Puerto Rico- Its political history and future
One of the last meaningful exercises in the 20th century search for a way to resolve the status issue in Puerto Rico was the Referendum held in 1998. Here is the report given to the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, that controls matters between Congress and Puerto Rico. It is interesting to wonder why this committee; but, the Governor Pedro Rosselló managed to make a provocative report. It is yet another in a long line of such efforts of his party to promote Statehood for P.R.
Following his report, given on May 6, 1999, I have added new commentary on how the current events of the 16 months since have played toward giving any new dimension to this story that never quits!
The Puerto Rico Political Status Plebiscite
of December 13, 1998
* * * * * *
The Honorable Pedro Rosselló
Governor of Puerto Rico
Submitted for the record,
and summarized orally,
at a hearing conducted by the
Committee on Energy
UNITED STATES SENATE
May 6, 1999
Mr. Chairman, and other distinguished members of the United States Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources:
M Y NAME IS PEDRO ROSSELLó. Since 1993, I have been Governor of Puerto Rico. As Governor, I last appeared before this Committee on April 2, 1998, during a workshop on The United States-Puerto Rico Political Status Act. Many of you will recall that the chief Senate sponsor of that bill was the Honorable Larry Craig of this Committee, and that a companion measure had been approved by the House of Representatives on March 4, 1998.
Many of you will likewise recall that, during the 105th Congress, The United States-Puerto Rico Political Status Act never emerged from this Committee nor reached the Senate floor. That omission had the effect of aborting an initiative which had come closer than any before it to laying a firm, fair foundation for the resolution of a century-old American dilemma. It is an American dilemma to which this Committee has devoted a prodigious amount of time –especially during the past ten years.
It was exactly ten years ago that the leaders of all three Puerto Rico political parties issued a unanimous appeal to The White House and Congress. Those political leaders requested substantive action that would permit the people of Puerto Rico to make an informed decision on our ultimate civic destiny.
This Committee -- under the leadership of then-Chairman J. Bennett Johnston Jr. of Louisiana and then-Ranking Republican James A. McClure of Idaho -- grappled earnestly with that complex topic for the better part of two years.
Although no legislation emerged from those diligent efforts, the endeavor definitely did help set the stage for the unprecedentedly constructive Puerto Rico status bill that the House passed last year as H.R. 856.
The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, therefore, has made a very significant contribution to the arduous Congressional process of addressing and surmounting the challenges posed by what has accurately and succinctly been described as “American democracy’s unfinished business.” And today, Mr. Chairman, I am grateful to you and to the Committee for building upon that legacy by holding this hearing.
I N SPEAKING AS GOVERNOR, I must commence my presentation by placing the December 13, 1998 Puerto Rico political status plebiscite within its proper historical context. When I first stood for election to the governorship, in 1992, the tripartite status initiative of 1989 through 1991 was fresh in the collective memory of the Puerto Rican people. Moreover, our voters had not been formally consulted on political status since 1967. Accordingly, I promised that -- if elected -- I would ask our Legislative Assembly to take immediate action on a status-plebiscite bill. And so it was that we held a plebiscite in 1993.
However, that venture turned out to be futile in two important respects. First, and most obviously, it proved futile because no political status option polled an absolute majority of the votes; therefore, it failed to satisfy the fundamental democratic precept regarding “government by consent of the governed.”
But there was a second futility factor, as well; a factor that was more subtle than the first, but no
less important. Indeed, had it not been for this second factor, there probably would have been an absolute-majority winner.
Factor #2 entered the picture because, in a good-faith attempt to preserve the unanimous consensus that had been instrumental in launching the 1989 self-determination quest, my administration made a point of inviting Puerto Rico’s three political parties to define for themselves the political status options that they would endorse in our 1993 plebiscite.
Regrettably, that good-faith gesture resulted in the inclusion on the ballot of a “commonwealth” definition that was utterly unrealistic. And when I say “utterly unrealistic,” I do so in the context of parameters that this very Committee clearly stipulated during its extensive examination of the subject from 1989 through 1991.
Undaunted by that Congressional record, the proponents of “commonwealth” campaigned in 1993 on behalf of a definition which they literally proclaimed was a “best-of-two-worlds” solution to the status dilemma; a solution that would have imbued Puerto Rico with many of the benefits of U.S. statehood and many of the prerogatives of independence, while exempting Puerto Rico from most of the responsibilities inherent in both of those options.
The 1993 “commonwealth” ballot definition, in other words, amounted to a “wish list.” It was both politically unattainable and Constitutionally inadmissible.
So it is that the 1993 plebiscite failed in its objective. Although “commonwealth” ostensibly won that plebiscite (polling 48.6% of the vote, slightly ahead of U.S. statehood’s 46.3%), it is worth noting that nobody from the “commonwealth” party had the audacity to come up here to the Nation’s Capital afterward and argue for Congressional enactment of that party’s “best-of-two-worlds” platform.
Instead, what happened was that the Legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico adopted a concurrent resolution which formally requested that Congress respond to the outcome of our 1993 status consultation.
The 104th Congress, upon convening in January 1995, acknowledged our legislature’s petition: that Congress held hearings and drafted a bill, which got the ball rolling on a process that culminated in last year’s House passage of The United States-Puerto Rico Political Status Act.
And it was that comprehensive measure which provided the framework for what ought to have been a “foolproof” plebiscite in 1998.
UNDER The United States-Puerto Rico Political Status Act, this Nation could have converted the historically-clouded 100th anniversary of America’s unilateral seizure of Puerto Rico into an inspiring occasion for undiluted celebration; this Nation could have observed that centennial by empowering our territory’s electorate to make a dignified, meaningful choice among destiny-options delineated for that express purpose by Puerto Rico’s
Constitutionally-designated overseer -- namely, this institution: the United States Congress.
However, in the absence of that legislation, the 1998 centennial observance unfolded against a different backdrop altogether. And consequently, a shadow fell over the celebration.
We went ahead with our commitment to hold a plebiscite. But, lacking the empowering impetus of a Federal mandate, we were unable to employ a foolproof -- or “fail-safe” -- format. Why? Because a 1993 Puerto Rico Supreme Court edict obliged us to offer our voters a fifth – undefined -- alternative, in addition to the options that were defined in H.R. 856.
More than 71% of Puerto Rico’s eligible voters participated in the plebiscite on Sunday,December 13, 1998. And in February 1999, I delivered -- to the President of the United States, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Majority Leader of the Senate -- copies of the official Puerto Rico State Elections Commission document that certified the outcome of the plebiscite. I understand that each of you has had access to those data, and I am confident that they will be analyzed in detail by the panelists from whom you will be hearing shortly.
TO MY MIND, We the People of Puerto Rico dispatched two forceful and unequivocal messages by means of our most recent plebiscite.The first of those messages was irrefutably transmitted “loud and clear.” A total of over 1.5-million persons cast ballots. Of that total, exactly 993 voters marked their ballots in favor of our current status as a territorial “commonwealth.”
This means that, for every 1,577 persons who participated in the plebiscite, only one person
manifested support for the status quo; and that level of support equals considerably less than one-tenth of one percent. Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, I respectfully submit that this single fact speaks volumes.
During this hearing, it is safe to assume that a variety of interpretations will be offered regarding the significance of the plebiscite outcome. I would urge, however, that – in evaluating those interpretations – you keep foremost in your minds this one salient fact. Because whatever else our plebiscite may have signified, it indisputably constituted a virtually-unanimous rejection of the status quo. Our people’s massive disapproval of the status quo underscores their contempt for what my
predecessor has described as a “democracy deficit” that afflicts Puerto Rico’s current status.
In the July/August 1998 edition of FOREIGN AFFAIRS magazine, former Governor Rafael Hernández-Colón published an article entitled, “Doing Right by Puerto Rico: Congress Must Act.” In that article, this lifelong advocate of “commonwealth” status made the following affirmation about the political-status debate on our island: “All factions do agree on the need to end the present undemocratic arrangement, whereby Puerto Rico is subject to the laws of Congress but cannot vote in it.” So there you have it. The political status with which Puerto Ricans must contend today, and with which we have had to contend – in one guise or another – for the past 100 years, is a political status that We the People of Puerto Rico emphatically reject as an alternative for the future. And that categorical rejection could not have been more firmly articulated than it was on December 13, 1998.
Now let us move on to the second forceful and unequivocal message that emerged from our recent plebiscite.
This second message pertains to the need for a responsible, conscientious definition of the fifth
ballot-option that was vacuously denominated, “NONE OF THE PRECEDING.” I readily concede that many voters selected that option for reasons having nothing whatever to do with political status.
Nevertheless, it must not be ignored that one of our two principal political parties urged voters to mark their ballots in favor of “NONE OF THE PRECEDING” – while simultaneously urging that the people of Puerto Rico be granted an opportunity to vote on a certain specifically-defined option that had been excluded from the ballot because it was not incorporated into H.R. 856, the bill which had been approved earlier that year by the U.S. House of Representatives. Both H.R. 856 and our plebiscite ballot had defined fully the meanings of U.S. statehood, independent nationhood, and free association under separate sovereignty, as well as the current territorial “commonwealth” arrangement.
But absent altogether was the option being supported by this major political party that was urging our electorate to vote in the blank, empty fifth column. For precisely that reason, a high priority of this 106th Congress should be to examine thoroughly the legislative viability and the Constitutional validity of this additional alleged option -- this “stealth option” -- which was surreptitiously promoted during our latest plebiscite via the “NONE OF THE PRECEDING” column on our ballot.
I respectfully invite this Committee to take a hard, close look at this “fifth column” alternative– an alternative which was formally embraced by the Governing Board of Puerto Rico’s Popular Democratic Party on October 15, 1998, and which was presented to our people as that Party’s blueprint for “developing” the “commonwealth” status. Take a hard, close look at what this “NONE OF THE PRECEDING” “stealth option” promises to the Puerto Rican people.
· Observe that it calls for “a compact that cannot be invalidated or altered unilaterally”; a compact that entails “recognition that Puerto Rico is a nation,” and which establishes that Puerto Ricans “constitute a specific nationality distinguishable from that of any other nation.”
Commentary and Update on “What Next for P.R.?’ as of September 24, 2000
Almost 17 months have passed since Gov. Rosselló made the best of a bad situation- an action often required in politics- one that resulted from the willingness of the opposition to the Statehood Party, found principally in the hands of the leaders of the PDP (The Populares or Commonwealth Party). A political sensing by the advocates of perpetual Commonwealth or territorial status with many of the benefits of U.S. Statehood, but without the responsibilities, that the statehood party might win at least a PLURALITY of the vote, their leaders conceived of an effective way to avoid that appearance. By instructing all to vote not for the Commonwealth option as defined by the U.S. Congressional House bill HR #856, and instead vote for “none of the preceding” in column five of the ballot, the PDP effectively combined all but the above noted 993 voters, with those of the Independentistas or Independence Party!
Bingo! The results look like statehood lost! Yet, nothing else won! Only in PR is such a vote possible because a Supreme Court judge ruled in 1993 that one should not require any citizen of PR to make a defined choice for status when none suits his or her preference. If some other meaningful option existed, and if it was not allowed on the ballot, then such an option might make sense as a means of showing a protest. However, no such meaningful option exists that is also consistent with the U.S. Constitution.
The next chapter in the saga might have come from the Congress, had it chosen to make an honest effort to resolve the question that has festered for most of the 102 years that the Congress has controlled this territory. Unfortunately, Congress is driven by many different pressures, and few of them have anything to do with a territory whose people do not vote for anyone in Congress! Unless forced to act by some other reason, the tendency of Congress is to ignore or benignly neglect this issue. Besides, some parts of the country contain folks that like the status quo and some do not want to see PR become a State of the Union. So, without an event to cause action, none happens.
The celebrated accident of April 19, 1999 when a security guard, who happened to be a Puerto Rican employee of the U.S. Navy, accidentally died by standing where he was not supposed to be when a bomber was directed at the wrong target, on his home island of Vieques, almost provided that impetus! It may yet...but: As usual U.S. President William Clinton displayed his creative mind at work to find the way to diffuse the confrontation. By calling for an unprecedented vote by the handful of voters of the island of Vieques, where 2/3 of the island is owned by the Navy, to determine if the Navy stays with its bombing range at the East end of the island or leaves, Clinton found a way to ‘calm the water’ or at least to set the stage for a constructive disengagement. Not before several hundred diverse protesters were forcefully removed from the bombing range, could the Navy resume with a temporary compromise. Train with inert ammunition or ordinance and restrict the time to half the former use.
As this is written, the protesters, almost all who came from the main island of P.R., are now being successfully kept out of the range and none of the few who have managed to avoid capture with repeated efforts to get through the fence or around it, have managed to be hit by inbound inert ordinance! The Navy maneuvers are now in the quiet stage- limited to just two 90 day periods of the year- so now it is trying to win the hearts and minds of the voters of Vieques. Who are they? Nobody has defined, if they must be native born residents of Vieques, or if anyone else can vote on the issue? If a mainland Puerto Rican from San Juan owns property on Vieques and declares it to be his residence, can he or she vote, assuming other age or legal requirements are met? What if the resident came from New York to live on Vieques and is either a Puerto Rican by birth in P.R. - or perhaps to parents who came from P.R. Alas, what if the long time resident is from Ireland for all but the last six years? The electoral process is ill defined as far as is currently published.
The President included in his decision and Congress has agreed to provide $40 million for the improvement of the West end of the island infrastructure and to vacate the lands used to store ammunition to the government of P.R. This action is now underway and some of the people of Vieques are being offered jobs to help relocate the ammunition; and others will certainly find work in building new roads to a new ferry terminal that will shorten the water route to P.R. to one-third the time and distance now required to get from Fajardo to Isabela II. With free transportation in the wind to jobs on the mainland base, and another $50 million being offered to add further improvements to the island of Vieques, the Navy is certainly poised to help improve its relationship with the people of Vieques. Loyal members of the Independence movement, mostly on the main island of P.R. want to torpedo any effort to, in their opinion, allow the Navy to ‘buy the votes’ of the people of Vieques.
It is not yet clear if they can mount any effective campaign that really wins the minds of the people of Vieques that gives them good reason to say no thanks to the Navy. Of course, they will continue to push for acceptance of all of their charges about the Navy endangering the health, safety, and welfare of the people of Vieques. It is interesting that a lot of the folks that live on Vieques do not want to make the island more accessible! They like the quiet and slow motion of the pace of life on this island, even if sometimes they can hear some distant rumbling that, like an electrical storm, can be heard. Rarely are they offended by noise from the Navy that equates to a young person with a ‘boom box’.
The notions of Vieques being hit with an excessive amount of one or more types of cancer is another card in the deck of ideas being touted by the anti-Navy crowd. Smoking is still the number one cause of lung cancer and heart disease- not distant bombing at the Eastern tip of the island or possible air borne contaminants; yet, nobody has done any kind of intensive study to show just who has what cancer and from what source. Opponents of the Navy do not need a study- they just know that one or more families have suffered cancer from some cause. Be it genetic or smoking or from any other food or human habit is irrelevant. It is possible to make the charge and make people wonder, what if it is true? Fear is their stock in trade and they do not need the facts to be studied!
Who wants the Navy out of Vieques besides those above, who accept some vague health argument? Well, those that want to develop Vieques for tourism want the Navy out so that they can acquire the land and convert it to places for mega resorts. That the infrastructure is far too small to handle such is viewed by these opportunists as just one of the problems to overcome. Perhaps, they reason, the Navy will go and the U.S. government will pay to build the infrastructure needed to provide power, water, communications, and transportation along with skilled workers to build and operate first class tourist hotels. Many of the folks of Vieques are not looking for such development.
All of this pertains to the status debate in just one way. If those who want independence can get the majority of the people of the main island of P.R. to join with them in fighting the real and imagined problems of living with the Navy, perhaps they can get the U.S. Congress mad at P.R.! That might be a way to get Congress to respond to parents of U.S. military personnel who need to use the training facilities of Vieques with a pair of actions: One, find a new place and build a new base; and two, withdraw all aid to P.R. and set it free from the status quo to find its own way in the Caribbean like all of the other island nations of the area!
More than a few citizens of the main island have come to recognize that they have been duped into fighting for the independentistas in the name of solidarity as a so-called racial group, that can be told that it is being denied full rights as U.S. citizens. Indeed the charge is not without merit. But, the fact is that most people in P.R. do not want independence. Given the task of choosing between statehood and independence, the vote for statehood would not even be close. But, the problem is related to the fact that such a choice will not be forced until Congress can not avoid passing such legislation and getting a president to agree to it.
So, what this means is that as long as the apparent differences can be ‘patched up’, we can expect the status quo to be perpetually uncertain as to its duration, and that is exactly where a lot of people want it to be! Unless Congress cuts further its own tendency to spend tax dollars in many ways that also send benefits to P.R., because of the liberal need to take care of the ‘less fortunate’ Americans some of which live in P.R.
If Congressional spending for P.R. is reduced, and if P.R. can show its people that it can prosper even better than it has in the last twenty years by insisting upon Statehood, then another referendum might happen. One where four percent will vote for independence; twenty percent for none of the preceding and 76% for Statehood. That would force Congress to act to accept the action. At the moment it appears that P.R. is trying to set up a means of voting for the President. If it is able to do so and get the votes eventually to be counted, it will be another step in the long process of moving from 400 years of colonialism under the Spanish and 100+ with the Americans to one of full dignity and responsibility. But, don’t expect this to happen this year...change in P.R. takes a bit longer!
Update of Dec. 17, 2000
Since the last review in September, several significant and surprising developments regarding the future of P.R. have happened. More will be happening, I predict, at a fast pace in the new year.
The biggest surprise was somewhat lost in the TV blitz over the Florida election mess as V.P. Al Gore, managed to run his campaign for the presidency of the U.S. into overtime! The change in the P.R. scene, when polls predicted that the incumbent party would be able to replace Gov. Rosselló with Carlos Pesquera, didn’t happen. San Juan Mayoress, Sila Caulderón managed to gain voter support against the success of eight years of progress with two key issues. Proven or alleged corruption and the battle with the U.S. Navy training on its own land on the island of Vieques.
Once again, the Populares have proven that the people of P.R. are Latinos and full of emotion, especially when someone makes it look like the U.S. Navy is acting like a bunch of warriors instead of diplomats bent on assuaging P.R. fears of colonial domination. The Navy has never been very good at that! Most of its officers and men are trained to go to sea and be prepared to fight in battles where they either win or lose. Negotiating between fleets is not a common expectation.
So, it is not surprising that following the electoral win, and a three week vacation, the Governor-elect returned and set the stage for her bombastic approach to showing the U.S. Navy and the new President of the U.S. that the Clinton Executive order about Vieques is meaningless to her. Her ten point action plan is known and calculated to anger the Navy, the Congress and the new president. It is not clear if she thought that would be an easy task with an expected Gore win; or only a slightly harder one with a President named George W. Bush.
The major island English language paper the San Juan Star’s Sunday Viewpoint pages brought together an extraordinary set of five articles and they prompted this letter to the editor:
“Congratulations to the team that put out perhaps your best ever edition on Sunday, Dec. 17! I do not recall such a grand force of writers bringing out a combination of such power as found in Viewpoint and the Viglucci ‘wrap-up’. To get Passalaqua, Guzman, A.W. Maldonado, and Fuster to present nuances on a theme was amazing.
Passalaqua set the pace with the opening array of Caulderón Ten Commandments! He did so in the belief that the confusion of divisiveness in Washington and San Juan are such that she can make her agenda stick and that the big, powerful, and stupid American monster will bend to her will and tear up the Clinton Presidential Executive Order and the enabling Congressional legislation and do her will for the people of P.R.! She is betting the farm on this one in the first inning of her new political game. As Lenin said, “Not to worry, they will give us everything we need”.
Then Guzman traces the roots of the Caulderón game plan. She took control of a demoralized party in the midst of unprecedented prosperity and found two issues to get elected- Vieques and corruption (real and alleged). She won. Now she can hit the home run and bury the hated NPP forever by taking over the Independentista movement with the stamp of the Populares! If she wins, she can be the Queen of a new Monarchy.
Although A.W. Maldonado used half of his space to explain correctly, how Al Gore’s character flaw, driven by his own personal insecurity, caused the mess in Florida over the election, his real contribution today was to show that in America, all unite in by-partisan unity when someone threatens our peace keeping military forces. Americans are far more ‘warlike’ then the relaxed people of P.R., who have accommodated 500 years of colonial subjugation. They can be passionately aroused over Vieques and corruption charges, as evidenced in the election, but are they ready to shed their dependency on the U.S. for a nationalistic cause? Bush, Cheney, and Powell will be compassionate, but when they are pushed too far, they know how to play ‘hardball’, with full support.
The Fuster lesson in Constitutional history and the reasoning behind separation of powers in a tripartite system of government gave a sense of balance to the issues being driven by the first three writers. Although he chastised both PR parties for failure to pay attention to separation of power, it was only Caulderón who was able to influence the legislative caucus to follow her will.
The Viglucci piece, dealing with the ‘swan-song’ from Rosselló was masterful. It traced the record of a medical doctor who got into politics, not to be a populist, but to get things done for P.R. He is leaving behind a record of enormous achievement in many ways. The improved infrastructure, so vital to the ability of P.R. to take its place in a global economy has been largely completed. Well, Sila managed to stop Rt. #66, the Condado project, but she will have to finish the road and the train and a few more roads like the #53 around the S.E. corner of the island, but most of the hard work has been done. She will not be prone to elimination of the Land Authority or any other remnants of the Tugwell- Muñoz-Marín legacy of socialistic solutions, but she will not be able to reverse the privatization of the phone company or other utility services that can only work better now than in the past when government politics controlled the inefficiencies.
Like Colón, Rosselló will fade from view and resume his interest in medicine and let the island sort out its future on its own. He left his mark and the island is much stronger for it. Now, we may find out quickly that the new governor is able to do for P.R. what Ruben Berríos has failed to do- force the U.S. Congress to move the Navy away along with the Army in exchange for separation of P.R. from the U.S., unless a federal sponsored referendum allows the people of P.R. to choose between Caulderón’s vision of Independence and Statehood. She may not rest until we find out which!”
What does all of this portend? Well, it could be just ‘political theater’ and such is a mainstay of the lively political activity in a land where 80% of more of the people turn out and do vote! It could be that the incoming Governor Caulderón is just posturing to show that she is as strong as any macho male could expect of his favorite entrant in an illegal cock fight, so commonly found on the island. As the first woman elected to the top office, as the leader of the Populares, a party restored to its former might from a tremendous pair of defeats in 1992 and 1996, it is possible that Calderón felt it necessary to do such posturing. Her letter rebuking the request from the Secretary of the U.S. Navy for a sign of cooperation cast an unmistakable tone.She put him down as a ‘lame-duck’ administrator of no importance to her. A person of lesser standing. She will wait till she is installed and then deal with the new U.S. President- the only one possibly in her view to be equal in standing!
If she thought that would be Al Gore, one could sense that she could quite possibly ‘win her spurs’ with a successor to Clinton, a part of his administration that often found itself making changes repeatedly to suit the views of the polls in ways aimed at perpetuating power more than setting a true course based on principle.
She may be surprised now to find that with George Bush as President, Dick Cheney, and Colin Powell as V.P. and Secty of State that she has a powerful set of opponents to her ideas of making history. As the letter above notes, either the Governor elect has ‘painted herself into a corner’; or she knows exactly what she is doing and believes that she can win.
If so, how? Well she could believe that the U.S. Congress and President and people will find that:
a. They don’t want P.R. to be a state of the union. Why? Common standard political thinking is that P.R. is too poor to be a state without being a drain on the tax payers of the union; and
b. that its voters would only elect Democrats thus making Republicans opposed; and
c. that the integration of another hot-bed of radical Latino or Hispanic culture into the nation is not desired by a country that has tried to assimilate all peoples to a common desire to share the same English language and an American culture; and
d. that the United Nations will perceive that the U.S. is a bully, if it forces the 10,000 people of Vieques to wait until November, 2001 to vote the Navy out, while the people will suffer untold numbers of medical tragedies from the noise of inert shells and bombs hitting the firing range ten miles from where they live; and
e. that the involvement of the main island churches in a united Catholic-Protestant campaign to oust the Navy gives a moral high-ground advantage to Caulderón and the people of P.R.
Given these premises, she may think that the U.S. President and Congress would rather opt for the status quo for P.R. and go on paying more than ten billion dollars a year to support its needs.
If she is right, she will cement in place the evidence of power that will propel her to great praise among the people. She will be perceived as a modern day Joan of Arc, and will find people literally dancing in the streets at the thought that she made the Navy go and the U.S. president bow to her demands! Her control of island politics will be tough to stop for many years unless some great scandal unfolds together with some great economic down-turn.
Now, as the saying goes, “How will this play in Peoria?” a city in central Illinois in the middle of the U.S.? From that point, and from most of the rest of the U.S., it is unimportant what happens in P.R. So this leaves the way open for the President, the V.P., the Secretary of State and the Congress willing to continue to put-off P.R. and leave the special interests that make money there alone. Or does it?
The incoming U.S. President needs to establish both the tone of his compassionate conservatism and at the same time that he presides over an array of issues where he wants to forge evidences of uniting the nation,not dividing it. Can he join the above group thinking and play into the hands of the plan set by Governor Caulderón? Or will he be advised to consider the answers to the above five point considerations and take a surprisingly different stance?
Let’s consider how. Is the common perception of P.R. being an island of Democrats valid? That it is an island with the appearance of a population that is definitely poor by mainland standard definitions is a fact. But, several parts of that simplistic answer make it suspect. First, a lot of people in P.R. live with a much lower cost of living than do their mainland statistical counterparts. Nobody even owns a furnace in P.R., much less has to use it to keep from freezing. Winter clothing is not needed and living outdoors makes shelter needs simple by comparison for space and cost. Secondly, many in P.R. make a living in the gray economy and get cash without taxes while their mainland counterparts work from Jan till May to pay the taxes! Thirdly, the people of P.R. are not as class conscious as mainland Americans and they do not mind moving from one political party to another, if they see reason to do so. Many may not be as literate, but most do pay attention to politics. So, in any future State voting, it is possible that P.R. could be divided like many states, and so-called conservative vs liberal persuasions are not the same here as in say New York. Yes, liberals live here along with socialists from the Muñoz Marín era, but so too is the spirit of free enterprise alive in P.R. As a developing nation in a global economy, many are providing jobs for workers who respect the quality of the work possible when working for profit instead of a government political boss. So, the political mix in the U.S. from a P.R. state is not a fearful concern. No automatic perception that characterizes all of P.R. is valid. Its two party system belies that.
Next, consider the cultural issues. True, P.R. as a state will not be a country in the Olympics, but so what? Some small percentage would like to keep that unchanged, but some of the participants are good enough to make the U.S. team and that in itself is a mark of excellence that may be superior to being a perpetual irrelevant contender. Take the language and music and dance and social life issues. Nobody in any part of the U.S. objects to special communities or enclaves in many cities that offer the chance for people of a similar ethnic background to live and enjoy common ancestral use of language, dress and customs except when going out to work in the places where all is American.
It is true that all ethnic groups, if such are truly worthy of notice in any exclusive way, do tend to find a parochial syndrome setting in when they do not reach out to any others. Therefore, the argument can be made that mixing groups is hard and resisted. We now have such an interconnected world with so much communication that it is clear that this problem is no longer controlling. I do not see it to be a problem of magnitude to the people of P.R., who have almost as many of their number living in the states as live on the island. This overcomes a lot of social resistance about joining the union, and to a lesser extend the same feeling works in reverse, but to a lesser extent, as the numbers of Puerto Ricans on the mainland is still small as contrasted to all of the others. However, the U.S. is a melting pot and accepting all peoples is now part of our tradition. On top of all of this, TV has made a huge dent in this question. The world is getting smaller.
The ‘noise’ and health issues about Vieques do not ring true in the minds of the U.N. that lives in a world of problems far noisier and less healthy than is presented by a picture of life on the island of Vieques. The hazards of smoking and the noise of city living make the concern of distant thunder of little concern to the opinion makers of the world. The Bush administration will not fall for the environmental argument of another drunken Kennedy in Congress.
The mistake of P.R. church leaders to back a campaign for “Paz a Vieques” may have papers in the mainland aroused, but no objective study will gain much sympathy among viewers. The so called ‘moral high-ground’ has been the mainstay argument of many liberal causes. The task of any compassionate conservative is to ferret out a truthful analysis. Once the truth is known, the cupidity of the church in working for independence will be apparent. Most will be happy to let the people decide by calling for independence.
This is finally where the Caulderón position will either win or lose. If she can generate an angry response in Congress that fails to show its compassionate conservative approach, she may get the people of P.R. worked up to supporting her with massive rallies and demonstrations aimed at forcing the issue to her liking. But, if the President, V.P., Secretary of State and Congress all respond with a rational response, the results will be different. What might happen?
If a quick study gives a Pres. Bush a report that says that we must stay the course to let the people of Vieques decide next November, but delay the land turnovers and support until the Governor of P.R. gets back in line to the agreement that Caulderón complained would not be honored by a successor to Clinton rather than herself, then we may stop the plan to encourage civil disobedience again. If such is not to be curtailed, then look for the Navy, with top level blessing to put in place a Marine task force to guard the perimeter, a return to live fire, and a warning that all who trespass successfully risk their own destruction. America will not be directed by civil disobedience in Vieques. I do not think that a martyr in such a situation will win any great sympathy among the followers of Caulderón.
Meanwhile, it will not be surprising if the escalation produces a Congressional resolution- an act to present P.R. with a federal referendum to let the people of P.R. decide for statehood or independence with the clear understanding that anything less than 80% for statehood will be taken as a vote that will not gain approval in Congress and leave as a result to termination of the status quo and independence for P.R. At that point the dream that the Governor may want to enjoy could be turning into a nightmare.
Clinton Initiates Puerto Rico Study on Dec. 22, 2000
.c The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) - President Clinton created a national task force Saturday to study whether Puerto Rico should become a state or an independent country, or continue as a U.S. commonwealth.
The President's Task Force on Puerto Rico's Status will ``ensure official attention to and facilitate action on matters related to proposals for Puerto Rico's status and the process by which an option can be realized,'' Clinton said in his executive order.
The president said the task force will keep an ongoing discussion with Puerto Rico's governor, political parties and other groups that advocate a change in the island's status. ``The dialogue shall seek to clarify the options for Puerto Rico's future status and enable Puerto Ricans to choose among those options,'' Clinton said.
The task force will be made up of members or designees of the president's Cabinet and the co-chairs of the president's Interagency Group on Puerto Rico. It will be chaired by the attorney general or his designee and a co-chair of the interagency group.
The committee must report back to the president by May 1.
Both President-elect Bush and Vice President Al Gore said during the campaign for president that they supported creation of a task force to study the Puerto Rican issue.
Residents of the island are divided over what status they desire. Statehood was just barely rejected by voters in nonbinding referendums in 1993 and 1998. In the last vote, the status quo squeaked by with just over 50 percent.
The United States took possession of the Caribbean island as booty at the end of the Spanish-American War.
Puerto Rico's 3.8 million people are U.S. citizens who can be drafted into the U.S. military but are barred from voting for president and have no voting representation in Congress. They do not pay most federal taxes though Washington sends down about $13 billion a year, nearly a third of the island's official gross domestic product.
Richard R. Tryon 12-23-00
First, the above story needs to get its facts straight:
1. The statement that the “status-quo squeaked by with just over 50 percent” is not at all correct. What should have been said was that the status-quo or Commonwealth supporters of the PDP political party (it just won the governership and control of the Legislature) managed to avoid losing the 1998 referendum, by teaming up with the independence voters to make “None of the above” the preferred option. Had they voted for Commonwealth and lost to the Statehooders, who got 48% of the vote- with probably something like 46%, with the other 6% going for independence. Not wanting to look like they had fallen behind, this was the politically expedient thing to do!
2. The Executive order may be dropped by in-coming Pres. elect Bush; or modified. His party, the Republicans control the U.S. Congress, so it may be the Bush choice to let the Congress do the study, if yet another is needed.
3. In short, this Executive Order is another example of Pres. Clinton trying to take the ball as an executive function of his office rather than let it be under the Republican Congress. He also sees political advantage for the Democrats to have authored the Order. It will be perceived in P.R. and among Puertoricans on the mainland as a sign of Clinton defending their rights!
Of course, it can’t hurt for the Bush Administration to want to participate with the Congress in trying to bring the status issue to a decision point. While it has looked like the chance for this passed by with the defeat at the PR polls of the Statehood party, a new wave of thinking is about to unfold. Strangely, it is being led by the incoming Governor- Sila Caulderón. She is determined to let her childhood sympathies with the idealistic notion of independence get to her in ways aimed at cementing her political future.
By subtly supporting the Independence Party when Ruben Berríos sat on the Vieques beach for a year, Caulderón is now in a position of making the fight for Paz for Vieques into a national issue that calls upon all true, clear thinking, God and country loving Puertoricans to support the quest of some of the 9,400 that live on Vieques. The goal is not to save these people, who could easily be moved to the main island where the other 3.8 million Puertoricans live, but to use them as the tool to command attention to the battle with the haughty and arrogant U.S. Navy. The charge is not without some foundation, but the fear is blown way out of proportion.
Regardless of the incoming Governor’s desire to spend a million or so trying to prove that most of the cancer victims of Vieques got it not like everyone else by smoking, drinking, and eating incorrectly or having been born with unfortunate genetic predisposition; but by the simple fact that the U.S. Navy dropped ordinance on its bombing range where one Puertorican guard accidentally died because he failed to do his job correctly. Many state-side bombing ranges are closer to our U.S. populations of larger size, but none have tried to link the military practice with civilian injury, illness or death by disease.
The goal of Caulderón may be to take over the independence party, by folding it into a new more nationalistic version of the old Popular party so as to stop the movement for Statehood. Her predecessors, including Gov. Colón, who tried to get Congress interested in perpetual Commonwealth (ie,the status quo with fuller benefits like a state, without paying taxes or accepting all federal laws); or originally Gov. Muñoz-Marín, who was a socialist that worked in tandem with the socialist Governor Tugwell, appointed by FDR in 1942. The Popular party faithful are known by the Red farmer hat, a symbol reflecting that the majority of its members were one time proud Jíbaros or peasants. Today there are not many workers in cane fields left as all of the mills are closed. The party members are likely to be factory or government workers. They are partial to the U.S. Democrat party.
The results of this stage, as now set, are going to be hard to predict. However, it is clear to any mainland American that neither the incoming President or the Congress is likely to encourage perpetual status quo. It is a colonial issue. If territorial status is to remain, the Congress may choose to cut back on the $13 billion of aid and if necessary, cut PR loose to be independent. If so, it may well negotiate for the removal of whatever part of the 9,400 folks living on Vieques that do want to live as independent Puertoricans. They could all be moved to the main island for a lot less than the $40 to $90 million pledged by the Clinton Executive Order on this subject. Let the Navy then keep its base enclave on the main island and all of Vieques, if all locals want to be relocated. Gov. Caulderón might then become the President or Monarch of a new nation. Of course, some folks in P.R. do not want to surrender their U.S. citizenship as the price of freedom or independence.
Cauderón could then lose popular support unless the people would prefer such freedom without the $13 billion in annual support. Of course, the U.S. Congress and President might also give her just what she wants- perpetual Commonwealth with support, although few mainland American citizens will accept such a deal, when they have no way to get it for their states.
To be sure, in P.R. as elsewhere, there are wheels within wheels at work! Some of them move with momentum taking a similar course, and others are counter balancing or even in conflict. Nobody can really predict. However, on one thing mainland Americans are pretty constant.They do not like to undertrain their sons and daughters in the military. The thought of closing the Roosevelt Roads Navy base is not going to win support in the minds of most mainland Americans,and quite a few Puertorican Americans as well.
But, if SilaCaulderón can excite enough notion of national union, patrimony, and love of culture, land, and language, she may emerge as the Queen like figure that may appeal to her. Her physical appearance is very important to her as evidenced by her apparent self award for her election win. It is important that her countenance always be seen by the cameras that are always aimed at her!
It will be interesting to watch the drama unfold in early January.
Update of Jan 18, 2001:
With the rhetoric of the election campaign now history, the first two weeks of the Caulderón administration have produced evidence of a few surprises. For example, the new administration has not fired all existing leadership en masse but has selectively been willing to keep in place a number of leaders at least at the middle management level of various agencies.
It has not rushed to pass a series of laws aimed at promoting tension with the U.S. over Vieques although a lot of tough talk has been bandied about. Worse, some far out ideas about health hazards have been circulated. For example, a Portuguese doctor did some crude studies and pronounced that 49 of 50 children on Vieques suffer from what he called "vibroacoustic" disease, and compared them to 50 children from Ponce a city fifty miles away. This disease is apparently characterized by a thickening of the walls of the heart and the much publicized reason is given as the one thing that is different in Vieques. The U.S. Navy explodes inert ammunition ten miles away from where these children apparently live almost underwater, or at least whenever the Navy comes to practice over its 90 day per year window. The idea is that low frequency sound waves come through the ocean and hit the children in the ear and damage the heart as a result!
Some were so excited about the idea that such is real that they successfully got high ranking politicians to write to President Clinton in hopes that he would abandon his own directive calling for the citizens of Vieques to vote next November, as it turns out, to decide if the Navy stays and uses live ammunition and gives $50 million more on top of the $40 million pledged already; or leave P.R.
The government rules over almost 4 million people. About one half of one percent are generally ignored- yes, the people of Vieques. They have not minded much as they seem to like the quiet pastoral life of their little island. Some want to build mega resorts and they need money for infrastructure and think that getting the Navy out will help too.
It is hard to see which faction will win if allowed to get to a secret vote. The fanatics on the little island and their associates on the mainland want to prevent the secret election and force the Navy out now. So they either invent or grasp at wild stories of cancer or heart diseases being caused by wind blown chemistry or water carried sound waves.
Nobody stops to ask about smoking cigarettes or living with boom boxes- its the Navy stupid!
Stay tuned. This story is not over yet.With a President George W. Bush to be installed in several days, a new response may be coming from Washington. It may be surprising or just what the Governor wants. She could be a Queen of a new Monarchy if she is lucky! Or maybe just the Saint who brought Paz a Vieques and who knows what to PR?
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