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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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The Status: 2011

In Citizenship Equality, Commentary and Analysis, Enemies of Equality, H.R. 2499, Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico Democracy Act, Self-Determination, Tennessee Plan, The Big Lie: The PPD's "Commonwealth" on October 21, 2010 at 12:31 AM

H.R. 2499’s Failure in Congress and Its Success in Puerto Rico

Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi (D-PR) has confirmed to El Nuevo Dia that once the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico Status (Task Force) releases its report at the end of December, the territory’s New Progressive Party (PNP), pro-statehood government will begin the necessary work to carry out a local (not congressionally sanctioned) plebiscite, which means a vote could happen by mid-2011. During the roundtable with various Spanish-speaking newspapers and news agencies, Res. Comm. Pierluisi expressed his support for the White House’s work on the Puerto Rico status, although the administration postponed to December the release of the report, which was due in October. The territory’s sole (non-voting) representative also expressed his contentment with the administration’s reestablishment of its commitment to the status issue.

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)

Puerto Rico’s representative in Washington specifically said that “Once the White House recognizes the status options available to [Puerto Rico], we will be ready to carry out the next plebiscite in the island.”

A day before the Resident Commissioner’s remarks, President Obama (during his own press conference) restated his administration’s commitment to ending the citizenship inequality that exists in Puerto Rico. Although the President has also said that his principal focus is on the status of the territory, the Task Force has been charged with immediate economic development of the island—regardless of whether the status gets resolved or not.

The comments by Res. Comm. Pierluisi and the President are the latest in the status debate in the “H.R. 2499 Era.” The Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2009/10 (H.R. 2499) began as the most bipartisan effort on Puerto Rico’s status, only to see its Republican (and some Democratic) support in the House erode in the hours before the final vote in the lower house. It passed the House with a comfortable margin, but only after it came really close (four votes close) to capitulating to a motion to recommit, which would have sent it back to committee never to be seen again.

A year after having been introduced in the House, H.R. 2499 was handed to the Senate for consideration, where it was received by the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources with the usual senatorial disdain; the bill died before it arrived in the upper house—or at least once it entered the chamber, who knows? What we do know is that senators could not find “consensus” on the measure to move it out of committee and into the full senate.

Although Res. Comm. Pierluisi’s bill did not make to the President’s desk, the work that the House Committee on Natural Resources and many other devoted members of the chamber did on behalf of H.R. 2499’s passage cannot be understated. As such, the Resident Commissioner must walk a fine line between encouraging his New Progressive Party about a locally sanctioned status plebiscite, and keeping with the letter of the bill his peers did report out of the House (post-Foxx Amendment H.R. 2499). The reason is that the Resident Commissioner still has two more years in office because he is the only member with a four-year term, and he will need friends when he goes back.

This is a tough spot in which to be for Res. Comm. Pierluisi. After all, H.R. 2499 in its original form was a (just) stroke of genius. As introduced, the bill did three important things in the history of the “status”: 1) it separated the permanent, sovereign options (i.e. independence and statehood) from the non-permanent, territorial option of “Commonwealth”; 2) because of (1), it allowed the “Commonwealth” a chance to vie for continued existence through a democratic majority vote; and 3) because of (2), it placed an eight-year cycle on the “Commonwealth” status so that voters in Puerto Rico could only extend the status quo temporarily (because the territorial status cannot be permanent).

That was on May 19, 2009; a year later, however, things had changed—H.R. 2499 had changed. Although the bill surmounted many frivolous obstacles and underwent a few insignificant changes (e.g. Congress mandated bilingual ballots and put the financial burden of the plebiscite on Puerto Rico’s government), it lost its originality on the status question (and its likely solution) when the House adopted the Foxx Amendment. The effect of the amending motion upon the bill, arguably, might have made it viable and likely to succeed out of the House, but it turned it into a useless bill fit for recommittal—and even withdrawal in conspicuous protest.

Post-Foxx Amendment, H.R. 2499 became an instrument of perpetual obstruction because it now asked the Americans of Puerto Rico to first vote on whether they wanted to change the current (“Commonwealth”) territorial status, and then included the status quo in the second round of voting—you know, the round that was supposed to give Puerto Ricans a permanent solution. All that, with the added bonus of legitimizing the “Commonwealth” status once again as a possible permanent option.

Cynicism was not the only reason for the drastic change; instead, it was a combination of cynical congressional paternalism, ignorant political calculus, and ill-willed irrational policymaking at their best.

The prevailing argument against H.R. 2499 was that it was not “fair” because it separated the “Commonwealth” option from the statehood and independence options in a supposed attempt to “stack the deck” in favor of statehood. While it is true that under the original terms of H.R. 2499 Puerto Rico would have most likely been on track to statehood than to independence, the essential aspects of the status matter need not be ignored once that “conclusion” has been reach.

For example, whether statehood (or independence for that matter) “appears” like the likely “winner” upon the letter of the bill, we need not forget that the “status problem” is the “Commonwealth” status, and that any permanent option’s winning is what victory in the status problem looks like. Is that not what Congress, the President, all parties in Puerto Rico, the United Nations, Castro and Chavez all want? Why, then, should Congress mix two distinct status classes (i.e. permanent non-territorial and non-permanent territorial) in any plebiscite? A minority of Puerto Ricans cannot be allowed to hold the status issue hostage to progress. Concurrently, there should have been no problem with granting Puerto Rico’s “Commonwealth” supporters an opportunity to extend temporarily the territorial status if (and only if) they could garner a simple majority. Supporters of equality for the four million American citizens of Puerto Rico detest the idea of extending the territorial status any further, but given the fact that the only way that could happen was through a majority vote, we were satisfied that this was “the right way.”

H.R. 2499 in its original form might have failed in Congress, but the Puerto Rican electorate approved it long before that occurred. In fact, Governor Luis Fortuño and Res. Comm. Pierluisi campaigned on the plan; they won by the largest margin in Puerto Rico politics. Their slogan: “Every vote for the New Progressive Party is a vote for Statehood.”

Now, the Americans of Puerto Rico must accept the consequences of their stalled efforts for self-determination. A Congress that cannot pass a bill that will certify the permanent status options for Puerto Rico that most everybody understands are available (i.e. statehood and independence); a White House that insists on promoting territorial economic development to the dual detriment of equality and—ironically—true (democratic) economic development; an ever-growing series of political parties vying for their own (detached from constitutional reality) versions of a permanent status; and the vast majority of Americans in the states not having a clue as to what all of this means—all place the legislature of Puerto Rico in the unenviable position to take the lead in solving this problem, finally.

As such, the territory’s legislative chambers should implement their own recipe for status success; one bolder than the original Pierluisi bill. H.R. 2499 may not have had “consensus,” but it enjoyed an abundance of equity and moral fortitude. If the Popular Democratic Party (PPD) did not like H.R. 2499, it should like the legislature’s new plan even less. The plebiscite that will ultimately be carried out in Puerto Rico should not look like H.R. 2499. It ought to take out any concessions made to the enemies of equality, mainly the promotion and promulgation of the “Commonwealth” status as a viable permanent option.

Any plebiscite in which the people of Puerto Rico are asked to vote for legitimate, permanent, sovereign options should (and will) be welcomed by all sides; it just has to be done! H.R. 2499’s failure in Congress and the ostensibly weak-on-substance report expected from the Obama Administration’s Task Force should not deter supporters of self-determination in the Puerto Rico legislature from instituting what they think will, once and for all, rid Puerto Rico of its colonial history and pseudo-democratic “Commonwealth” status.

 

 

 

PNP, PIP, PPD, PPP, MUS … SOS!

In Citizenship Equality, Commentary and Analysis, Enemies of Equality, H.R. 2499, Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico Democracy Act, Self-Determination, Tennessee Plan, The Big Lie: The PPD's "Commonwealth" on October 17, 2010 at 12:57 AM
How Puerto Rico’s Territorial Status Has Gotten out of Congressional Control and What It Means for Citizenship Equality

The Americans of Puerto Rico still wait for a chance to vote between statehood and independence, Congress wants nothing to do with legislating on the matter until petition, the U.S. House votes against and for the “Commonwealth” status quo in the same bill, the U.S. Senate is simply not interested and says nothing, the White House wants to focus on economic development of the territory while ignoring the biggest (democratic and economic) stimulus offered by certainty and equality, the Americans in the states are misinformed about the most elemental points of the status question, and the political parties of the island territory continue to clamor for everything under the status sun—it is official: Puerto Rico’s status is out of control!

Statehood or Independence? How about "Commonwealth" or "Free-Association"? ... Congress?

To be sure, Puerto Rico’s status per se (i.e. constitutionally) has not changed. In 1898, Puerto Rico was a “colony,” by 1917 it was a “territory,” in 1952 it became a “Commonwealth,” and in 1998, when Puerto Ricans revoked the 1952 mandate for “Commonwealth” status, Puerto Rico returned to its colonial status. Moreover, through that century the only status alternative that continues to grow is statehood.

For all that can be said about Puerto Rico’s status, one has been a constant: the enemies of equality are relentless in their obstructionism. So much so that the U.S. Congress (with its limited attention span) has punted again on the status question and the unequal citizenship that results from it. Congress has no other option. It hides under the constitutional principle that one Congress cannot bind another Congress (other than through constitutional amendment) to deny a law that unequivocally states Puerto Rico’s sovereign status options (outside the Territorial Clause powers), which the readers of La Chuleta Congelá know are independence or statehood. Their defense is to continue to say that Puerto Rico already has “authority” to call forth a referendum on the matter.

When Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) offered her amendment to the Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2009/10 (H.R. 2499) ordering that Puerto Ricans be offered the “Commonwealth” status quo after (presumably) having voted against it in the first round of voting, supporters of self-determination knew they were not dealing with a reasonable adversary. Once a reasonable compromise, Puerto Rico’s (constitutionally temporary) territorial transition has morphed over the past six decades (both at the national and local level) into a sort of permanent thought experiment on political organization in which all “scientists” are offering their unique projections.

In Puerto Rico, there are now five political parties. One, for all purposes, remains irrelevant to solving Puerto Rico’s status ills; the PPP, Puerto Ricans for Puerto Rico, is a policy-only party, not a status-and-policy party, and enjoysmarginal support among voters in Puerto Rico. The New Progressive Party (PNP) advocates for statehood, and the Puerto Rico Independence Party (PIP) does so for independence; these are the only two constitutional options available to territories. The Popular Democratic Party (PPD) advocates for the “Commonwealth” status quo and now finds itself divided from within. The Movement for a Sovereign Union (MUS), will undoubtedly draw most of its support from members of the PPD who do not want to continue with the “Commonwealth” status and who want something more akin to Free-Association, which is independence with a treaty of association with the U.S.

On its face, the MUS appears to (and does) hurt the PPD the most because it threatens to decimate its ranks, but there are direct consequences for the supporters of statehood because—as far off as a plebiscite victory might be because the Americans of Puerto Rico do not want to lose their American citizenship—the MUS can have the same effect that the PPD has had on the ballot for the past 60-year period in the island.

The PPD depends heavily on the number of its ranks to “prove” to everybody else that it is a “legitimate” option. Thus, if the MUS achieves enough support for its status option of, basically, Free-Association, then it can vie for control of certain legislative spots in 2012. All that will happen with the hopes of appearing on any future plebiscite on status in Puerto Rico.

Those developments could be harmful to self-determination for the Americans of Puerto Rico if there is not a concerted effort to keep the status plebiscite as a two-option plebiscite. Whether it is the PPD on the ballot as an equal and permanent status option (which it cannot be), or any other (third) status option, the results will be the same: the current “Commonwealth” status will prevail by default. Coupled with the fact that Congress, once again, has refused to intervene and rule on the matter, the prospects of more territorialism by default ought to be rejected and fought against.

The idea of statehood—its core philosophy, its definition of the future, its constitutionality, its promise—rests on fact. Territories are not perpetual. Their sub-constitutional order ends the minute the people of said territory vote in a democratic plebiscite for an option that is equal in law, balanced in civil burden, and absolutely clear in democratic representation.

The Americans of the territory want to keep their American citizenship, and statehood is the only non-territorial option that will give them equality in citizenship and secure it in perpetuity. No other party in the island territory can affirm as much. With American citizenship in mind, the push for self-determination, which hereto has been the means for the statehood end, must hence become the end to the statehood means. In other words, instead of pushing the idea of self-determination, which has been accepted universally, let us now push for statehood. Under a statehood mentality, we need not think of a political party made up of individuals who cannot make up their minds vis-à-vis the status issue because even those voters have made up their minds that their American citizenship will not be compromised.

Self-determination for Puerto Rico is far from complete, but the fact that all parties involved (and of consequence) have thus far admitted that Puerto Rico can become an independent republic or a state of the union leaves supporters of statehood free to carry out the necessary policies. The principal policy of statehood-centered attack on the enemies of equality must be the approval of a two-option plebiscite: statehood versus independence. The independence option would cover all such forms of the status; thus, “free-association” would be covered under the independence definition because the notion of free-association does not change the constitutional reality that Puerto Rico would be a nation of Puerto Rican (not American) citizenship.

Let the plebiscite be about what we all know it is about: citizenship!

A statehood-versus-independence plebiscite will cut through the status bickering, and the endless posturing by the PPD and PIP about Puerto Rican “nationhood.” Let us put the measure on the ballot as a matter of citizenship and let them vote for their preference. Be it in the PIP, or the PPD, or the MUS, or the PPP, they all have their preference of citizenship. Those of the PNP have unequivocally stated their preference, now the rest must be pushed to make theirs known.

U.S. Senate Kills H.R. 2499, White House Delays Task Force on P.R.’s Status Report

In Citizenship Equality, Commentary and Analysis, Enemies of Equality, H.R. 2499, Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico Democracy Act, Self-Determination, Tennessee Plan, The Big Lie: The PPD's "Commonwealth" on October 12, 2010 at 4:05 PM
A Lesson on Territorialism and why Supporters of Self-Determination Clamor “TENNESSEE! TENNESSEE!”


Once again, the U.S. Senate refused to be a constructive partner in solving Puerto Rico’s unequal status. After months of claiming senators wanted to wait for the White House task force report at the end of October, Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), chairman of the senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee, informed the public that his colleagues could not reach a consensus on moving forward with Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi’s House-approved Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2009/10 (H.R. 2499).

What is there to know, senators?

Let us see:

  • The United States invaded Puerto Rico (a colony of the Empire of Spain) in 1898.
  • Since, Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States under the U.S. Congress’ plenary authority under the U.S. Constitution’s Territorial Clause.
  • Congress made all Puerto Ricans United States citizens in 1917 and in 1952 gave them autonomy to organize in a republican form of government under a constitution of their own writing (amended by Congress, of course).
  • After 1952, Puerto Rico remained a United States territory, now called a “Commonwealth” in English and a “Free Associated State” in Spanish—still not a state or an independent country, but an American colony where the citizens have second-class citizenship.
  • There have been three attempts at finishing the current unequal territorial status through a direct, democratic vote. Once in 1967, another in 1993, and yet another in 1998—all of them inconclusive for various reasons, none of which are legitimate reasons not to proceed with a final self-determination vote for citizenship equality.
  • The Americans of Puerto Rico still wait for a congressionally sanctioned plebiscite for a chance to vote for their future.

Facts are facts!

The United States Senate has been singularly instrumental in keeping the four million American citizens of the island territory unequal for 112 years. The Senate has never passed a bill giving Puerto Rico a clear path toward self-determination, while the U.S. House has, at the very least, engaged the political leadership of the territory in short debates about the status. The White House, through the Clinton-, W. Bush-, and Obama Administrations, has been involved in trying to build consensus among the key status factions in Puerto Rico on what the status alternatives mean to Puerto Rico and the U.S. On October 12, the Obama Administration signaled that it would give the President’s Taskforce on Puerto Rico’s Status more time (perhaps until December) to complete its report.

The White House’s decision, reported in El Nuevo Dia by Jose Delgado, also seems to include two key new pieces of information. The first is the notion that the Obama Administration is going to focus heavily on economic development in the American territory. The second, and most Obamaesque, is that  the new report will back away to more “neutral” ground assertions made on the first and second Taskforce reports about Puerto Rico’s true colonial status.

The 2005 and 2007 reports (see Must Axxess Files box, below), ordered originally by the Clinton Administration and concluded under the W. Bush Administration, inflamed the “Commonwealth” PPD Party because they asserted in no equivocal terms that the federal hold on the territory was absolute, so much so that the federal government could give Puerto Rico away to another foreign power with no reason whatsoever.

These not-so-new developments—this federal dance, if you will—is unworkable. This is a political process more than it is a problem. Supporters of Self-Determination cannot allow this to continue!

We have the federal house acting on well-intentioned but mingled bills to solve the unequal status of four million Americans. We have a federal senate that refuses to look at their fellow citizens in the face while, simultaneously, single-handedly denies them even the opportunity to exercise their most fundamental democratic right to self-determination. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a federal executive that seeks neutrality and consensus in that which can have neither the former nor the latter. In the words of a once-bold leader, it is time for Change. Another such political pioneer was a man by the name of George Lehleitner who, according to the University of Alaska’s statehood files, was a “New Orleans businessman who single-handedly convinced the Alaska Constitutional Convention to adopt the ‘Alaska-Tennessee Plan’ in order to lobby for statehood.”

The U.S. Constitution spells out the statehood and territorial processes, but in constitutionally short language:

New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new States shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.

The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.

Article IV, Section 3, Clause 1 & 2

Traditionally, Congress has filled the constitutional gaps through vigorous involvement in the constitutional management of territories, but not always. Since the original Thirteen Colonies (i.e. March 4, 1789 to Present), the territorial map of the United States has had over 100 variations, with as many flags to match an Age that was—long before it was named—Manifest Destiny.

Congress has never made a state. It simply manages territory under the auspices of the federal government, and when, and only when, certain population centers develop to a certain number and write a constitution that forms a republican democracy can they petition the federal government for statehood. That is the way the overwhelming majority of territories became states; of course, powerful interests did get involved in all statehood petitions, but that is not to say that the goal of statehood did not benefit most in the particular territory.

There are other ways.

California never had a “territorial status”; Congress carved it out of the unorganized territory acquired from Mexico after Californians instituted their own version of the Tennessee Plan. Congress organized the remaining territory as the Utah and New Mexico Territories. Texas was meant to be five states, but it was left as one. North Carolina gave up all of its land beyond its present-day western border to the federal government, which turned it into the Southwest Territory and later admitted it as the State of Tennessee—through the Tennessee Plan.

Why these niceties about the territorial process?

Because since 1796, when the Southwest Territory (also called the Territory of Tennessee) became the State of Tennessee four month after it instituted its namesake Plan, a series of other territories have successfully instituted their own bold plan for self-determination. Because today, the enemies of equality seek to portray Puerto Rico’s internal, democratic plebiscite process as one out of synch with the national traditions of statehood simply because Puerto Rico seeks to have Congress clarify the real options for its people through congressional action before the ballots are printed.

However, many in Congress—Doc Hastings their leader during the H.R. 2499 debate in the House—have argued that Puerto Rico does not need a congressional mandate before it carries a local plebiscite on status because they have done it before without congressional mandate; further, they argue, a congressional mandate would do two things that are incompatible with the traditional process: 1) it would put the Congress in front of the proper petition for statehood from the territory; and 2) it would indirectly “bind” Congress into accepting a vote for statehood that might result from a plurality of the votes cast (e.g. a 34 percent vote for statehood, 33 percent for independence, and a 33 percent for “Commonwealth”). This is the same class of congressional impotence that gave rise to the Tennessee Plan.

If the territory of Puerto Rico were anything like the territories that came before, the status issue would have been resolved long ago.

No other territory has ever had to weigh three or more options before petitioning for statehood. There are those for which Congress explicitly stated its intent to grant independence (i.e. Cuba, Philippines, and various post-WWII trusteeships), but in terms of territory acquired, organized, and kept, none has had a “Commonwealth” movement, though they might have had a weak independence movement, like the territory of Puerto Rico does. Congress, for over a century now, has inculcated a sense of perpetuity in the minds of the “Commonwealth” status supporters, and president after president has simply gone along.

Let us not doubt Puerto Rico’s current capacity allows it to fulfill the four traditional requirements imposed by Congress: 1) population; 2) republican form of government; 3) a written constitution; and 4) a petition for statehood. The last requirement, of course, has not happened, and it has much less to do with the aforementioned example of congressional voice approval for a Puerto Rican vote, and more to do with the lack of support for an actual law clearing the way for Puerto Rico’s exercise in self-determination.

What would the first unorganized territory of the United States–which later became the Northwest Territory, and even later the states of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin–look like had it been left as a territory for one hundred years before Congress acted on its management and advancement on behalf of the American people outside of the original Thirteen? What would the Louisiana Purchase have looked like as a permanent territory under the dubious status of Puerto Rican “Commonwealth”? What about the lands acquired from Mexico after 1848? What would most of the country look like?

After Tennessee instituted its Plan, seven other states successfully followed suit: Michigan, California, Oregon, Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas, and Alaska.

The territory of Puerto Rico is unique in this tradition, and not for its language or local culture, but because it has been mismanaged as a territory of the United States of America. Our American tradition of self-determination for the peoples of the territories has always worked, but sometimes some territories had to push harder than others did.

As George Lehleitner said as he concluded his argument for the Tennessee Plan à la Alaska:

You have already seen that it is NOT irregular. Nor is it illegal. For the very first Article of our Bill of Rights, you will recall, guarantees that ‘Congress shall make no law … prohibiting the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.’

In its very essence, the ‘Tennessee Plan’ is a forthright and logical form in which to petition the Government for the redress of a monstrous grievance. Because the grievance is real and stubborn, the petition for its correction must be vigorous and dramatic. For these reasons the ‘Tennessee Plan’ has ALWAYS succeeded in the past.

For the Americans of Puerto Rico, their most “vigorous and dramatic” move should be preceded by the equally bold move of passing H.R. 2497 and S.B. 1407 (see Must Axxess Files box, below) in the Puerto Rico legislature. By forcing a vote between statehood and independence, Puerto Rico will be able to present a petition for statehood to the U.S. Congress. After that, in the name of citizenship equality, “TENNESSEE, TENNESSEE, TENNESSEE!”


Soberanistas versus Autonomistas within the PPD

In Citizenship Equality, Commentary and Analysis, Enemies of Equality, H.R. 2499, Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico Democracy Act, Self-Determination, Tennessee Plan, The Big Lie: The PPD's "Commonwealth" on August 30, 2010 at 6:10 PM
Forthcoming Schism Presents Existential Threat to the “Commonwealth” Party

 

On August 2, La Chuleta Congelá’ commented on the feud that occurred between state senator Antonio Fas-Alzamora and state representative Jorge Colberg-Toro as the Popular Democratic Party leadership and membership were trying to compose the party’s platform on the various policy problems facing the island-territory. The Fas-Alzamora vs. Colberg-Toro dispute, we stated, is illustrative of a forthcoming schism in the PPD; a divide that will finally bring down the curtain on the almost-sixty-years-old farce they named the “Commonwealth” status.

Today, we bring you more up-to-date information on the continuing battle between the two camps represented by Fas-Alzamora and Colberg-Toro: Soberanistas and Autonomistas (respectively).

Let us, first, get some facts straight:

The Autonomistas represent what the Popular Democratic Party in Puerto Rico has always wanted since the founding of the “Commonwealth”: unequal territorial status with more local autonomy (without describing any real constitutionally viable status option). They are the so-called establishment wing of the party. The Soberanistas represent a growing movement within the party that seeks to gain international autonomy for Puerto Rico through (real) sovereignty. Both wings wish to retain perpetual American citizenship, and claim not to want independence (per se) for Puerto Rico. There are two “pacts” circulating within the PPD. The first—the Autonomistas’—is the official (work-in-progress) party platform, el Pacto de Futuro (Pact for the Future), and Autonomista Colberg-Toro is in charge of its assembly; the second—you got it, the Soberanistas’—is the 52-page treatise put forth by Soberanista Fas-Alzamora, el Pacto de Asociación (Pact of Association) [see “Must-Axxess Files” box below].

Moreover, the only permanent and sovereign status forms the U.S. Constitution accepts (according to the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status 2005 and 2007 reports) are statehood and independence. Of these two, the only status option that guarantees permanent American citizenship—not only to the current inhabitants of the island, but also their children—is statehood. Whether an independent Republic of Puerto Rico wished to enter into what is called a Pact of Free Association is up to the presumed president and congress of Puerto Rico and their counterparts in the United States of America. Nevertheless, “Free Association” means independence first, association later—like some current pacts currently in force, mainly the pact between the U.S. and the Republic of Palau.

Now, with those facts in mind, let us proceed to the feud at hand.

The intra-party war began when Soberanista-in-Chief Fas-Alzamora raised his newly penned Pact of Association for consideration into the PPD’s platform, the Pact for the Future. The Fas-Alzamora Pact is the result of outside pressures asking for definitive answers from the PPD on what it considers an acceptable definition to its status option, one that is both sovereign and permanent. Soon after the Soberanistas presented their document, Autonomista state representative Jorge Colberg-Toro, a member of the PPD’s internal Junta de Gobierno and point man in the crafting of the party platform, came out predicting that the Pact of Association stood no chance of being accepted as part of the party platform because the document resembled the Palau treaty and did not guarantee American citizenship perpetually. Fas-Alzamora and the Soberanistas criticized Colberg-Toro and the Autonomistas and asserted that nobody could predict what the party would accept as part of the platform. The Soberanistas also claim their document does, in fact, protect perpetual American citizenship and incorporates the “17-point PPD Autonomista program on status.”

All that before the PPD met!

Finally, on August 17, the PPD met. As the party committee met, supporters of both camps rallied for their causes. One of the verbal shots fired from an Autonomista was captured by El Nuevo Dia: “The word ‘sovereignty’ is [in Puerto Rico] associated with ‘separation’ and we cannot separate from the United States. If [the Soberanistas] want sovereignty, they can go to Panama, the Dominican Republic, to Haiti and see what sovereignty does.” Harsh!

Another PPD member, this time a Soberanista, stated that “Sovereignty is not in play; we are 800,000 strong.” (An overwhelmingly telling exaggeration.)

Earlier that same morning, Fas-Alzamora delivered scathing criticism against his party’s secretary for federal affairs, Autonomista Jose A. Hernandez-Mayoral for dismissing the Soberanistas’ Pact of Association during the intra-party deliberations. Hernandez-Mayoral claimed that the Pact of Association was but a “plagiarized” version of the pact between the U.S. and the Republic of Palau. Fas-Alzamora was indignant and went on a rant about Hernandez-Mayoral’s political past and even characterized him as a coward who was offered the party leadership on a “silver platter” and “ran” at the thought of it. Ouch!

The PPD civil war has already escalated to threats of secession from the Soberanista side, threats of exile from the Autonomista side, and personal insults between the two—and by now the “meeting” was not even over. The five-hour, marathon-long meeting between the two camps shows that the argument over citizenship is an irreconcilable difference. It is important to note that a large portion of Independentistas (of course, independence supporters) in the island, who suffer from extremely low popular support, have allied with the PPD in the past, but now have began to talk about pulling all support for the party. They claim the PPD has reneged on the principles of autonomy and sovereignty that it has sold for the past 60 years.

Subsequently, after the meeting ended and the PPD party platform (el Pacto de Futuro) was voted on, the cleavage was even more pronounced.

Remember how Colberg-Toro, Hernandez-Mayoral, and the Autonomistas warned that the party would not accept the Soberanistas’ Pact of Association? Moreover, how Fas-Alzamora and the Soberanistas derided the Autonomistas’ prognostications? Well, turns out, now the Autonomistas claim that they have accepted and incorporated “most” of the Soberanistas’ Pact, while the Soberanistas now claim their plan was “wholly” ignored (as predicted by their enemies on the other side)! Both sides claim the other has not “read” their document.

What is going on? Each side is claiming that its respective “pact” incorporates the other side’s ideas; while the “other” side claims it was ignored. Well, both sides cannot be right, and it turns out they are both wrong!

One the one hand, the Soberanista Pact of Association is acceptable under the U.S. Constitution as a permanent, non-territorial, sovereign form of government for Puerto Rico—but it does not guarantee American citizenship in perpetuity—if it did, it would be incompatible with the U.S. Constitution. The Pact of Association only guarantees American citizenship to those who already have it and their children. However, after a generation or so, all persons born in Puerto Rico will be regarded Puerto Rican citizens. Therefore, the wishes of the American people in Puerto Rico for a permanent status solution that perpetually and universally guarantees American citizenship have been ignored by Fas-Alzamora and the Soberanista camp.

On the other hand, the Autonomista platform (the Pact for the Future) does guarantee American citizenship in perpetuity, but it does not afford the Americans of Puerto Rico an equal, sovereign status; instead, the Autonomista plan seeks to “enhance” the unequal “Commonwealth” status while simultaneously keeping the territorial (unequal) status quo.

While the intra-party war has remained low-key outside the Popular Democratic Party, there are some hints that a completely new Puerto Rican status political party may be in the works.

[It is important to note that Puerto Rico currently has four parties: three “status” parties and a (more recent) policy-only party. The Popular Democratic Party (PPD) is the party of the territorial “Commonwealth” status quo, the New Progressive Party (PNP) advocates for statehood, the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) advocates, of course, for independence, and the Puerto Ricans for Puerto Rico Party (PPP), the policy-only party, forgets about the status and delves into policy—mainly environmental policy. The PPP has been less successful than the PIP in getting the people’s vote.]

In a piece published in El Nuevo Dia, Nika Estrada Resto contends that a new Soberanista party is in the works. “We will have to wait,” states Resto in the opening line of her piece, “until later in the year to see if Puerto Rico will count with a Soberanista party. A real one.” The reason Resto talks about “a real one” is because for almost 60 years the PPD has campaigned for “sovereignty” and “autonomy” while achieving none. Their promises have been so forceful in the past that even some portions of the independence movement have formed ad hoc coalitions with said party, and this coalition has been instrumental to many island-wide PPD victories.

No more.

With the specter of a new status party forming out of the PPD’s own viscera, the Independentistas breaking the ad hoc coalitions of the past due to their dissatisfaction with broken promises, the Estadistas (statehooders) gaining more and more support as status politics reach critical mass, and Washington asking more detailed questions about the PPD’s status alternative, the PPD finds itself barraged from all sides.

The demise of the PPD and its notion of the territorial “Commonwealth” is always good news to supporters of self-determination, but the PNP better watch out!

Puerto Rico’s territorial status is different from all other past American territories (albeit those that became states) in one crucial way: Puerto Ricans have more than one option. In other words, when the territories of Oklahoma, Arizona, New Mexico, Alaska, and Hawaii (to name but a few) sought a change in their territorial status, all they had to do was vote, basically, “statehood: yes or no,” but in Puerto Rico there is also the possibility of independence and even though the party enjoys only marginal support, independence is a real option that offers Puerto Rican sovereignty—though it cannot guarantee American citizenship. Therefore, between statehood and independence Puerto Ricans have their future cut out for them; all they have to do now is make a choice.

However, and this is the reason the PNP must be careful, a plebiscite that counts three options (or more) will only help perpetuate the territorial “Commonwealth” status because it is very had to get a simple majority in support of one option; it is even harder to get the insanely high (75 percent plus) numbers that have been reached in the aforementioned territorial votes. For example, Hawaii voted 90 percent in favor of statehood, and Alaska was right up there too. Consequently, how does Puerto Rico get to those levels of support (not just for statehood) for any one option?

Simple. The plebiscite must be a two-option plebiscite: independence or statehood. But what about the Soberanistas who may want free association? Well, considering that free association is independence first with a pact later, they can vote for independence and later on (if their party were to win) they could ask the United States of America to sign a pact of free association with the Republic of Puerto Rico.

If, however, a plebiscite were to include three (or even four) options, then Puerto Rico can be guaranteed another one hundred years of colonial rule because the U.S. Congress will not accept any vote that predicts a potentially divided state of Puerto Rico with half of the population having vote against statehood. This would be good news for the PPD—whole or broken off. This was one of the Puerto Rico Democracy Act’s (H.R. 2499) most striking shortcomings. H.R. 2499 proposed a three-way race between statehood, independence, and free association. In other words, statehood was competing against two forms of independence!

In conclusion, whether a new status party is established in Puerto Rico or not, the demise of the PPD’s “Commonwealth” is inevitable because it cannot deliver what Americans in Puerto Rico want: perpetual and universal American citizenship. However, the party currently in control of all important levers of governance in Puerto Rico (the pro-statehood PNP) must make sure that the voters in Puerto Rico are aware of their choices. For example, do Puerto Ricans know that statehood is the only permanent status option that can protect their American citizenship? Do they understand that anything other than statehood is independence, which does not carry the rights, duties, and priviledges of American citizenship? Do they understand what “free association” means for their future?

No matter what happens within the PPD this year, the PNP must show leadership and determination in designing the right kind of plebiscite to settle the 112-year status question in Puerto Rico.

 

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