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This afternoon POLITICO reported that the White House “declined to fully endorse a push by Puerto Rico to become the 51st state.” However, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney also reiterated the previously-published position that the Obama Administration believed that Puerto Ricans have rejected their current commonwealth system.

In November Puerto Ricans held a two-part plebiscite vote, which rejected the current commonwealth system in the first part and preferred statehood in the second part. A more detailed analysis about the reality of this vote (context that the POLITICO didn’t include) can be read here.

Here is what POLITICO said:

Asked Monday by a reporter if President Obama would “help” the Puerto Ricans with their statehood bid, [Carney] said: “I think the outcome was a little less clear than that because of the process itself.”

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The story also added the following:

Carney said that the results showed that Puerto Ricans want a resolution to their current political status — and Congress should study the issue closely.

“The people of Puerto Rico have made it clear that they want a resolution to the issue of the island’s political status,” Carney told reporters.

“Congress should now study the results closely and provide the people of Puerto Rico with a clear path forward that lays out the means by which Puerto Ricans themselves can determine their own status,” Carney said.

He added that the Obama administration was committed to the principle that only Puerto Rico could decide on their future.

“This administration, as you know, is committed to the principle that the question of political status is a matter of self-determination for the people of Puerto Rico,” Carney said.

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This week, Puerto Rico’s pro-statehood Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi (D), who is a non-voting member of the United States Congress, appeared on NPR’s “All Things Considered” with Robert Siegel.

Puerto Rican Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi

Puerto Rican Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi

The following link is the audio of the interview, and the transcript is below: NPR Pierluisi Interview. As suspected, the Pierluisi interview confirms several of the main themes surrounding Puerto Rico’s status and where it goes next:

  • The main point that is really hard to ignore is that 54% of the electorate agreed that the island’s current commonwealth arrangement is no longer a viable option. Can we all agree to that or will that still get spun?
  • Pierluisi did suggest that question two was not a clear mandate for statehood. The results were still muddy, and as I have argued before, that muddiness had to do with the very poor strategic decision by Puerto Rico’s governor-elect Alejandro García Padilla (pro-commonwealth Democrat) telling voters to leave the second ballot blank. Blank was not an option in this plebiscite, so the results don’t count. People can spin it all they want, saying that the plebiscite was just a ploy by the pro-statehood party to portray a result that is not reflective of the majority of Puerto Ricans. But the fact remains: all this talk of statehood and all this national attention that Puerto Rico is getting about statehood would have gone away if García Padilla and other pro-commonwealth leaders had just told their supporters to choose options like independence or associated free state. They didn’t, and now the U.S. media is crafting a narrative that puts statehood at the front of the agenda.
  • Something should be done. Anything. Respect the vote. Have Congress act, especially the Puerto Rican members of Congress who have a vote. Hold another vote, one that is binding and clear. Puerto Rico must be a priority on the national agenda, especially since Puerto Ricans were a major factor in handing a Florida victory to President Obama.

TRANSCRIPT

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Of the 50 million Hispanics in the U.S., nearly two-thirds are of Mexican origin. The second largest group – accounting for about 9 percent – are the nearly five million Puerto Ricans who live in the 50 states and the District of Columbia – that is, not on the island of Puerto Rico. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens. The island has been a U.S. territory since the Spanish-American War.

Well, on Election Day, Puerto Rico held a vote on the island’s status, and although some people dispute the meaning of the result, the winning option was statehood. Joining us now to talk about this is a statehood advocate, resident commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, who is also Puerto Rico’s non-voting member of Congress. He caucuses with the Democratic Party. Welcome.

RESIDENT COMMISSIONER PEDRO PIERLUISI: Thank you. Thank you for having me here, Robert. I’ll be glad to expand on what happened in Puerto Rico on November 6th.

SIEGEL: Well, let’s begin with the rather controversial result. There were two questions on the ballot. First: Should the current territorial status continue? Fifty-four percent said no. And the second question was: If not, what should be the status? And of three choices offered – independence, a sovereign, free associated state or statehood – statehood got 61 percent of the vote.

Some people say, though, so many people didn’t vote on question number two, it really doesn’t say that much.

PIERLUISI: Yes. But let’s go step by step. The first question was pretty clear, basically whether Puerto Rican should remain the way it is, a territory. And 54 percent of the voters said no.

SIEGEL: But just to pursue the result one more time, about a quarter of the people who voted on question number one didn’t vote on question number two. Some people said they didn’t even know they could vote, or that it made any sense to vote on question number two if they supported the status quo.

PIERLUISI: It was pretty clear in terms of the public discourse. And there was a lot of informative ads telling voters that these were two questions, separate questions, and that regardless of the answer to the first question, they should make a choice. So that’s where we are.

SIEGEL: Right. All right, that’s where we are. So we have a result. We have an election that’s taken place, a referendum. President Obama has said – and I’m quoting now – “When the people of Puerto Rico make a clear decision, my administration will stand by you.” The Republican platform of 2012 said that party supports the right of U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico to be admitted to the union as a fully sovereign state if they freely so determine.

But it then speaks of that happening by means of a general right of referendum, or specific referenda sponsored by the U.S. government. Does that mean a different kind of election than the one you just held in Puerto Rico?

PIERLUISI: The government of Puerto Rico has every right to hold a plebiscite, to consult the people of Puerto Rico regarding their wishes. But the truth is that for a change in the status of Puerto Rico to happen, you need both Congress and Puerto Rico agreeing to it.

SIEGEL: Let me ask you a couple of questions about statehood. The benefits of statehood may be self-evident. On the other hand, Puerto Rico enjoys a very unusual status. Puerto Ricans don’t pay federal income tax, I understand it. You have your own Olympic team and, you know, your own baseball team in the World Baseball Classic, and you also use Spanish as an official language.

This makes you remarkably different from the other states. Would Puerto Ricans be willing to give up those privileges of the current situation in order to become a state?

PIERLUISI: Well, we would have to see if Congress imposes terms and conditions on the admission of Puerto Rico as a state. There are now over 50 million Hispanics in America. Spanish is the predominant language in many areas of the country. Now, Puerto Rico will get a lot of additional federal assistance, but at the same time, corporations and wealthy taxpayers on the island would pay federal income taxes.

Right now, we pay federal payroll taxes – Social Security, Medicare. But close to half of the households in the U.S. mainland do not owe federal income taxes. So in the case of Puerto Rico, right now, at least eight out of 10 taxpayers wouldn’t be paying federal taxes, anyway. I believe in the long run, this would be a win-win for both the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

All property values would increase, like it happened in Hawaii and Alaska. The economic growth in the island would also increase like it happened in Hawaii after Hawaii became a state. So that would offset any kind of impact that federal income taxes could have.

SIEGEL: As you know, the smart money in Washington, and certainly on the world’s editorial pages, is against the prospects of Puerto Rico becoming a state. People note that unlike Alaska or Hawaii, Puerto Rico would not enter with just one seat in Congress. It would have a delegation about as big as that of Connecticut or Oregon’s. Lots of people look at Puerto Rican voting in the States and say they’re all going to be Democrats, and the Republicans are not going to admit that many new Democrats to the Congress.

PIERLUISI: They don’t know Puerto Rico that well. Puerto Rico is predominantly Catholic but a lot of evangelical Christians in Puerto Rico right now. It is conservative on social issues. Pretty much this is like a middle-of-the-road type terrain. Puerto Rico should not continue to have the current status which is colonial in nature if the people of Puerto Rico – and on top of it, American citizens – are telling the world we don’t want it anymore.

SIEGEL: Well, Representative Pierluisi, thank you very much for talking with us.

PIERLUISI: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Pedro Pierluisi is the resident commissioner and nonvoting member of Congress from Puerto Rico.

Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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We continue the Puerto Rican Plebiscite Seriers with part three of  Gil C. Schmidt‘s “Puerto Rico: Never a State” essay.  If you are interested in submitting your blog (500 words) for publication, add your comments here expressing your interest and we will run your blog unedited. (NOTE: This three-part column was originally intended for a piece I wrote when I was contributing to Being Latino magazine earlier in 2011, and Schimidt’s response was never published by BL, so we are following up on an invitation we extended to Gil to have it published here).

Puerto Rico: Never a State (Part Three)

By Gil C. Schmidt

Statehood for Puerto Rico is not going to happen for three unimpeachable reasons: 1) Ethnic and economic differences, masked or open, discussed in Part One; 2) History has spoken, as per Part Two and 3) Under domestic and international law, the ultimate decision is not “theirs”: it’s ours.

strong>The law says the ultimate decision is ours: During its 8th session, the U.N. General Assembly recognized Puerto Rico’s self-government on November 27, 1953 with Resolution 748 (VIII). This removed Puerto Rico’s classification as a non-self-governing territory under article 73(e) of the U.N. Charter.

Puerto Rico held its plebiscite concerning a new constitution in 1950. The constitutionally-based commonwealth was inaugurated on July 25th, 1952. However, the U.N. recognized Puerto Rico’s self-government in November 27, 1953.

Neither domestic nor international law recognizes a right to a plebiscite before a transfer of sovereignty. In short: In 1950 we weren’t empowered to choose our status.

Up until that day in 1953, we were not considered self-governing. Under domestic law (Supreme Court and Congress), we were “an unincorporated territory,” and as such, were not guaranteed anything by the U.S. So the process between the U.S. and Puerto Rico that led to the commonwealth “experiment” was not, as the pro-commonwealth party has always insisted, a deal between equals, it was merely a hand-me-down fait accompli between a sovereign nation and its territory.

Therefore, if according to international law we stopped being a colony in 1953, then we have to face up to certain truths:

  • As a self-governing territory, it is up to us —and no one else— to make the focused effort to establish our permanent status. And by “us” I mean the Puerto Ricans who live, work and own property here, not “weekenders” waving our flag a couple of times a year during some New York parade.
  • The only binding plebiscite the U.S. can offer —and never has— is a Congressionally-mandated referendum wherein Puerto Rico can automatically put into motion whatever ultimate status the voters choose. No such offer is being made now and won’t be: the fear of pledging itself to grant statehood to Puerto Rico is not something any U.S. politician wants to see looming ahead. Puerto Rico cannot force Congress to do this and Congress simply cannot be forced on this issue. History proves it.

I think it is way past time that we moved beyond all this statehood fantasy. For deep down, it isn’t a matter of pride, heritage, history or anything equally lofty: it simply boils down to a matter of money. They have it, they know many Puerto Ricans want more of it, and they don’t want—or have—to share it. On that basis alone, the U.S. will continue to reject seriously considering any Puerto Rican request for statehood.

And they should. Because we can do better.

Except that most of us don’t believe—or don’t want to believe—that.

Not becoming a state is not Puerto Rico’s loss; not knowing how to be ourselves is.

Bio: I lived almost 20 years in the U.S., spanning states from Nebraska to Texas to Mississippi. My appearance and name are those of a White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant, the proverbial W.A.S.P. But I was born in Puerto Rico, a fourth-generation Puerto Rican and have lived on the island continuously since 1987. You can find more of my writings about Puerto Rico at Gil The Jenius: http://gilthejenius.blogspot.com

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At a time when the political landscape is examining government budgets with fine tooth combs and microscopes, a report by the non-partisan Sunlight Foundation has listed the Hon. Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rican Resident Commissioner and non-voting member of the US House of Representatives, as the House’s biggest spender, having accumulated $2.1 million in expenses to keep his office running.

As Sunlight’s article mentions:

In 2010, members, committees and other offices of the U.S. House of Representatives spent more than $1.36 billion on salaries, benefits, office equipment, travel, consultants and other expenses. Of that, the largest expense–about $1 billion–was for salaries and benefits, followed by spending on rent and communication costs, technology and related maintenance costs.

In addition, the report lists the House’s 10 biggest spenders, with Pierluisi outspending former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi by more than $300,000. Pierluisi, a registered Democrat in Republican Governor Luis Fortuño’s administration, is one of nine Democrats on the Top 10 list of spenders:

  1. Pedro Pierluisi, D-Puerto Rico: $2,117,000
  2. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.: $1,860,000
  3. Jim Costa, D-Calif.: $1,764,000
  4. *Dina Titus, D-Nev.: $1,742,000
  5. *Scott Murphy, D-N.Y.: $1,741,000
  6. Ken Calvert, R-Calif.: $1,737,000
  7. Brad Sherman, D-Calif.: $1,733,000
  8. *Mary Jo Kilroy, D-Ohio: $1,724,000
  9. David Wu, D-Ore.: $1,699,000
  10. Laura Richardson, D-Calif.: $1,688,000

*-Denotes former member

EL NUEVO DÍA, Puerto Rico’s largest circulation newspaper, did get Pierluisi to comment about the Sunlight findings, as reported in Spanish by reporter José A. Delgado. We have translated a few sections of the article here:

Pedro Pierluisi said today that it is the very leadership of the House of Representatives that decides how money allocated to the office of Resident Commissioner in Washington.

“There is a process to request funds,” Commissioner Pierluisi said.

This week, an analysis from the Sunlight Foundation, which highlights the expenses of the offices of House members, said Pierluisi had the highest budget for 2010, with about $ 2.1 million.

The costs that stands out in the Sunlight report is the $ 173.000 in printed material (mainly fact sheets Pierluisi’s office inserted into publications for Puerto Rico) and the nearly $ 60,000 in travel, three times more than any other federal legislator of Puerto Rican origin.

“The trip includes spending on employees,” said Pierluisi, who also said that the cost of tickets to Puerto Rico is much higher than that of tickets that his colleagues can purchase.

Later in the article, Popular Democratic Party Chairman Héctor Ferrer criticized Pierluisi for his actions:

This is not the amount of money that is given. My question is: what is the benefit obtained by the people of Puerto Rico with the expenditure of that money? I have a budget that is a quarter that of Pierluisi’s and I represent the same number of voters.

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In what is a very bizarre political marriage, Puerto Rican Republican Governor and pro-statehooder Luis Fortuño has been showcased on Fox News as a “rising star of the Republican Party.” The following videos from Fox confirm that the promotion of Fortuño has been calculated and deliberate.

Meanwhile, Fortuño, who has still not commented about the highly charged critical comments made US Congressman Luis Gutiérrez on the floor of Congress, is now being rumored as a possible VP candidate for Republican Presidential contender Mitt Romney. If that bizarre rumor were to become true, would Fortuño need to reside officially in a US state on the mainland, since right now his living in Puerto Rico would not make him eligible to run for the VP office? We think that all this Republican lovefest for Fortuño is a bit premature, since the governor would need to leave his post in San Juan before the end of his term in 2013.

Governor Luis Fortuño

As the post about Fortuño’s vice presidential hopes states:

Taking a page out of the Democrats play book the Republican Party may be quietly weighing the possibilities of a surprise 2012 Presidential Ticket of Mitt Romney and Puerto Rico Govenor Luis Fortuño.

One very clear indicator of this possibility, as well as Democrats fear of such a move, is the following recent quote by Andrew Romano of the Liberal Mouthpiece Newsweek Magazine:

“Allow me, then, to introduce you. Fortuño is the governor of Puerto Rico, which, as you may have learned in fifth-grade social-studies class, is a United States commonwealth located to the east of the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean Sea. Yes, Fortuño is a U.S. citizen. And, yes, he is a true-blue, Reagan- and National Review-loving member of the GOP—despite the liberal leanings of his native island”

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On February 17, the Hon. Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner and a non-voting member of the U.S. House of Representatives, formally responded to the February 16 remarks made by Illinois Congressman Luis Gutiérrez. Here is a full copy of Pierlusi’s comments, which are now part of the House record:

Congressman Pedro R. Pierluisi
Statement for the Record
One-Minute Speech

February 17, 2011

Mr./Madame Speaker:

I rise to address the chamber this morning with disappointment, sadness, and a deep resolve to set the record straight. I am compelled to respond to remarks delivered yesterday on this floor by my colleague, the gentleman from Illinois, in which he harshly criticized the duly-elected government of Puerto Rico, the officers who serve honorably in its police force, and the chief judge of the U.S. district court for the District of Puerto Rico. The speech was inappropriate and insulting to the people of Puerto Rico. I hope such action will not be repeated. But if it is, make no mistake: I will return to this floor again to defend my constituents—and the government they chose in free and fair elections—from all unwarranted attacks. I will rise then in the same capacity that I rise now: as Puerto Rico’s only elected representative in Congress and the only member of this chamber who can make any claim to speak on behalf of the Island’s nearly four million American citizens. I will fight for my people because it is my privilege, my honor, and my duty to do so.

To compare Puerto Rico to an authoritarian country is beyond the pale. It demeans not merely my constituents, but also the millions of men and women around the world who suffer under real dictatorships, who are truly oppressed, and who lack the dignity that comes only with genuine freedom. Puerto Rico is a rich and vibrant democracy, with strong institutions, governed by the rule of law. Fundamental rights protected by the U.S. Constitution—including the right to free speech, free assembly and due process of law—apply fully in Puerto Rico. So does federal civil rights law. This is not to suggest that violations of individual liberties never take place in Puerto Rico. On occasion they may, just as they do in every jurisdiction. And I would be the first person to condemn such conduct if it occurs. But, in Puerto Rico, unlike in a dictatorship, there are legal remedies available to citizens who claim to have been deprived of their rights. Those who fail to grasp this basic distinction do not understand Puerto Rico or appreciate its strengths.

Moreover, I believe it is wrong for a member of this body to insult a federal judge simply because that judge ruled in a way the member finds objectionable. To use an enlarged photo of that judge as a prop is, in my view, particularly unfortunate. Such theatrics undermine, rather than strengthen, the argument being made. Judge Fusté, a man who has devoted over 25 years of his life to public service, does not deserve such treatment.

Yesterday, a great disservice was done to the good name and reputation of the people of Puerto Rico. I regret that it occurred. I hope—and expect—that it will not happen again.

I yield back the balance of my time.

Pierluisi is a political ally of Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuño, both pro-statehood politicians and members of the island’s New Progressive Party (PNP). On the Sunday episode of Univision’s Al Punto show with Jorge Ramos, Gutiérrez compared the tactics of Fortuño and his alleged manipulation of the island’s judicial system to that of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Ramos had invited Fortuño to appear on the show and respond, but the governor did not appear. There is still an open invitation by Ramos for the governor to appear. Fortuño declined to comment about Gutiérrez at an event in Ponce last week, but Pierluisi shared his opinions about Gutiérrez on the House floor,  and it is very likely that those opinions are also shared by Fortuño.

Puerto Rican Independence Organization Supports Gutiérrez

Meanwhile, Puerto Rico’s Movimiento Independentista Nacional Hostosiano (MINH), a Puerto Rican organization that favors independence for the island, announced this past weekend that it fully supported Gutiérrez’s comments. In remarks made in Spanish, Héctor L. Pesquera, the co-president of the MINH said:

[Gutiérrez] completed his obligation as a congressman and as a Puerto Rican by denouncing the violation of fundamental civil rights in Puerto Rico committed by both the Government of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Federal Courts in Puerto Rico.

In his speech to his colleagues in Congress, he clearly referred to the abuses that are occurring in this colony of the United States. It is his duty and prerogative.

Pesquera also criticized Pierluisi, saying that he is not the only person who can speak on the floor of Congress about Puerto Rico, and added:

Pierluisi only represents the Fortuño government in Washington. Gutiérrez represents the dignity of Puerto Rico and the interests of all Puerto Ricans. We should all be thankful to him.

It is inconceivable that Pierluisi would silence Gutiérrez’s right to express himself freely.

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