paz, que nuestra isla de Puerto Rico.

Ahora bien: al desarrollar nuestro sentimiento de independencia para organizar el gobierno propio, debemos tener presente no sólo las condiciones del pueblo, sino el territorio en que ese pueblo se extiende, y las condiciones generales interiores y exteriores de ese territorio, a fin de que pueda realizarse una obra durable, de paz, de orden de felicidad y de justicia.

Puerto Rico es un territorio muy pequeño para fundar una nacionalidad. La gran concentración de ideas, de sentimientos y de relaciones científicas, industriales y mercantiles que existe hoy en el mundo entero, exige la constitución de grandes grupos sociales que puedan equilibrarse para mantener el orden y la paz y seguir adelante el progreso en todas sus manifestaciones. Los hombres ya no se atreven a hacer las cosas por sí solos, como las hacían antes. Buena prueba es lo que sucede en las profesiones, en las cuales cada día se van especializando en un solo detalle, y dentro de la especialidad, se asocian unos y otros para el mejor desempeño de sus funciones y el más seguro éxito.

Pues lo mismo sucede en los pueblos: hace tiempo que las colonias inglesas se sienten pequeñas y se encuentran muy separadas de su Metrópoli, y buscan el medio de agruparse para formar confederaciones y entrar juntas con la poderosa Metrópoli en la dirección e influjo de los negocios mundiales.

A medida que el progreso asciende en su maravillosa carrera, el choque de intereses es más fuerte, y más intenso el encono de los que desgraciadamente caen por su debilidad, pereza o negligencia. Hoy no se respeta más que a pueblos que tienen muchos soldados y muchos barcos, porque son los que representan una fuerza efectiva. Obsérvese lo que acontece en Europa, en donde vemos ahora mismo que está sucumbiendo Turquía desde que empezó el decaimiento de su poderío naval y militar, y cómo han tenido que unirse para combatirla a pesar de todo, las cinco pequeñas naciones que juntas le están haciendo la guerra.

Aquí en América, el problema no es tan urgente por ahora, porque existe la egida protectora de la República Norteamericana, desarrollando la doctrina de Monroe, que ha venido a salvar a las repúblicas hispanoamericanas; pero muy pronto comenzaremos a sentir los efectos de la debilidad en nuestras nacientes repúblicas, si no se encuentran fuertes y poderosas, cuando el impulso del progreso traiga a América indefectiblemente, la hegemonía política y mercantil que tiene hoy Europa.

No se funda, pues, un pueblo como nación, para hoy, ni para mañana, ni para luego, sino que se constituye para siempre. Y es preciso convenir en que la isla de Puerto Rico no se encuentra en condiciones para ser una república independiente, fuerte y vigorosa por sí misma. En tales condiciones, necesita Puerto Rico del auxilio ajeno que le proporcione la fuerza y le dé la consistencia de que ella desgraciadamente carece.

Tres soluciones se presentan hasta ahora para resolver el problema: o el Estado, o la independencia, o la autonomía colonial. No hay más, ni es fácil que pueda inventarse otra, porque el pensamiento humano no alcanza a establecer nuevas creaciones políticas.

Where is the Status Issue Headed?

In Citizenship Equality, Commentary and Analysis, Enemies of Equality, H.R. 2499, Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico Democracy Act, Puerto Rico Independence, Puerto Rico Statehood, Self-Determination, The Big Lie: The PPD's "Commonwealth" on June 25, 2011 at 8:40 PM
An abridged walk through Puerto Rico’s self-determination process 

Impossible to write the entire history of the 113-year-old sisterhood between the States and Puerto Rico, the ups and the many downs, but the status timeline can be surmised into a few superficial attempts to placate a people’s yearning for citizenship equality.

That the island’s American citizens consented in 1952 to the current relationship of “united but unequal” is an undisputed fact. While rhetorically different from “separate but equal,” the relationship remains institutionally the same. At that time, the people of Puerto Rico placed dependent security above sovereign rule and citizenship equality. In 1967, 1993, and 1998, Americans in Puerto Rico delivered inconclusive results in three status plebiscites, under political settings unique to each. The unequal status quo won by default. Today, the fourth plebiscite is in the final stages before implementation, but its birth was on the day Puerto Ricans elected Governor Luis Fortuño and Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi. “Every vote for the PNP,” their campaign declared, “is a vote for statehood!”

Puerto Rico's governor-elect Luis Fortuño, left, and Resident Commissioner-elect Pedro Pierluisi, elected nonvoting delegate to U.S. Congress, celebrate during the victory rally in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

On May 19, 2009, Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi introduced H.R. 2499 in the U.S. House of Representatives where it eventually passed with the Foxx Amendment poison pill. The Foxx Amendment introduced the non-permanent “Commonwealth” status quo into the column of permanent choices and made the self-determination mechanism within H.R. 2499 irrelevant. The beauty of H.R. 2499 was the simplicity of its solution. The foundational idea behind the Pierluisi bill is that the territorial “Commonwealth” status needs to change and that the only way it could be kept was through a majority vote. Even though such an approach lent some legitimacy to the status quo “Commonwealth” option, the bill restricted the potential extension of the status quo to a temporary period and only through majority-rule. Consisting of two votes, the Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2009 (H.R. 2499) asked the Puerto Rican voters to first vote on whether they wished to maintain the current status or seek a permanent status through statehood or independence/free association. If Puerto Ricans chose to remain a “Commonwealth,” the bill would self-execute the entire process eight years later—until the Americans of Puerto Rico voted for a permanent, non-territorial status.

One year-to-the-date later, the U.S. Senate shelved the Puerto Rico Democracy Act, but not before it issued a sober note on the question of “enhanced Commonwealth.” The idea of “enhancement” became popular immediately after the adoption of the “Commonwealth,” and it was the then-omnipotent PPD’s way of holding on to power. Originally meant as a temporary status, “Commonwealth” built a following that now surpasses 700,000 supporters. The corner stone of “enhancement” is the PPD’s belief that the nature of the relationship between the States and Puerto Rico is not territorial in nature. Instead, the PPD believes, the nature of the relationship is one driven by a Compact (a Treaty), or a bilateral agreement between two sovereigns. From that belief emanates the idea of “enhancement” because it seeks to “improve” the so-called Compact. The PPD’s proposals for improvement have included (and are definitely not limited to): recognizing the governor internationally as a head of state, giving concurrent authority to the governor and the legislature to veto federal law, transferring federal lands to the government of Puerto Rico, guarantying the American citizenship of Puerto Ricans and their right of movement to the States in perpetuity, increasing the flow of federal dollars to parity with the States, and allowing Puerto Rico to conduct its own foreign policy and join international bodies. “The free beer and BBQ option,” as Sen. Jeff Bingaman called it. According to the U.S. Senate, it is not going to happen—it cannot happen!

The PPD’s coveted Compact is what the serious world refers to as Public Law 600, which amended the Jones Act of 1917 (the same act that granted American citizenship to Puerto Ricans). Altogether, this body of law is referred to as The Puerto Rico-Federal Relations Act. This law passed by Congress alone cannot (does not!) constitute a bilateral Compact. Congress never relinquished its plenary powers over the territory when it agreed to give it “local autonomy” through a local constitution–ironically, Congress amended that, too. Congress, in fact, made clear its intent when it wrote into the legislation:

[Pulic Law 600] would not change Puerto Rico’s fundamental political, social, and economic relationship to the United States. Those sections of the Organic Act of Puerto Rico concerning such matters as the applicability of United States laws, customs, internal revenue, Federal judicial jurisdiction in Puerto Rico, representation in the Congress of the United States by a Resident Commissioner, et cetera, would remain in force and effect. […] The sections of the Organic Act which [Public Law 600] would repeal are concerned primarily with the organization of the insular executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the government of Puerto Rico and other matters of purely local concern.

S. Rept. 81-1779, at 3-4. (almost verbatim on H. Rept. 81-2275, at 3.)

This series of laws concerning Puerto Rico is not showing us the statecraft of bilateral diplomacy but the depravity of colonial unilateral management.

Almost concurrently with the introduction of the Pierluisi bill in the House of Representatives, the White House put into motion the conclusion of the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status—created by President Clinton, executed by President W. Bush, and expanded by President Obama. After three delays, the Task Force’s report emerged to almost universal praise.

In essence, much of the praise for the report seems to be the product of its substance and scope. President Obama’s Task Force, under the leadership of White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs Director Cecilia Muñoz and Justice Department Associate Attorney General Thomas J. Perrelli, produced a comprehensive set of recommendations on various issues:

“This Report presents the Task Force’s recommendations to the President and Congress. The first section provides recommendations relating to the question of Puerto Rico’s status. Following the discussion of status, the Report is divided into three sections: (1) economic development overview and economic recommendations; (2) recommendations for building competitive industries; and (3) recommendations with respect to the island of Vieques. Each recommendation in these three sections sets out the specific issue, the recommendation designed to address that issue, and a realistic timeline for implementing the recommendation.”

President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status Report, Executive Summary, page 1

The release of the Task Force’s report culminated with a welcomed visit by President Barack Obama on June 14, 2011. The praise for the report, however, faded when placed under the equality microscope. It is true that the Obama report goes into much-needed detail in the issues affecting the island. Nevertheless, one cannot miss that these recommendations will be carried out under the territorial “Commonwealth” status—with all of its structural limitations intact. The fact is that none of the Task Force’s recommendations makes sense within the context of the status quo. These are exactly the right steps to take on behalf of Puerto Rico, but not before solving the status question; otherwise, it will mean more money thrown at the colonial beast.

For example, many of the “recommendations” are based on continued dialogue between the Government of Puerto Rico and the relevant federal department, agency, and/or bureau. Some of the recommendations are outright incongruent with plans already in motion. For example, the first of its “economic recommendations” suggests growing the size of the civil service in the island as a solution. “The Task Force proposes to con­sult with the Puerto Rico government to increase capacity in its civil service,” states this specific recommendation, “particularly in the areas of grant and program management [emphasis added].” The recommendation on page four of the full report continues, “Based on the results of the consultation, representatives of key Federal agencies should work with officials from Puerto Rico to identify an institution or training program that would provide the necessary skills to future professional civil servants.” In essence, the Task Force is recommending a new bureaucracy that would be dedicated to searching for federal grants, which would presumably fund some of the other initiatives recommended by the Task Force. Forget that the current governor was forced to layoff thousands of civil workers to meet the demands of an out-of-control budget deficit in the “Commonwealth.”

The funding formulas will not change. They cannot change until Puerto Rico is a state. This is nothing more than the old parity-without-equality game Washington is comfortable with. Therefore, the Americans of Puerto Rico will continue to fight a losing battle in which they are not represented at the budget pie-cutting, but continue to demand a fair and equal share of the pie. Most importantly, on the central question of the status (i.e. the mechanism and the options’ definitions) the White House did two things: 1) it did not endorse any specific mechanism, but lightly recommended a two-vote plebiscite based on citizenship; and 2) it endorsed “Commonwealth” as a valid option.

For the first time, an Administration decided to frame the issue of Puerto Rico’s status as one of allegiance and citizenship. On the first vote, the Task Force proposed the Americans of Puerto Rico vote on whether they “wish to be part of the United States or be independent.” On the second vote (limited by the first vote), Puerto Ricans would have a chance to vote for statehood or “Commonwealth” for permanent union, or vote for separation through independence (with or without a treaty of free association). This is a question of nationalism, allegiance, and citizenship, but the simultaneous endorsement of the territorial, “Commonwealth” status quo as an acceptable “permanent” option is anathema to the very patriotic spirit on which said principles are founded.

With all that said about the Task Force’s report, the governing party in Puerto Rico (the pro-statehood New Progressive Party, PNP) put the status campaign in motion when the party’s directorate unanimously approved a plebiscite roadmap. The PNP plan consists of a two-vote plebiscite. In the first vote (scheduled for November of 2012), citizens will be asked to choose a permanent option first (i.e. statehood, independence, or “free association”). The winner of the first vote would then face the territorial “Commonwealth” status on a heads-up match (presumably during the first half of 2013).

Although the PNP plebiscite diverges a bit from the Task Force’s tacitly recommended mechanism, the result is the same: a statehood-versus-“Commonwealth” face-off. The flaw continues to be, however, the inclusion of “Commonwealth” as a valid option of change when the dogma of “enhancement” cannot evolve. Puerto Ricans will continue to provide unclear results because they see through the inherent ambivalence in these “Commonwealth” solutions. Why offer them as a legitimate option the very option everybody agrees is the problem? How can this “Commonwealth” problem be its own “Commonwealth” solution?

Soon after the PNP put its plan on the table, the Popular Democratic Party (pro-“Commonwealth,” PPD) symbolically introduced a bill sponsoring the Task Force’s preferred mechanism and accused the PNP super-majority of going against the White House and Congress. With his party unanimously behind a plan, Governor Fortuño set up a tri-partite commission composed of a representative from each of the status parties (i.e. statehood, “Commonwealth,” and independence). The commission had a month to reach consensus on a path forward, but the deadline came and went without any substantial agreement. However, the PNP and the Puerto Rico Independence Party (PIP) came out of the talks with a plan that—if agreed to by the two parties—could revive the once-dead H.R. 2499 and its two-vote plebiscite mechanism. The final details are unknown, though. The PPD is furious over both the ostensible pact between its two rivals and the unilateral plan of the PNP. Why would that be? It is because the leaders of the PPD do not wish to go into a second plebiscite against a victorious statehood option. How would they campaign for the status quo when they themselves have proclaimed it inadequate?

The following is how one gets to the convoluted PPD reasoning on the status; it goes something like this (Pay attention!):

The current territorial status is NOT (they say) territorial. Puerto Rico has a bilateral Compact with the United States (i.e. we are equal partners). Said Compact can only be ended with the acquiescence of both PR and the USA. After that joke of a statement, the PPD will once again advocate for a change in the territorial status. Their preferred path to “solving” the status problem is enhancement. (Notice that “enhancement” does not allow room for the permanent options of statehood or independence; instead, the “enhancement” idea seeks to undercut the argument of change. Why change when you can build upon?) Technicalities to the PPD, though.

So, with these inconsistencies how does the PPD move forward? Easy: mix everything up. Ask that your convoluted status continue to be included in any and every plebiscite. When it is finally included, change your definition. When your new definition catches up to you as unacceptable to other stakeholders, change the subject from plebiscites to constituent assemblies. When the constituent assembly does not seem possible, change the subject once again from one round of voting to two rounds of voting. In addition, remember to misdefine statehood while simultaneously not bothering to consider your own status definition. Finally, should a schism over status preferences occur within your own party ranks, ignore it until one side is about to secede and then open a “statehood” block within your own anti-statehood party. Voila! Default Victory.

The PNP-PIP alliance against the PPD on the question of the option legitimacy is a natural alliance built on the idea that the former two offer permanent and recognized status solutions and the latter one nothing but constitutionally impossible pie in the sky. The PNP claims statehood is a possible status option, the PIP does likewise about independence, (both accepted universally as valid options), and the PPD continues to claim the current status is unacceptable while simultaneously pressing to include said “Commonwealth” status in any island plebiscite. Further, if the plebiscite includes the “Commonwealth” option, then the PPD wants a constituent assembly to solve the status and not said plebiscite. Plebiscite versus constituent assembly is another way for the PPD to obstruct the status process. After all, the members of the PPD cannot even define their own vision for a permanent, non-territorial status. They continue to fight over definitions: ELA versus Free Association versus Enhanced Commonwealth versus Permanent Union versus Sovereign Union versus Sovereign Association, etc., etc., etc.—but in their own words “not statehood or independence.”

Then what?

One-vote plebiscite versus two-vote plebiscite. Should the question be limited to the options that will end the territorial status? Should the “Commonwealth” territorial option be included? Why? How? H.R. 2499 was the first plan to establish a two-vote plebiscite. Basically, it asked the Americans of Puerto Rico to first vote on whether to keep the current “Commonwealth” status or to reject it. If rejected—and most voters would have—the second part of the plebiscite asked the Americans of the island territory to vote for a permanent, non-territorial option: statehood, independence, or “free association.”

Defining the possible options has become as controversial as the underlying status problem itself. The reason is that when local parties are allowed to define what their status options mean, some are honest and some are not. The PPD pretends to define a valid option when it speaks of “enhanced Commonwealth,” but the fact remains that enhancement of the current territorial status does not change the status. In fact, the so-called “Commonwealth” status (i.e. Puerto Rico Federal Relations Act) is an enhancement of the traditional American territorial status. Culminating with President H.W. Bush’s executive order instructing federal departments to “treat Puerto Rico as if it were a state,” the enhancement of the traditional American territorial model began a long time ago and included the granting of American citizenship, an elected executive- and legislative branch, a judicial branch, a locally written constitution, and the establishment of a quasi-autonomous local structure of governance. In fact, the sustenance of this enhancement has been the idea of parity pursued by both the PNP and the PPD over the past 60 years since the creation of the Estado Libre Asociado (Free Associated State, ELA, or “Commonwealth”). Though pursued by both major parties, “parity” was the same mean to get to two very different goals. For the PPD, “parity” is a vehicle of “enhancement.” For the PNP, “parity” is a vehicle for “equality.” The PPD plan protects the status quo. The PNP plan seeks to change it.

For their parts, the PNP and PIP continue to tell the people of Puerto Rico the truth about their options. Statehood in essence means equality in responsibilities and benefits under the American Constitution. Independence would liberate Puerto Rico of it colonial past, but it would also separate it from its American citizenship. “Enhanced Commonwealth” seeks to create the Independent Republic of the State of Puerto Rico—equivalent to Estado Libre Asociado on steroids! Under this “status,” Puerto Rico would have the power to veto federal legislation, continue to receive federal funds, retain American citizenship for all Puerto Ricans born in the island, participate in international bodies (beyond the Olympics), and not pay federal taxes.

In all likelihood, the next plebiscite will include the “Commonwealth” status as an option somewhere. The real question is, “where and under what terms?”

The only permanent, non-territorial options for Puerto Rico and its American inhabitants are statehood or independence (with or without a free association treaty). Even if the statehood option has to compete with two forms of independence on a ballot, it will prevail because 97 percent of Americans in Puerto Rico wish to keep their American citizenship in perpetuity for themselves, their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren! The status problem is one of citizenship. American union under statehood or “Commonwealth” versus Puerto Rican independence, with or without association. In the former options, Puerto Ricans secure their American citizenship, and in the latter two they renounce it. With statehood, Puerto Rico’s American citizenship would be elevated to equal footing with that of the other states; under “Commonwealth,” Puerto Rico’s American citizenship would continue to be second-class in nature and the status problem would remain conspicuously latent. Independence would see the American presence and citizenship in the island disappear.

The central element in the status problem is the PPD and what it can live with. Unfortunately, to the PPD the answer is “nothing but the status quo.” The PPD is not interested in solving the status problem. After all, the PPD is the status quo; it is a matter of political existence. Puerto Rico’s status problem seems to be complicated thanks to the shenanigans of the PPD. In reality, Puerto Rico’s status problem is a decision away from ending. The decision is about whether the Americans of Puerto Rico wish to continue to be Americans with all benefits and responsibilities or Puerto Ricans without American citizenship and/or association. The upcoming plebiscite will be crucial to answering this question, but the chosen mechanism has to be straightforward with the Americans of Puerto Rico. If it is not, then the status problem will continue to rage into the future and to the dire detriment of a people and their American Dream.

The 3% Way in Puerto Rico’s Status

In Citizenship Equality, Commentary and Analysis, Enemies of Equality, H.R. 2499, Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico Democracy Act, Puerto Rico Independence, Puerto Rico Statehood, Self-Determination, Tennessee Plan, The Big Lie: The PPD's "Commonwealth" on December 18, 2010 at 9:53 PM
What a Minute Party does with an Oversized Voice

The President of the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP), Rubén Berríos, has proposed a “new” way forward on the status. In consultation with the presidents of the two major status parties in Puerto Rico—Gov. Luis Fortuño of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party (PNP) and Rep. Hector Ferrer of the pro-“Commonwealth” Popular Democratic Party—Berríos seeks to set up a new, three-step mechanism.

The first step, would force the federal government’s hand with a yes-or-no vote in which the Americans of Puerto Rico would ask for a status that is “plainly democratic, not colonial and not territorial.” Then, on the second step, which would occur on the same day of the first vote, the Puerto Rican electorate would vote on the process for solving the status, either a plebiscite (direct vote) or a constitutional assembly (delegated vote). Finally, in the third step, if the plebiscite form wins, the people of Puerto Rico would exercise its right to a direct vote on status, but if the constitutional assembly were to garner the most votes, then the Puerto Rico legislature would be required to vote by a three-fourths supermajority and “in consultation with the diverse promoters of said procedure” (Guess who? The PIP and the PPD) to authorize said constitutional convention. Further, if the legislature does not meet the three-fourths threshold, then it would be up to the next legislature (in 2013) to authorize the constitutional assembly—but only with a simple majority needed.

Recap: 1) pressure the feds with near Puerto Rican unanimity on the status; 2) let the Puerto Rican electorate decide between a direct vote plebiscite and a delegated constitutional assembly; and 3) force the current Puerto Rico legislature to convoke a constitutional assembly through a super majority vote, or the next legislative assembly with a simple majority vote.

The plan is simple and straightforward, and (primarily) unnecessary!

The independence movement in Puerto Rico seems at odds with reality. It commands the support of less than 3 percent of the population and yet it purports to be a power broker. The PIP wants a veto power despite its minute stature in Puerto Rican politics. Because it is such a minor party, with no hope for victory, it must stay “relevant” in some way. Let us remember their strategy is founded on inaction, and while the movement’s aggressive tactics have changed, their powerful rhetoric on behalf of self-determination is now a fading caricature of what it once was. It is the way of Puerto Rican independence. If they cannot win on a straightforward statehood-versus-independence direct-vote plebiscite, then they will continue to develop a way to change the plan.

Degradation of Self-Determination Rhetoric

The first step of the PIP-plan seeks to magnify the current level of consensus in the American island on the current territorial status and its unacceptability. Through a yes-or-no vote, as expected, the American citizens of Puerto Rico would attest to their displeasure with the current unequal status; simultaneously, the electorate would cast its votes in favor of a direct plebiscite or a delegated constitutional convention as the mechanism for solving the status.

The fact that the people of Puerto Rico are being asked to “choose” between doing something themselves and electing somebody else to do it for them should be questioned endlessly, particularly as it relates to the status. A direct vote is the most democratic tool available to the people. The PIP and Ruben Berríos know this; after all, their entire plan rests on the direct vote of the citizens in the territory. Nevertheless, this plan is an optical illusion because while it engages citizens in the direct election of ideas, those ideas steer the citizens’ votes to the establishment of mechanisms diametrically opposed to the democratic principle of direct vote, mainly the “constitutional convention” idea.

The main problem with the idea of a constitutional convention is the notion rests on a flawed premise: the future of the status problem is complex and the people need experts to deal with it. The idea also assumes the convention delegates would be there to “create” a solution, when in fact the solutions are on the U.S. Constitution and are immutable by a Puerto Rican Constitutional Convention. The (simple) solutions constitutionally mandated are statehood or independence, if neither, then perpetual territorial/colonial “Commonwealth” status with no “enhancements” under the U.S. Constitution’s Territorial Clause.

The third and last step of the PIP-sponsored plan is a gratuitous slap in the PNP face. In 2008, the pro-statehood PNP took control of the legislature with supermajorities in the House and Senate chambers. Therefore, in essence, the third step is a trigger meant to override the PNP-led legislature and completely marginalize La Fortaleza. The PNP should never consent to taking away from the people the direct vote of the plebiscite and replace it with a ridiculous constitutional circus. Note, reader, that this part of the plan rests on the hope that the PNP will lose many seats in the 2012 elections because without a massive electoral change there cannot be a simple majority vote in 2013 to establish a constitutional convention, which the electorate presumably would have supported though a direct vote.

If the PIP wants to use its oversized voice to continue territorialism and colonialism by default in Puerto Rico then let it, but if it wants to move Puerto Rico beyond second-class citizenship then it must begin to promote the true answer to the status issue: a direct vote by the people on a statehood-versus-independence plebiscite. No more, no less.

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