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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!”


Puerto Rico’s Status and Citizenship

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 July 31, 2010 at 1:34 PM
Why the Americans of Puerto Rico Want and Deserve Citizenship Equality

Here at La Chuleta Congelá’, we believe that there is but a one-way street for Puerto Rican self-determination and citizenship equality: a statehood-versus-independence plebiscite.

The Enemies of Equality in Puerto Rico must choose what it is they want as a perpetually sovereign form of government with full citizenship for the American citizens of Puerto Rico. No more can the unequal status quo be offered—enhanced or otherwise. Call it colonial or territorial; it is not equal.

The Puerto Rican people have made it clear that this is about citizenship—more specifically American citizenship. Overwhelmingly, 97 percent of Puerto Ricans consider American citizenship uncompromisable in any final status solution. The political status issue of Puerto Rico is a multiple-choice-, not an essay question.

Puerto Rico’s 65th Infantry Regiment in Korea. During this particular battle against a Chinese Division, they bravely conducted what would become the last documented bayonet charge in the history of the United States Army.

The essay question is the citizenship question, which Puerto Ricans have been filling out in blood for over a century in the name of American values. “Every good citizen makes his country’s honor his own,” said Andrew Jackson, “and cherishes it not only as precious but as sacred. He is willing to risk his life in its defence and is conscious that he gains protection while he gives it.

There should be no doubt as to the sacrifice the Puerto Rican people have endured in the name of the United States of America, and, yes, the territories, and their American citizenship. The United States invaded in 1898; in 1899, the “Porto Rico Regiment” was formed. The 65th Infantry Regiment (The Borinqueneers) went on to fight valiantly and honorably from World War I and World War II to Korea and Vietnam. Puerto Ricans stood side-by-side with the U.S. throughout the Cold War with no conflict, no rebellion, no Communism, just adherence to the Borinqueneer motto Honor et Fidelitas.

Moreover, the Puerto Rican devotion for America, for Puerto Rico, has led them into every modern conflict including the Gulf War, the Afghanistan War, and the Iraq War. Puerto Ricans have fought with other Americans from all states for over a century, concurrently enjoying but the morsel of second-class citizenship.

Those who propose Puerto Rico is not good enough to join the union of American states as equal partners in the democratic endeavor our founders began, refuse to see the overwhelmingly positive evidence because it frustrates their notion of what America or Puerto Rico is supposed to be and look like, but they ignore reality and deprive themselves of the very spirit on which this great experiment of self-government was founded. Those principles are spelled out in our founding documents. The U.S. Constitution (our highest legal authority) and our Declaration of Independence (our highest moral authority) give us our soul and conscience.

We the People of the United States,” begins our soul as written in the Constitution, “in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Such is the structure of our soul’s constitution; this is who Americans set out to be. The constructs of American citizenship are but the precious residue of the sweat, blood, tears, and treasury spent over the years by a great people whose conscience encapsulates that highest of American values: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

While the America of the Founding Fathers did exhibit a lack of moral fortitude when it came to the true equality of American citizenship, no one can deny that their own vision of “a more perfect union” was meant as a guiding light for future generations of Americans who could—and would—correct past wrongs. “The best principles of our republic secure to all its citizens a perfect equality of rights,” believed Thomas Jefferson and it is in this spirit that all Americans should answer Puerto Rico’s plight.

American citizenship is not about language, or ethnicity, or economics, or even local culture (none of them found anywhere in the founding documents) though these elements of culture have peripherally affected Americans’ perception of their citizenship throughout our history. American citizenship is defined by the overarching popular principles on which this country was actually founded: collective Union, -Justice, -Tranquility, -Defense, -Welfare, and -Liberty. Necessarily, the blessings of American government are sustained by the mantra that ALL are equal in their allotment.

And for the support of this Declaration,” stated the Founders as they closed their democratic proclamation, “with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

The four million American citizens of Puerto Rico have been deprived of their natural rights to self-determination. The nature of said rights is undisputable, and their insistence to end their 500 years of subservient government is but a Puerto Rican expression of the American values they have consecrated. To trick the Americans of Puerto Rico with political obstruction and to put before them “options” that amount to enhanced colonialism is to trick our founders and our founding principles and to cheat future generations out of the achievements of a more perfect union.

The Declaration of Independence speaks to what it means to be an American, but it also speaks of what Americans must do to rid themselves of bad governance:

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”

The “Commonwealth” system of government in Puerto Rico is an evil government that Puerto Ricans were tricked into back in 1952, but one they are no longer disposed to suffer. And while none of their tools for deposing this government will be in the arsenal of war, the tools that Puerto Ricans have at their disposal will prove much more morally assertive. As Mark Twain believed, “Citizenship is what makes a republic; monarchies can get along without it.”

It is time Puerto Ricans make a decision on a permanent, sovereign status option. They can choose to construct their own version of citizenship, or they can continue to expand the long course charted thus far, but what they cannot do is keep a majority of their American brothers and sisters bound to a colonial model of governance that only yields ambivalence and uncertainty from cradle to grave.

The overwhelmingly vast majority of Americans in Puerto Rico want a permanent, non-territorial status solution that protects their century-old effort in the name of American citizenship.

Puerto Ricans have earned that much.

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.

 

 

Former Colonial Governor Hernandez-Colon’s ‘Quicksand’ Argument

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 July 8, 2010 at 11:44 PM
The Spaniard’s Puffery in Support of a Constitutional Convention on Status

 

Former Governor Rafael Hernández-Colón’s last two columns on CaribbeanBusinessPR.com (see Part I; see Part II) show that the Spaniard has shifted his focus beyond H.R. 2499 because it is obvious that the colonial status party, the PPD Commonwealthers, have succeeded once again in derailing the process towards self-determination by attacking the possibility of statehood and refusing to define what their sovereign solution for Puerto Rico is.

Hernández-Colón’s two-part column begins by highlighting two questions on a CaribbeanBusiness-Gaither poll:

1. How important is it to resolve Puerto Rico’s territorial status?

2. What is Puerto Rico’s principal problem?

On the first question, the poll shows that 70 percent say it is important or very important to resolve the status issue. The governor also points to the 60 percent who think it is “urgent,” while simultaneously saying these figures have not changed in the past five years. Further, on the second question, the poll shows that less than 1 in 10 persons believe the status issue is “a principal problem,” bested by homicides, healthcare, and the economy. Now, there are natural questions that arise in view of these paradoxically tantalizing poll answers, and the former governor has his.

Hernández-Colón uses these ostensibly opposed answers to validate his belief that Puerto Ricans do not wake up in the morning “fearing or feeling oppression from the chains of colonialism as the ideological status junkies would have us believe.”

His conclusion is that “Puerto Ricans are not upset at the functionality of the (territorial) Commonwealth” but at the “ongoing conflict between varied aspirations of the Puerto Rican people as to the ultimate political destiny of the island,” which the governor qualifies as a “governing problem.” (All emphasis added)

The one thing the former governor has right is that Puerto Rico’s current territorial status is NOT the pinnacle of Puerto Rican sovereignty he and his party have sold to Puerto Ricans for almost 60 years.  It is the very “functionality” (or lack thereof) of the territorial structure known as the “Commonwealth” that the people of Puerto Rico do feel everyday of their lives and the consequences of such an uncertain, impotent mechanism.

As for the “ongoing conflict between varied aspirations,” let us not kid ourselves, governor, we all know that in Puerto Rico the real “fight” for status is between those who believe Puerto Rico should be sovereign through statehood and those of you who believe the current territorial, unequal “Commonwealth” status is just fine. Only less than 5 percent of Puerto Ricans want sovereignty for Puerto Rico through independence, but at least they have a real, constitutional option out there for the Puerto Rican people and they can vote for it if they so wish.

But Hernández-Colón and the PPD do not care about ending the current territorial status–they want to “enhance” it. Lipstick for that pig, anybody?

The “lipstick” in this case is a Constitutional Convention on Status. The foundation for his argument is that “status resolution devolves through a fatal political quicksand that requires more than a one-shot deal plebiscite expression to bring the matter to fruition” because (as he shockingly admits) “the losing parties will mount an all-out campaign–to them a matter of political life or death–to defeat the will of the people.”

This last comment on “losing parties” is not some sort of premonition or academic conclusion, as the governor attempts to portray it, but, instead, it is a page out of the PPD’s dirty playbook. The latest occasion for its deployment being the assault on Res. Comm. Pedro Pierluisi’s H.R. 2499, which sought to end the current unequal and subservient status of Puerto Rico. And it worked! It worked so well that it “defeated the will of the people” before they had a chance to express it. Brilliant! (see Foxx Amendment)

So, to recapitulate the governor’s stand, 1) direct democratic plebiscites are the wrong way to go; 2) losing parties will defeat the will of the people; 3) there is nothing wrong with unequal democratic and civil rights; and 4) we should enhance the very structure that supports the unequal status, even though this idea does not have the support of a majority of Puerto Ricans. Mix well, look up, look down, clap once, propose a Constitutional Convention on Status and Presto!

Rafael Hernández-Colón erroneously concludes that because past plebiscites have not worked to produce a clear choice from the Puerto Rican electorate it is time to move beyond the direct will of the people and on to a yet-to-be-described big “C” convention. Hernández-Colón has already told us that past and future plebiscites will not work because those who stand to lose will do anything to subvert the will of the people. When it comes to past plebiscites–the same plebiscites the enemies of equality claim are repudiations of statehood–what the former governor fails to mention is that all have been riddled with innocuous obstacles placed there by the party that stands to lose the most: Mr. Hernández-Colón’s PPD.

“In status politics,” Rafael Hernández-Colón believes, “anything goes.”

And he means it!

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