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Parity versus Equality

In Citizenship Equality, Commentary and Analysis, Enemies of Equality, H.R. 2499, Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico Democracy Act, Self-Determination, Tennessee Plan, The Big Lie: The PPD's "Commonwealth" on August 12, 2010 at 3:27 PM
Why Parity Cannot Achieve Citizenship Equality … But Can Undermine It

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both parties’ perspectives are wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us fight for Universal Parity through self-determination.

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Hernandez-Colon Spearheads Efforts to Maintain Puerto Rico’s Territorial Status

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 12, 2010 at 6:42 PM
Still a Threat to Puerto Rico’s Democratic Equality

 

Over a year ago, on May 28, 2009, Rafael Hernández-Colón wrote a column for CaribbeanBusiness.com criticizing Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi’s bill in the U.S. House of Representatives (H.R. 2499: Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2009), which seeks “to provide for a federally sanctioned self-determination process for the people of Puerto Rico.” First, the former governor lays out—with omissions, but accurately—the process in the Pierluisi bill (before being amended by the House through the Foxx Amendment, but more on that later). Gov. Hernández-Colón stated:

“The bill authorizes the Legislature of Puerto Rico to provide for two plebiscites. The first one would have us choose between two options:

1. Puerto Rico should continue to have its present form of political status;

2. Puerto Rico should have a different political status.

If a majority votes for a different political status, a second plebiscite will be held where the options would be:

1. Independence: […]

2. Sovereignty in Association with the U.S.: Puerto Rico and the U.S. should form a political association between sovereign nations that won’t be subject to the territorial clause of the U.S. Constitution;

3. Statehood: […]”

Then the former governor goes on to make disparate arguments about the legislation. He begins by arguing that this legislation “misses the point of why we should have a federally authorized plebiscite” because there is not a commitment that Congress will follow the results of the plebiscite. Mr. Hernández-Colón, the point of the plebiscite is to tell Congress what it is that the people of Puerto Rico want to do; the Congress’ commitment is implicitly shown by the passage of the bill itself. (By the way, it should be noted that the governor agrees that the current status is not acceptable, since he is so concerned with making sure the Congress will act according to the wishes of the people of Puerto Rico.)

His second argument is that this bill leaves the so-called Commonwealth option out, which will “deprive Commonwealth supporters of their right to vote.” That would be true if the facts did not say otherwise. The complaint can be defeated in two ways. If by “Commonwealth” the former governor means the status quo, the first question of the plebiscite (see above) addresses that option for the “supporters” of whom he speaks. If they are satisfied with the Commonwealth status, then let them vote appropriately: they should choose answer number 1. If, however, by Commonwealth he means true Free-Associated Sovereignty, the second question of the plebiscite (again, see above) addresses that question. Nevertheless, the governor does not talk about the former or the latter definition of Commonwealth; instead, he is talking about a third definition for Commonwealth, one that defines it as “a relationship in permanent union with the U.S. based on irrevocable U.S. citizenship” (emphasis added).

Let us get this straight, the governor is asking for complete independence from federal mandates and simultaneously asking for statehood in citizenship: The Republic of the State of Puerto Rico. Mr. Hernández-Colón, your “definition” of Commonwealth is not a constitutionally viable option under the American system of government. It will never be. You cannot continue to sell the misguided idea of “the best of both worlds.” The purpose of the self-determination process is to rid Puerto Rico of the current territorial status it has with the United States, and you and the Popular Democratic Party of Puerto Rico cannot continue to derail the process by inventing new definitions for the already-over-defined word (i.e. Commonwealth).

It is a fact that Mr. Pierluisi took your party’s definition of Commonwealth straight out of its 2008 platform. Now, you say you never asked for Free-Associated Sovereignty. Which is it? You are correct to point out that Commonwealth is a “legitimate status option for the people of Puerto Rico as recognized by the U.S. and the United Nations”; it has been so since the constitution of 1952. However, that does not make it a sovereignty granting option; it is territorial in nature. The problem is that you are confusing the Puerto Rican definition of Commonwealth with the U.S. Constitution’s (territorial) definition of it. Currently, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is really the Territory of Puerto Rico (there is no Free Association), and you cannot argue with that—that is why Puerto Ricans want a plebiscite in the first place.

Further, your Public Law 600 “evidence” that there is a “compact” between the people of Puerto Rico and the United States is false. This so-called “compact” did not suspend the Congress’ plenary authority over the territory of Puerto Rico. Public Law 600 was only a way to provide the people of Puerto Rico with the means to form a local structure of governance for themselves with a path toward full sovereignty—through statehood or independence. Those who quote from the law in question always like to refer to that one word, “compact,” but always fail to mention important sections in the House and Senate reports that expressly address what the law did not do:

[Public 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.” (emphasis added)

(S. Rept. 81-1779, p.3-4)

Mr. Hernández-Colón, there was no “compact,” as you characterize Congress’ actions in 1950, which is to say the Congress was working with Puerto Rico as an equal partner. For these reasons, your fears that passage of H.R. 2499 into law would put “Puerto Rico in political limbo and the juridical structure of Commonwealth […] in a precarious situation” are baseless and intellectually dishonest, for Puerto Rico has been in limbo for over 500 years, and the so-called “ELA-Commonwealth” is to blame for the past 57 years.

The original H.R. 2499 must be supported!

Note: Mr. Hernández-Colón has a new piece on the subject in the latest CaribbeanBusiness.com and a promised follow-up. We’ll be here to keep him fact-checked!

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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