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Parity versus Equality

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 12, 2010 at 3:27 PM
Why Parity Cannot Achieve Citizenship Equality … But Can Undermine It

 

“Parity” is a term well known to the American citizens of Puerto Rico. Simply put, parity is a principle by which politicians of both major parties in Puerto Rico (i.e. the pro-statehood New Progressive Party and the pro-status quo Popular Democratic Party) avoid pushing a solution to Puerto Rico’s status while simultaneously pushing for more “state-like” treatment of Puerto Rico in federally sanctioned programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP)–to name but a few–that are currently applied to Puerto Rico in an inequitable manner as compared to the states. Parity applies to just about any federal policy question, from education and healthcare to crime prevention and business ownership and everything in between.

On of the latest parity binges came on the hills of the Healthcare Reform debates in Congress.

In a public letter straightforwardly entitled “Parity for Puerto Rico: Memorandum of Agreement,” (MoA) Gov. Fortuño and a wide coalition of relevant leaders in the territory (the PPD’s irrelevant legislative leadership included) agreed to a “common position to present to policymakers in Washington as they debate national health care reform.”

The MoA starts from one “basic proposition[:] Puerto Rico must be brought into the healthcare system on an equal basis with every other American jurisdiction.” It further claims that “it makes no sense from a strictly policy perspective to have a system where the same U.S. citizens who receive healthcare impaired by lesser federal funding while residing in Puerto Rico can access better-funded care merely by moving to [one] of the states.” The MoA also points to an Obama “pledge” to include Puerto Rico without “inequalities in treatment,” and proceeds to highlight some of the most egregious disparities in Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIP—with the added bonus of looking at what will happen in the area of Medicare Advantage, the so-called Part D.

Here are the charges, albeit quickly (look below in Must-Axxess Files for the complete MoA):

  • Medicaid is flawed in two ways because Congress has capped not only its share of the costs in terms of percentage but also in terms of absolute dollars. In other words, based on per capita income, Puerto Rico would be entitled to a federal contribution of 83 percent toward the costs, but Congress has capped the federal share at 50 percent for Puerto Rico and capped the absolute dollar amount, which today represents only 17 percent of the total burden of the costs of Medicaid (basically flip-flopping federal-statal burdens).
  • Medicare treats Americans in Puerto Rico and their healthcare providers differently in four ways: 1) no automatic enrollment in Part B; 2) unfair payments under the Disproportionate Share Hospital; 3) limited block grant funding of Part D, instead of need-based funding; and 4) lower reimbursement payments for in-patient hospital services.
  • SCHIP for the Americans in Puerto Rico is based on a “limited set-aside basis” and not on the real number of low-income children.
  • The Bonus: Part D. Because of the aforementioned inequalities, Puerto Ricans have enrolled in Part D plans in higher proportions, so any changes by Congress to the plan will affect the Americans on the territory disproportionally.

Gov. Luis Fortuño’s pro-statehood PNP likes parity because it seems to seal the fate of Puerto Rico as the 51st state through the implementation of “state-like” treatment for the island territory; the Enemies of Equality like parity because it keeps the voters “happy” and they do not have to mess with the pesky details of having citizenship inequality or defining their status preference.

Both parties’ perspectives are wrong.

Nothing will keep the PPD’s farce from being exposed. The very fact that we are having to pursue “parity” shatters their argument of an equal Puerto Rico. But they are not interested in hidding the inequality; they just want to stall the inevitable changes for as long as they may.

It is because of the stalling nature of parity that the PNP cannot continue to indulge in the parity scheme; it feeds every notion that the Enemies of Equality through the PPD seem to support—mainly the “Best of Both Worlds” notion is indeed possible–it isn’t. In fact, there is no threat that the Congressional cow will give up all of its milk to Puerto Rico without full integration, which in and of itself points to the futility of “parity.”

Let the rest of us, subsequently, not confuse “Parity” with “Equality,” for doing so amounts to an odd principle of “United but Unequal.”

This is not to ignore the very real inequalities spelled out above, in the MoA, and in many other sources, but parity is not the answer. As stated before, the idea of parity cuts across every policy area. So, are supporters of citizenship equality supposed to believe that piecemeal changes through parity in different policy areas over many years can achieve the universal parity we all know a vote on self-determination can achieve immediately?

The idea of universal parity includes within it essential aspects of Puerto Rico’s inequality that are not covered under the current vision of parity, which is the scaffolding of the MoA and many other issue-specific parity campaigns. Parity as we know it under those terms cannot provide for the democratic and civil injustices that occur outside of the year-to-year budget talks or the considerations of this or that federal programs on the territory because it ignores the underlying constitutional premise: Puerto Rico is not equal; therefore, Congress can treat it as such.

It is understandable why the PPD and the Enemies of Equality would love to continue on the parity binge, halving inequality perpetually without providing for a complete end to it. Nevertheless, for the PNP and all supporters of citizenship equality, the idea of parity ought to be anathema to their beliefs and goals of full citizenship equality.

Instead, said supporters should focus their energies on exposing all the inequalities that exist, not just the policy-related ones, which are simply products of Puerto Rico’s constitutional inequality. Facts are facts, but how we use those facts will have tremendously serious repercussions on the lives of four million American citizens in Puerto Rico. Let the Enemies of Equality pursue parity if they want to, but let us not fall into their trap.

Let us fight for Universal Parity through self-determination.

Obstructionist Challenges to Self-Determination Appear, Again

In Enemies of Equality, The Big Lie: The PPD's "Commonwealth", Self-Determination, Commentary and Analysis, Citizenship Equality, Puerto Rico Democracy Act, Puerto Rico, Tennessee Plan, H.R. 2499 on July 29, 2010 at 8:23 PM
How the American Citizens of Puerto Rico Will Overcome Inequality and Be Free At Last in the Face of an Ostensibly Impotent PNP

 

On July 29, El Nuevo Dia’s  Washington correspondent, Jose A. Delgado, blogged an update on H.R. 2499 and the goings-on of status politics in both Washington and San Juan. Here is a rough, paraphrased translation of the original (Spanish blog), followed by some commentary about the issues raised in it.

[It starts by noting that the U.S. Senate is heading out for its summer recess without the Energy and Natural Resources Committee having decided what to do with H.R. 2499—“it is not a secret that the bill will not advance and will remain hanging in committee,” states Delgado.

The chairman (Sen. Bingaman, D-NM) and ranking member (Sen. Murkowski, R-AK) still have to have a “formal conversation” to determine if it is possible to approve legislation after the November elections—a la Lame Duck—that would  indicate which status solutions Puerto Rico can have that would be constitutionally valid.

Delgado quickly notes, “Nobody seems to be in a hurry about this issue.” That includes the New Progressive Party (PNP-statehood), which has proposed, maybe, having a plebiscite in 2011 because of Gov. Fortuño’s ostensibly unpopular local policies. Get this, apparently, a few days ago former pro-statehood governor of Puerto Rico, Pedro Roselló, warned Gov. Fortuño that now was not the time to pursue a status plebiscite because any anger the public may have over the pro-statehood-led government’s policies could “adversely affect the statehood movement” in the polls. (Apparently, this is what Mr. Roselló learned from the “Great Misunderestimation of ‘93”—but so did the vast majority of status-tuned mind, except here at La Chuleta Congelá’.)

Gov. Fortuño, however, has voiced his concerns over the slow process to the White House, which promptly retorted that Puerto Rico would have to wait until October when the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status report is due.

Delgado finishes with the observation that there are those who doubt—most notably the U.S. Senate—that 2011 will be the “appropriate” time for Gov. Fortuño and the PNP legislature to propose a local plebiscite. Nevertheless, he continues, others think it will be very difficult for the PNP—which has the executive and the legislative branches under their firm control—to explain to its fiercely pro-statehood base how their party leadership missed an opportunity to order a status plebiscite.]

Now, let us cross some T’s and dot some I’s. The U.S. Senate continues to ignore Puerto Rico and the citizenship inequality of millions of American citizens; that much is crystal clear. After 112 years, are we to accept that two U.S. senators still have to have a “formal conversation” to discuss the possibility of passing a bill after the mid-term elections with the purpose of establishing which options Puerto Rico can have? It appears so, but if we, as Mr. Delgado does, understand the U.S. Senate is the reason Puerto Rico has never gotten a congressionally approved plebiscite—ever—then is should come as no surprise.

However, the issue here is the substance of the blog’s last paragraph, which notes that some doubt whether 2011 will see a local plebiscite and, most intriguingly, how others ask how the PNP will explain itself to its statehood base. That is a good question.

The PNP, today, enjoys a supermajority in the house and senate of Puerto Rico. The party has control of the resident commissioner’s office in Washington and the governorship of the island. Above all, the party enjoys the protection of a majority-PNP Supreme Court of Puerto Rico ready to reject nonsense applications of the law meant to derail any possible resolution to the status issue like in 1998 when, against the ropes, the Enemies of Equality introduced the island territory to “None of the Above” with the blessing of a misguided court.

So, how did the PNP miss out, again? According to Delgado (and, perhaps, common wisdom), Gov. Fortuño’s conservative politics have engendered anger amongst the people of Puerto Rico, which has a third of its workforce in the public sector. Front and center is Gov. Fortuño’s decision to cut government employment to the tune of 10 percent by the end of 2010 in an attempt to reduce considerably Puerto Rico’s projected $2 billion deficit. There are other measures in the pipeline attempting to alleviate the territory’s budget woes, but this is the big one.

In addition, the rebellion of thousands of students across Puerto Rican universities has not been favorable to the party in charge. The ill-conceived picketing was supported by the marginal independent movement in Puerto Rico, the colonialist PPD party, and the more formidable independence movements sponsored by presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Fidel “Cuba and Puerto Rico Are Wings of the Same Bird” Castro of Cuba. Moreover, weighing in is the national agenda in Washington, D.C.

When is any of this NOT going to be happening?

When will local politics be under control and the people’s temperament “ready”? When, will somebody answer, will Chavez and Castro see it in their interest not to interfere in American domestic policy-making in Puerto Rico? Moreover, when–this question of the utmost importance–will the Popular Democratic Party stop obstructing Puerto Rican sovereignty and citizenship equality?

The answer to all is “NEVER!”

There is no organized conspiracy here. What is going on here is stalling of the highest magnitude. But why and to what end? Here is a secret for the readers of La Chuleta Congelá’: everybody knee-deep in the status issue knows Puerto Rico will be a state of the United States.

What is most irritating to those who support fair self-determination for Puerto Rico is that, now, even the statehood party leadership is waffling about what needs to be done.

Here is the bottom line:

Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States, no more, no less. Period. It is not equal and its American citizens withstand the worst of this inequality every day of their poverty-stricken lives. They ARE Americans in body and soul and proud of the land that gave them forth. Period. The island has a tiny independence movement with a legitimate, sovereignty-granting option that needs to be represented in the final plebiscite, but roughly, 97 percent of Puerto Ricans in the island are not willing to negotiate American citizenship in any final status, so there goes independence. Period. The 97 percent of Puerto Ricans that does not support independence divides about evenly between the two largest parties in Puerto Rico. One party, the New Progressive Party, claims statehood as its solution to the status issue and an end to citizenship inequality in Puerto Rico; the other party, the Popular Democratic Party, claims everything and supports nothing, by default its leadership and its supporters (preposterously) propose the unequal current status as the final solution Puerto Rico. Period. The Congress has voiced support for Puerto Rican self-determination even though it has never made it official through legislation, and many presidential administrations have supported self-determination for Puerto Rico—most presidents since Ford supporting statehood outright. Period!

The only end-of-sentence ellipsis here is the Puerto Ricans on the territory who continue to believe in an imaginary (unconstitutional) status arrangement that will secure their American citizenship without having to assume the rightful duties that go along with that highest of privileges. If citizenship equality is to materialize in the island territory, if all Americans want to get out of the status quagmire, it is time to get serious about the issue and invoke the only solution available: a statehood-versus-independence plebiscite. Let us end the perpetual economic, political, and democratic stagnation palpable in Puerto Rico.

The path is there; it just needs to be taken. The PNP can provide the vehicle.

July 25: 1898 and 1952

In Enemies of Equality, The Big Lie: The PPD's "Commonwealth", Self-Determination, Commentary and Analysis, Citizenship Equality, Puerto Rico Democracy Act, Puerto Rico, Tennessee Plan, H.R. 2499 on July 25, 2010 at 12:19 AM
How an American Military Invasion was Outdone by a Puerto Rican Coup d’Esprit

 

“We have not come to make war upon the people of a country that for centuries has been oppressed, but, on the contrary, to bring you protection, not only to yourselves but to your property, to promote your prosperity, and to bestow upon you the immunities and blessings of the liberal institutions of our government,” so proclaimed U.S. General Nelson A. Miles in 1898 upon invading the Spanish territory of Puerto Rico 112 years ago today.

On July 25, 1952, ominously 54 years to the day after Gen. Miles’s arrival in Guanica (forebodingly the same place where Juan Ponce de Leon stepped onto the island back in 1508), the “Commonwealth” of Puerto Rico was established with much fanfare as a “compact” between the Puerto Rico and the United States of America.

Ever since, Puerto Rico has been held as a territory of the United States under the plenary authority of Congress, unequal in citizenship, and without the most basic rights in a democratic society under the so-called “Commonwealth.” On that day in 1952, the Popular Democratic Party (PPD) perpetrated a coup d’esprit (golpe de mente) on the Americans living in Puerto Rico and has maintained it for the past 58 years, only getting better at its tricks and lies with the passage of time.

Politically unable to decide which side of permanent sovereignty they wished to pursue, i.e. statehood or independence, Puerto Ricans were sold the idea that would come to be known as “The Best of Both Worlds.” What they did not know was that in the process of achieving local self-governance, they were agreeing to remain–by a democratic vote!–a colony, with unequal protection of self and property, less prosperity, and limited immunities and blessings of liberal governance.

Of Gen. Miles’s four promises (i.e. protection-, prosperity-, immunities-, and blessings of liberal governance), only one can truly be claimed to have been achieved: protection. Puerto Ricans, however, have contributed much blood and sacrifice in the name of the protection of the United States. The prosperity that was promised can only be achieved through citizenship equality, and the immunities and blessings of liberal governance will surely follow. If Gen. Miles’s promissory note on behalf of the American people to those of Puerto Rico is to be redeemed after 112 years of colonial rule, then it follows that the only bank that will cash it is the Bank of Self-Determination.

July 25 should not be a celebration of the inherent  institution of “separate and unequal” found in the Territorial Clause of the U.S. Constitution and its embodiment through Puerto Rico’s “Commonwealth,” but a mourning of Puerto Rico’s sovereign capacities and the degeneration of the Puerto Rican democratic mind into a mental paradigm of  dependence and uncertainty. Nothing that has happened in Puerto Rico on July 25, of whatever century, has fared well for Puerto Rico. Let us, then, hope that when Puerto Ricans proclaim their permanent status choice it happens on July 25, so that day does not live on in Puerto Rican infamy.

 

 

Self-Determination Supporters Demand a Real Vote for Puerto Rico

In Enemies of Equality, The Big Lie: The PPD's "Commonwealth", Self-Determination, Commentary and Analysis, Citizenship Equality, Puerto Rico Democracy Act, Puerto Rico, Tennessee Plan, H.R. 2499 on July 16, 2010 at 9:22 PM
Independentistas and Estadistas Want to End Puerto Rico’s Territorial Status, NOW!

 

Since the Spanish Empire made its official claim over Puerto Rico on August 12, 1508 through the invasion by Juan Ponce de Leon and his small army, the Caribbean island has not known true sovereign autonomy. Today, 112 years after the July 25, 1898 invasion by American Gen. Nelson A. Miles and his 16,000 troops, Puerto Ricans enjoy a type of autonomy that is less than that granted by the Spanish during the last months of control over its Caribbean province. All told, the territory of Puerto Rico has had 142 Spanish-appointed governors, 27 American-appointed governors, 10 Puerto Rican-elected governors for a total of 179 governors in 502 years. Not one of them was governor of a politically sovereign Puerto Rico.

The idea of self-determination does not call upon Puerto Ricans to vote any specific status; instead, self-determination means that the people of Puerto Rico have a right to end their 500 years of subservient governance. However Puerto Ricans choose to end this longest of territorial streaks, it is legally certain that their choices under the current constitutional regime (i.e. the American constitution) are limited to statehood, independence, or remaining a colonial territory.

La Palma

New Progressive Party (PNP-Statehood)

In the American framework of republican government, there is no room for any other political entity such as an enhanced “Commonwealth.” No doubt, an “enhanced Commonwealth” can exist, but it may not be called sovereign, permanent, or equal. Actually, anything constructed for Puerto Rico out of the carcass of “Commonwealth,” enhanced or otherwise, should be viewed as an affront to democratic progress and a promulgation of the separate-but-equal standards of a different generation.

In Puerto Rico, there are three parties and two of the three represent constitutionally viable, permanent, non-territorial options: statehood and independence. The statehood party represents roughly 50 percent of the electorate and independence roughly 3 percent. Therefore, a majority of Puerto Ricans does not consent to the territorial status, which they voted for in 1952. When instituted in 1952, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico was designed to be a temporary status until the Puerto Rican people had mature as a body politic through the responsibilities inherent in local self-governance, but with the passage of time and the gaining of political victories the “Commonwealth”-sponsoring party–the PPD–has found it difficult to relinquish its power. In fact, the PPD has moved beyond merely defending the “Commonwealth” through an elaborate, ever morphing campaign for “The Best of Both Worlds.”

It is time for the Puerto Rican people to move forward on a bill currently sitting in their House (as H.R. 2497) and Senate (as S.B. 1407).

Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP)

“An act to authorize the holding of a plebiscite whereby the People of Puerto Rico shall be able to express their will to resolve the issue of their final political status from among non-colonial, non-territorial formulas recognized and accepted under the Constitution of the United States, and for other purposes.”

This piece of legislation spells out the end of the Estado Libre Asociado (as the misnomer of “Commonwealth” has been called and characterized since 1952 in Spanish), a lie that has captured the hearts and minds of many honest Puerto Ricans. The Popular Democratic Party, after all, is the product of true nation-loving American citizens who consistently qualify American citizenship as the most important aspect to their vote for a status, but the leadership of said party has usurped everything the People of Puerto Rico gave them some 58 years ago.

The leadership of the PPD has maliciously utilized the political distances between San Juan and Washington and the 50 state capitals (compounded by the differences not in political processes but political ideology) to portray the dependent territory as a sort of “Partner” of the United States of America and a member of the international community. The charade is up for the PPD leadership!

Now, the PPD is responsible not for defining the other status options (principally the possibility of statehood) but for defining what it is it wants. What is the PPD selling Puerto Ricans? Is it, in fact, the current territorial status or an enhanced version thereof? If so, then the PPD leadership must provide a smoke-and-mirrors-free argument for why Puerto Ricans should renew the 1952 vote that gave the U.S. Congress moral authority to rule Puerto Rico under the Territorial Clause.

Popular Democratic Party (PPD-Territorial Status)

Puerto Ricans did not self-determine themselves out of self-determination in 1952; instead, they agreed to relinquish some of their democratic rights in the short-term while they developed a political decision on a permanent status. However, if Puerto Ricans are asked to choose from permanent options and, somehow, the current territorial status of “Commonwealth” (enhanced or otherwise) makes it onto the ballot with other permanent options, then the sum of said plebiscite will be a distorted view of status politics in Puerto Rico, which we can now appreciate after the 1993 and 1998 plebiscites.

It is time the PPD and its supporters (well-intentioned or not) decide whether they want Puerto Rico to be a Republic or an American state, and stop holding a majority of Americans in Puerto Rico in political status limbo. Self-determination supporters want a REAL vote to end the current territorial status. NOW!

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