Posts Tagged ‘President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status’

Why U.S. Statehood for Puerto Rico is Inevitable

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

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

By Javier Arvelo-Cruz-Santana

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Language & Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Territorial Economics

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

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

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

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

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

‘Commonwealth’ & the PPD

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[11]    Ibid., 18.

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

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


Where is the Status Issue Headed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Enhanced Commonwealth” Rejected … AGAIN!

In Commentary and Analysis, Enemies of Equality, H.R. 2499, Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico Democracy Act, Puerto Rico Statehood, Self-Determination, The Big Lie: The PPD's "Commonwealth" on December 4, 2010 at 2:21 PM
Bingaman and Murkowski Send Letter to White House after Senate Gives up Chance to Take up H.R. 2499

In what should come as no surprise, Sen. Jeff Bingaman and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, chairman and ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee (which has jurisdiction over the American territories), officially sent a letter to the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status (Task Force) in which they say the federal government has “failed” to make Puerto Rico’s status options clear to voters of the American island-territory. In the missive, the committee’s top members made clear that the idea of an “enhanced Commonwealth” status is not constitutionally viable.

According to various reports, Bingaman and Murkowski have asked the Task Force to recognize only four status options: 1) the territorial “Commonwealth”; 2) statehood; 3) independence; and 4) independence in free association. With those viable status options on the table, the senators went further and asked the Task Force to unequivocally reject the Popular Democratic Party’s (PPD) idea of the so-called “enhance Commonwealth,” which seeks to combine the best features of both independence (at the international level) and statehood (at the national level). In essence, the idea is a form of confederacy in which Puerto Rico would be allowed to veto federal legislation and take part in international bodies, but it is wholly incompatible with the U.S. Constitution because it would give Puerto Rico more powers than states themselves have.

Although it is not a surprise to all who have followed the Puerto Rico status debate, for the PPD it is just another reality they wish not to entertain. To the  PPD “Commonwealth” party, the idea of “enhanced Commonwealth” is the biggest invention since that of the wheel! And anybody who does not agree with its supposed constitutional viability–including the federal government itself–is an enemy who is simply trying to upset their plans, so they will not recognize any negative conclusions on the idea. For example, even though the same Senate committee killed H.R. 2499, Rep. Hector Ferrer (president of the PPD) now he has attacked Bingaman and Murkowski as “allies” of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party (PNP). Allies? One would think that these powerful “allies” would have done more to push forward on the PNP-sponsored legislation. Ferrer and the PPD, however, are not interested in following the process; instead, they are interested in confusion, chaos, and misinformation as the only way forward–which is “Commonwealth” territorialism by default.

These are important developments, but some facts remain unvoiced. For example, why should the Americans of Puerto Rico have in any ballot the very option they are trying to change? In other words, why, if the “Commonwealth” status is territorial, should Puerto Ricans suffer it as an option? Further, why should two versions of independence appear on the same ballot? Could this be another way to keep any status from gathering a majority of the votes?

These are important points. Here at La Chuleta Congelá’, we believe in the simplest way: Statehood vs. Independence. After all, if independence wins, Puerto Ricans could always have another vote to choose between the two flavors of independence, with or without a free association treaty with the U.S. This is important because in Puerto Rico those parties that want “free association” are beginning to sound much like the early leadership of the PPD when it devised the “Commonwealth” status. In essence, they speak out of both sides of their mouths. Today, nobody in the Sovereign Union Movement party (MUS), which is a new Puerto Rican party interested in “sovereignty in association,” calls their status option by its real name of “independence.” There is plenty of good reasons for them not to. After all, Puerto Ricans hate the idea of independence–in ANY flavor. But at least, they are pushing a viable idea and that has to be lauded.

In the meantime, we still wait for the latest installment of the White House report on the status.


NOTE FROM LCC: Soon we will be publishing a long piece on the economics of the territorial “Commonwealth” status in Puerto Rico. Stay tuned!



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.




Intra-Party War Prevents Viable PPD Status Definition

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 2, 2010 at 4:59 PM
Fas-Alzamora vs. Colberg-Toro Fight Over Citizenship Emblematic of Irreconcilable Ideological Differences within Party


For 58 years, the Popular Democratic Party (PPD) and its leadership have been quite successful in selling “Commonwealth” to any who would listen—and many “bought.” The great success was due to the relative ease with which the U.N., the U.S. Congress, the President, Puerto Ricans, and mainland Americans were able to sell to each other certain ambiguous ideas about what the changes in Puerto Rico meant.

The U.S. government and the U.N. wrongly agreed that Puerto Rico was no longer a colony; consequently, the U.S. government did not need to report to the U.N. anything about Puerto Rico. The American people—both in Puerto Rico and on the mainland—decided everybody was happy, so they looked the other way and have not looked back since. The subsequent “Commonwealth” governments of Puerto Rico (under the PPD and the PNP) went in search of “Parity” without and to the detriment of equality.

To be clear, everybody knew what the changes meant; they meant self-government without external autonomy or change in the application of Congress’s plenary powers under the Territorial Clause. Everybody, nevertheless, got away with his particular explanation of what happened. The biggest winners were the leaders of the PPD and its membership.

The PPD, under the leadership of its dear leader Luis Muñoz-Marín, so successfully advanced its bent view of what the 1952 constitution did for Puerto Rico (i.e. Puerto Rico was a self-governing and sovereign body politic) that soon the original temporary nature of the “Commonwealth” status was replaced by an elusive construct of what the PPD though could be possible—never mind the U.S. Constitution, or what Puerto Ricans can really get.

From then on, Puerto Ricans have had to view their political status problem not from the traditional lens of previous territories (i.e. statehood versus independence); rather, they have had to endure a farce of the highest quality. They have been asked to choose permanent options from among permanent and territorial options with the idea they will continue to harbor those feelings of never-ending ambivalence that comes with status politics and to which Puerto Ricans have grown quite accustomed.

Now, the PPD finds itself unable to appease its own ranks over the proper definition for their “Commonwealth,” and their permanent option for Puerto Rico.

On one side, Sen. Antonio Fas-Alzamora (PPD)—the longest-serving member of the P.R. Legislative Assembly—is at the forefront of his party’s internal status politics. On the other side is Rep. Jorge Colberg-Toro representing the wing of the PPD that indirectly admits the only ways to secure American citizenship permanently are statehood and the current territorial status, which the PPD would have a very difficult time trying to defend and/or advance as a permanent status.

The recent spat between two wings of the same bird (reported on by El Nuevo Dia on July 30, 2010) began when Colberg-Toro criticized Fas-Alzamora’s recently introduced Pact of Association (see below in “Must Axxess Files” box) as unable to garner the necessary votes within the PPD to be accepted as part of the party platform. Colberg-Toro claims that the document is too much like the free association treaty between the U.S. and Palau, which does not guarantee American citizenship in perpetuity (because the U.S. Constitution does not allow it!)

In response, Fas-Alzamora indicated that his Pact does, in fact, protect “the permanence and transmission of American citizenship of Puerto Ricans, as well as any acquired rights,” and noted that “one thing is to educate, another is to misinform,” referring to Colberg-Toro’s assertions. Fas-Alzamora added that Colberg-Toro cannot speak to what the PPD membership will or will not accept in committee.

To most political observers, such an inconspicuous incident passes as inconsequential, but here at La Chuleta Congelá’ we think that the dispute highlights the biggest problem brewing within the PPD and it has the potential to bring down the “Commonwealth” status with it.

At stake is American citizenship.

In Puerto Rico, there are those who want an independent Republic of Puerto Rico; they account for 3 percent of the total population. The other 97 percent divides between statehood and the status quo of “Commonwealth,” but the two largest parties agree that American citizenship must be protected in any final status solution. Therefore, what we have is roughly 45 percent of the voting population in Puerto Rico wanting American citizenship, placing it outside the bounds of any status negotiation, AND clamoring for some form of government—that is not independence or statehood or the status quo—that will perpetually protect said citizenship.

In an effort to disentangle the PPD’s Gordian knot of securing sovereignty and American citizenship through non-statehood or –independence measures, Sen. Fas-Alzamora has decided to make it his responsibility to get the PPD to confront its status problem.

The problem: the U.S. Constitution recognizes only three statuses for jurisdictional purposes (i.e. statehood, independence, and territorialism (albeit “Commonwealth”). Within the three constitutionally viable statuses, American citizenship can only be granted to states and territories. The U.S. Constitution does not allow American citizenship to be naturally granted to citizens of another country in perpetuity of blood; nor should any country really want to grant citizenship without allegiance.

This is where the PPD’s intra-party dispute between Fas-Alzamora and Colberg-Toro comes in.

Fas-Alzamora’s Pact of Association has four titles: Title I, Intergovernmental Relationship; Title II, Economic Relationship; Title III, Defense and Security Relationship; and Title IV, Conflict Resolution and the Pact Court.

The Pact of Association discusses “Citizenship” in Title I, Article III. In six sections, Fas-Alzamora’s Pact enumerates various legal points on citizenship, from naturalization rights and procedures to the loss of American citizenship by request or conviction of treason, but the Pact’s outline only works as a bridge between the “Commonwealth” territorial status and independence. The Pact makes it clear that all Puerto Ricans who enjoy American citizenship before the Pact becomes operational will be able to keep it. However, and this is where Colberg-Toro’s argument takes hold, Fas-Alzamora’s Pact does not guarantee American citizenship perpetually, which 97 percent of Puerto Ricans want.

After the Pact becomes operational, people born in Puerto Rico to at least one American parent will be able to claim dual citizenship, while any other birth will be conferred with only Puerto Rican citizenship, but said person will have the right to apply for American citizenship through the normal legal channels (and likewise lose it).

Therefore, the Pact does not guarantee American citizenship—perpetually. That’s one of the catches of the Pact. Another is the fact that Fas-Alzamora tries to hide the independence factor by claiming that the U.S. and Puerto Rico governments could sign the pact fast enough to have no need to declare Puerto Rico “independent” before declaring it “associated.” This is a  crock! If “sovereignty” will be the result, as Fas-Alzamora claims, then the vehicle will be statehood or independece as Colberg-Toro knows well.

Members of the PPD who find themselves agreeing with Colberg-Toro claim the document is a backdoor entry into independence, which they do not want because they understand the citizenship consequences. Fas-Alzamora claims his plan is the ultimate solution because it “solves” the quandary of permanent American citizenship AND provides Puerto Rico with sovereignty. The Pact does the latter, but not the former.

The truth is that both the “sovereignty” and the “autonomy” wings of the PPD are scrambling to tone down the criticism that is coming down on them from all sides since the release of the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status reports of 2005 and 2007, which hold that “Although the current territorial status may continue so long as Congress desires, there are only two non-territorial options recognized by the U.S. Constitution that establish a permanent [citizenship] status between the people of Puerto Rico and the Government of the United States[;] one is statehood … the other is independence” (2005).

With this in mind, it is time supporters of Puerto Rican self-determination and citizenship equality think big!

If the New Progressive Party, which claimed, “Every vote for the PNP is a vote for statehood,” sees its hands tied until 2011, then let its leaders and members loosen their tongues in the intervening time. Let no Puerto Rican legislator who believes in equality for the Americans of Puerto Rico under the statehood banner remain quiet. Instead, leaders and members of the PNP must speak loudly when questioning the Enemies of Equality about their status solution for Puerto Rico that guarantees American citizenship perpetually. They do not have one!

The PPD and all Enemies of Equality have their work cut out for them as they attempt to extend colonialism by consent (or, as some suggest, bring independence to Puerto Rico through the backdoor), but the PNP has an opportunity to deliver the coup de grâce on the unequal “Commonwealth” status.

We will see.

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