October 8, 1999


Puerto Rico: The Forgotten Commonwealth

 

(Editorial Note: In the previous edition Vol. XXII No. 39, dated Oct. 1, 1999, La Prensa San Diego began an informative dialogue on Puerto Rico its' history, from the Spanish conquest to the American assumption of Puerto Rico as a result of the war between Spain and the United States. The heart of the narrative was the problematic nature of the desire of Puerto Rico to move the agenda forward on its status after over a 100 years of being a territory then a commonwealth of the United States. The details of past efforts and their failures are enumerated as well as a limited number of interviews from Puerto Ricans on their preferences on the final nature of their homeland, Puerto Rico. We continue with our dialogue.)

By Daniel L. Muñoz
La Prensa San Diego

San Diego, Calif. Oct. 8, 1999... After the 1998 Plebiscite and subsequent results elements of the government, the intelligencia, the business community among others began to take an assertive role in the process of moving the concept of self-determination through public educational efforts and a professional effort in lobbying U.S. Congress and the American people. One of these efforts was the lobbying effort by
"The Puerto Rico Self-Determination Process: Towards Resolving The Political Status Dilemma," whose President Herbert W. Brown III, an Admiralty Lawyer presented some of their positions in a meeting with Editor/Publisher of La Prensa.



Puerto Rico! Estado Independiente.

 

A Discussion for Statehood

"The move to make Puerto Rico the 51st state of the Union has evolved considerably over the last 30 years," stated Samuel Quiros, in a critique he delivered in 1997... "The single most determining factor of this change is the amount of information that is being made available, through the Internet. Myths and misconceptions are more easily clarified in the Information Age, where a simple click of a button will connect you to powerful computers in Congress, the White House, and all major libraries," he stated... "There has been much misinformation spread about the statehood, commonwealth and independence status options, which has prevented the serious discussion of the issue to this point in time:

1. Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States. This is something the nationalistic sectors of our island have denied, but nevertheless the U.S. Constitution grants full and complete control over Puerto Rican affairs to the U.S. Congress because of our status as a territory. The matter was clarified when the four chairpersons from the four committees under which the Puerto Rican matter resides clearly expressed this fact: "Although there is a history of confusion and ambiguity on the part of some in the U.S. and Puerto Rico regarding the legal and political nature of the current `commonwealth' local government structure and territorial status, it is incontrovertible that Puerto Rico's present status is that of an unincorporated territory subject in all respects to the authority of the United States Congress under the Territorial Clause of the U.S. Constitution."

2. Puerto Rico's U.S. citizenship and association with the United States is NOT guaranteed. Some people have been lulled into believing that our status as U.S. citizens under the current status is irrevocable. The U.S. Congress has said:

"...the current status does not provide guaranteed
permanent union or guaranteed citizenship to the
inhabitants of the territory of Puerto Rico..."

3. The "enhanced" Commonwealth presented to Puerto Rican voters during the last plebiscite is unconstitutional. Many Puerto Ricans have been fooled into believing that we can retain our U.S. citizenship and permanent union with the U.S. while following a path towards an "enhanced" commonwealth. Under the U.S. Constitution and applicable principles of international law, the three recognized options for full self-government are independence, separate sovereignty in free association with the United States, and full integration into the United States leading to statehood... It becomes clear that statehood is the ONLY alternative that will ensure a permanent union with the United States and continued U.S. citizenship. This statehood is one that will not provide special benefits or perks to the Puerto Rican people — which means no more Olympic team, no more Ms. Puerto Rico representation in the Ms. Universe pageant, and yes, English as the official government language. Many statehood advocates have been shy about admitting these facts because of fear of the negative impact they could have in voter's minds. Why do we fear equality? Why are we afraid to step up to our responsibility to become an equal member of the Union of American States?

"Puerto Rico has half of the per-capita income of the poorest state in the Union, yet the highest in Latin America. Our unemployment rate is double that of the U.S. average. It seems to me that the opportunity to improve our social, political and economical status and become an equal member in the most prosperous Union of States in the world is worth the inconvenience of learning English (which many of us already know) and of having our athletes compete in national events before they represent our NATION at the Olympic games. I guess it is a matter of priorities," stated Mr. Quiros.

 

A Word For Independence

There are 2.5 million Puerto Ricans living in the U.S., almost as many live in Puerto Rico. How do they feel about the issue? For Victor Chavez who identifies himself as a Boricua/Puerto Rican there is only one choice: Independence. "Given my political orientation as a Chicano and belief that Puerto Rico is a colony to the Imperialist U.S. I believe La Isla needs to be free... I do not believe that the U.S. government can truly do what is right for the people of Puerto Rico. Statehood is definitely not the answer (cultural Imperialism) and the Commonwealth status is just too uncertain. Independence is the only option. Self-determination and autonomy. However, for this to happen I believe it should be a gradual process so as to make certain the transition is smoother for Puerto Rico... Some day we hope to celebrate Puerto Rican Independence Day and not Happy Commonwealth Day (July 25)."



Puerto Riquense piensa en el futuro de Puerto Rico.

The View from San Juan

(La Prensa sought the views of a Female Puerto Rican. She desired her last name not be used.)

L/P: Mary, you are politically involved in the island in particular with the working class people. Have you been involved with the "Citizens Educational Foundation or its President Herbert W. Brown IV?

Mary: Honestly, I haven't heard of the Citizens Educational Foundation. It doesn't seem to be very active in Puerto Rico. I asked a friend who is familiar with many of the government officials at the Capital. He called around to all his friends in the Capital. No one seemed to know about the Foundation. They all knew who Herbert Brown III the Attorney is.

I called the telephone number of Mr. Brown and talked to his Secretary, who answered the phone. I asked if this number was the number for the "Citizens Educational Foundation." She said that "Attorney Brown's" office was also the office for the Foundation. She stated that the Foundation was created to promote self-determination. No one here really knows what it means it could be used to mean any of the three options: Statehood, Independence or Commonwealth. She also indicated that it had offices in Washington, AND New York.

L/P : Is self-determination one of the allowable definitions permitted by the U.S. Congress to be used in the ballot?

Mary: Well, no. When I questioned her why they were using that term... she slipped and told me "well that is only for the time being."

L/P: Who pays the bills for the Citizens Educational Foundation?

Mary: I don't know.

L/P: Then you are saying that as far as you know, they have no activity going on in Puerto Rico, in spite of the fact that they claim to be a Charitable foundation?

Mary: That is right but no one knows just what they consider being a charity. The office for the "Citizens Educational Foundation" is located in Herbert Brown's office in front of the Hotel Caribe. I found out that they have offices in New York. The odd thing is that the folks here who run everything having to do with Statehood didn't know who the group is, nor what their connection is, nor what they have to do with the Statehood issue. The local newspaper El Nuevo Dia is very much for Statehood. What seems to worry them is the criticism generated in the U.S. on the release of the Puerto Rican terrorist. They fear that it is going to hurt their efforts for statehood.

L/P: Well Geraldo Rivera, Puerto Rican talk show host, didn't do much to help your cause either with his attacks against the American public for condemning Clinton for releasing the prisoners. They saw it for what it was `a political ploy' to gain political votes for his wife, Hilary, who wants to be a Senator from New York. Of course he made these statements at a luncheon before all the Hispanic Caucus in D.C.

L/P: When is the next plebiscite going to be?

Mary: Probably in November but who knows what the Congressional mood will be by then.

L/P: Is Vieques issue playing well in Puerto Rico? ...is this an issue in the quest for Self-determination?

Mary: Well, the Pro-Statehood, the Independistas, and the Commonwealth supporters are all supposable allied in trying to get the Navy out of there.

 

An Opinion On Vieques

Recently an opinion by Samuel Quiros appeared on the Web site PuertoRico51.org on the issue of Vieques Island. Quiros contends that Vieques is not the problem. "Vieques is a symptom of a much larger problem, a much more complex issue," He stated, "The Vieques situation underscores Puerto Rico's inability to decide its own destiny, to govern its own land and to make decisions to protect its own people. Puerto Rico lacks the sovereignty over its own property, a fact that is painfully reiterated every time the U.S. military refuses to stop its live fire exercises on the island of Vieques." Perhaps more to the point, he says what many in Puerto Rico and the stateside Puerto Ricans are saying:

"We continue to send mixed messages to the congress. We continue to support a political cause that does not remove us from under the Territorial clause of the U.S. Constitution. We have not sent a clear message that we want our freedom and out sovereignty. And it is not just Independence. Statehood also gives the Constitutional protection and sovereignty over our own land to prevent the military to continue its live fire exercises. As long as we continue to support "Commonwealth" status, that both denies us a separate sovereignty or the constitutional protections of statehood, it is us that are to blame for Vieques.

"Puerto Ricans must come off the fence. To chart our own political destiny. Either as a Republic or a State, Puerto Rico would have more tools and ability to impact its own situation than we have now as a territory. We do not control our destiny!"

In the final analyses, Puerto Rico must be the primary voice to determine its status. Within the framework provided by the U.S. Constitution. Once they have made their choice, in a framework outlined by the U.S. Congress, then it remains for the Congress and the President to make its determination. One thing is clear... As the worlds first and most successful Democracy, we can no longer tolerate being a Colonial power. In an imperialistic manner.

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