An Open Letter to President Obama
By: Celeste Benítez
Dear President Obama:
¡Bienvenido a Puerto Rico! As a life-long Democrat and former State Democratic Chair (1995-1997), it is indeed a pleasure to welcome you to our shores.
During your visit you will be discussing two mayor topics with our present leaders: the future of Puerto Rico’s political relations with the United States (status politics), and measures that should be taken to address our Island’s economic woes. Allow me a brief comment on both issues.
The recent report from your White House Task Force on Puerto Rico proposes the use of plebiscites to exercise our people’s right to self determination over our future political relationship with the United States. Such a process, stated the Task Force, should be “just” and “transparent”.
Governor Luis Fortuño, an active member of the GOP, is using his New Progressive Party’s (NPP) control of two thirds of the seats of both Houses of our Legislature to shamelessly pack the Island’s Supreme Court and to amend our Electoral Laws to benefit his chances to prevail in the event of close elections in 2011 and 2012.
As a former law Professor, you must have been appalled to know that Fortuño expanded the number of members of our Supreme Court from seven to a total of nine in order to permanently pack the court with pro-statehood members of the NPP. In 2009, following his 2008 election, the Governor named three militant members of his party to secure a 4-3 mayority in our highest court.
But that was not enough. In 2010 Fortuño signed a law to expand the number of Justices by two additional and unnecessary members. As a result, in two years he has named a total of six (6) Justices to secure an NPP 6-3 majority in our Supreme Court. It is not difficult to imagine the fate that awaits any lawsuit on electoral issues that may be brought before such a court.
In addition to such tactics, the Fortuño Legislature is in the process of unilaterally amending our Electoral Laws to increase the NPP’s control of electoral processes on the Island. So, how can one expect “justice” and “transparency” at the hands of such people?
I urge you, sir, to keep a close watch on Fortuño’s electoral shenanigans. I cannot imagine the President of the United States of America urging the Congress to act on plebiscite results that could be the outcome of a flawed process.
As to Puerto Rico’s economy, you are well aware of the difficult challenges that we face as the US jurisdiction with the very worst economic and social indicators. Our official 17% rate of unemployment is in part a consequence of the elimination of Section 936 of the US Internal Revenue Code, which provided attractive tax benefits to American companies that create jobs in Puerto Rico. The loss of such benefits has resulted in the loss of 75,000 well-paid direct jobs, lost forever.
Then Governor Pedro Rosselló and then Fomento Administrator Luis Fortuño were key players in the1996 elimination of Sec. 936. They understand that because incentives such as 936 are only possible under the current status of Commonwealth, these are an obstacle for Puerto Rico’s becoming a State of the Union. Therefore they say, “Off with their heads! Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead!”
Statehood fundamentalists such as Fortuño have done incredible damage to Puerto Rico’s economy. Now is the time to prevent them from further harming our people’s best interests.
Mister President, we need your help not only to create incentives for American investment in Puerto Rico, but also to reinvigorate our agriculture, which has been languishing for too long. But the one area of economic development over which there is a practically universal consensus here, an Island where consensus is so very dificult to arrive at, is the exemption of Puerto Rico from the dispositions of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, also known as the Jones Act.
As a native Hawaiian, you know perfectly well the cost that using US-flag ships to transport all goods by water between US ports inflicts on the economies of Hawaii, Alaska, Guam and Puerto Rico. The Jones Act is is a protectionist measure, designed to support the U.S. Maritime Industry at the expense of millions of families in those jurisdictions.
In the past, you have supported the validity of the Jones Act. Would you be willing to reconsider your position of 2008 in order to do justice to millions of Hawaiians, Alaskans, Guamanians and Puerto Ricans?
Thank you for keeping the best interests of Puerto Rico at heart, and may God bless you abundantly as you continue to be the respected spokesperson for equality and justice to the whole world. Sincerely,
June 8, 2011