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With the announcement of a Dialogue Committee by Puerto Rico’s Republican and pro-statehood leader Luis Fortuño that has attempted to bring consensus to the colony’s upcoming plebiscite on political status, several organizations, particularly those who support a “free associated state,” have been prohibited from participating in Fortuño’s committee.

As a result, these organizations have decided to take the matter into their own hands and hold their own forums about why Fortuño has not allowed them into the conversation.

ANUNCIO EN ESPAÑOL

La organización Alianza pro Libre Asociación Soberana (ALAS) se une a los compañeros de Acción Democrática Puertorriqueña (ADP) en el coauspicio de la siguiente actividad:

CONFERENCIA Y CONVERSATORIO

EL VOTO DE LOS PUERTORRIQUEÑOS AUSENTES EN EL PROCESO DE LIBRE DETERMINACIÓN DE PUERTO RICO

Conferenciante:   Lcdo.  Manuel Rivera

Sábado 7 de mayo de 2011 a las 2:30 PM

ATENEO PUERTORRIQUEÑO

SAN JUAN

Este tema es de gran interés para los miembros de ALAS, ya que ese derecho para los puertorriqueños es uno de los requisitos que estaremos solicitando en la implantación de la ley habilitadora del plebiscito de estatus si finalmente se realizara.

Por estas razones invitamos a todos los simpatizantes de ALAS y colaboradores nos demos cita para acompañar a nuestros hermanos de ADP en la actividad del próximo sábado 7 en el Ateneo Puertorriqueño en San Juan.

“Recordando siempre, que lo que necesitamos es voluntad para dar un primer paso”

ENGLISH ANNOUNCEMENT

The organization of the Alliance for an Associated Free State (ALAS) joins fellow organization Puerto Rican Democratic Action (PDA) in the co-sponsorship of the following activity:

CONFERENCES AND FORUMS

THE ABSENT VOTES OF PUERTO RICANS IN THE SELF-DETERMINATION PROCESS FOR PUERTO RICO

Speaker: Atty. Manuel Rivera

Saturday May 7, 2011 at 2:30 PM

ATENEO PUERTORRIQUEÑO

SAN JUAN

This issue is of great interest to members of ALAS. This right for Puerto Ricans is one of the requirements that we request in the implementation of the status plebiscite, if it were to finally be held.

For these reasons we urge all supporters of ALAS and colleagues to mark their calendars and to join our brothers and sisters from the ADP this Saturday May 7 at the Ateneo Puertorriqueño in San Juan.

“Remembering always that what we need is the will to take a first step”

Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuño

We applaud ALAS and ADP for addressing what we feel is a serious flaw of Governor Fortuño’s Dialogue Committee: denying all interested stakeholders to have a say in how the plebiscite will be shaped.

ALAS was one of the organizations that presented the option of a free associated state to the White House Task Force on Puerto Rico Status, an option that is recognized as legal and valid.

While Governor Fortuño speaks about practicing true American democracy, his recents actions to not include ALAS and ADP in the Dialogue Committee remind us of tactics better served for typical Latin American leaders who would rather keep detractors away in order to keep their agenda unscathed.

Governor Fortuño’s actions are as un-American and unpatriotic as anything we have ever seen. You cannot have it both ways: either practice true and transparent democracy, or else stop promoting your unwavering belief in the uniqueness and openness that is America’s democratic process

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In his budget speech to the Puerto Rican Congress this week, Republican and pro-statehood Governor Luis Fortuño closed his remarks with his most detailed public remarks about the colony’s political status question and the recent White House Report that presents the island’s options for a status plebiscite. What follows is an English translation of Fortuño’s remarks.

Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuño

Governor Luis Fortuño’s Budget Address to Puerto Rican Congress, April 12, 2011

Status
The White House report contains another issue of great importance, and even though it is not something that we think about every day, it affects ALL aspects of our lives… the issue of our status, or the issue of our relationship with the United States, a nation of which we are citizens.

For the first time in more than 112 years, the United States, through its President, has placed the route we must follow in black and white, and they are willing to accept, to resolve, once and for all, the issue of our political status. It is a HISTORIC opportunity we cannot miss.

In Puerto Rico we have already achieved a consensus that the status issue must be resolved soon. Every day we see more clearly that the status issue—which has so divided us as a people—is the main obstacle to move forward TOGETHER. For example, in recent days a group of non-partisan economic experts said that Puerto Rico has been in decline for the past 50 years. Forget about if our current status brought or not brought us benefits in the past, the fact is that today, during these time even those who have historically defended the Commonwealth, say it no longer serves us and must be changed. This is what they presented in their election platform during the last elections.

Those who want independence, obviously do not agree with our current status. And those who believe in getting all the rights and powers that we would have as American citizens under statehood, don’t either. In short, EVERYONE, including all political parties, agrees that we must change our status NOW. And you also know.

The main reason why our current status does not work is because we do not have the tools and powers that we need to move forward. On that we all agree. The White House report clearly states, on page 26 that our present political status is a United States territory, subject to the territorial clause of the federal Constitution. That means that we do not have the necessary powers to progress, or we would have if we were a state, nor that we would if we were a republic, either fully independent or in a relationship of free association.

These three alternatives—statehood, independence and free association—are the three alternatives that all nations of the world accept, and that the same White House Report recognizes as non-colonial and non-territorial. The report clearly says that only these three alternatives, and NO OTHERS, are those that would be available to us, and they would be granted, if we change what we have now. In fact, the report rejects outright the notion of an “improved” Commonwealth that has no place in the American constitutional system.

The report also says, however, that the people must be given the opportunity to vote for NO CHANGE. Also the report says that although our present Commonwealth status is that of a territory under the powers of the federal Congress, if that’s what the People of Puerto Rico want, they have the option to maintain it.

Many people in my party disagree with this. The Independence Party leadership also disagrees. They say that if the Commonwealth IS THE PROBLEM, it cannot be the solution and therefore should not be among the options that are submitted to the people. But like it or not, the White House report says clearly that the people of Puerto Rico have the right to choose “no change”, so let’s ensure that people can choose the Commonwealth as it is: a territory within the territorial clause of the federal Constitution, as the report states.

The report presents a series of options on how to consult with the people regarding this status issue status in a fair and transparent way.

One option, the report details in page 28, offers two consultations. In the first, you would have the opportunity to choose between three options for change of status that the White House report and international law recognize as non-colonial and non-territorial alternatives: statehood, independence and free association. Then in the second consultation, you can decide whether to change or to not change. In other words, you can choose the option to change status to win in the first consultation and the alternative of staying as we are, without any change, in the second consultation.

In summary, there are two consultations: the first would choose between three options for change of non-territorial and non-colonial status that United States would be willing to grant (statehood, independence or free association) and the second would choose if we want to change or remain as is.

After analyzing this and other options set out in the report, I have decided that this alternative is the fairest for everyone in Puerto Rico to express their will directly and transparently.

First, as recommended by the report, the two consultations will give the people the opportunity to exercise their right to vote directly and secretly, as we do during elections in Puerto Rico. The resolution of our status is a decision that should take you directly to the power of the vote not and not to and assembly composed of politicians meeting in dark rooms.

Second, as recommended by the report, consultations all eligible voters in Puerto Rico may vote. We are united by close ties with our Puerto Rican brothers living in the rest of the U.S. and other countries, but the report acknowledges that the decision on the future status of Puerto Rico is the responsibility of those living on the island.

Third, EVERYONE in Puerto Rico can vote for their preferred alternative: those who want statehood, those who want independence, those who want free association, and those who want that we stay as we are. ALL have the opportunity to choose the option they prefer.

Fourth, as recommended by the report, give enough time for towns to receive all information you need to make an informed and thoughtful decision. For this, we proposed that the first consultation to take place in November of this year and the second consultation by early 2013.

In recent days, leaders of the Popular Party and the Independence Party have spoken out against this proposal of consulting with the people on this important issue of status. This is not surprising. This is what some political leaders have done in the past: talk and talk that we resolve this issue, but find an excuse to pull back when the time comes to present a real opportunity to resolve it. As they think they cannot prevail, they prefer to procrastinate. Popular Party leaders complain that the Commonwealth will not be on the ballot. THAT’S NOT TRUE. In fact, the Commonwealth AS IT IS NOW, without changes” will be on the second consultation. But more importantly, free association or the associated free state (commonwealth)—as they themselves called it in the status proposal the submitted on their platform for the past elections—will be UNDER THE FIRST CONSULTATION. So both those who want a “free associated state “as the Commonwealth is right now will have the opportunity to vote for their preferred option.

Popular Party leaders wants us to run the consultation in a way that does not represent independence or free association. That would not be fair because you are not giving the opportunity for people who prefer these alternatives to vote for these options.

For its part, Independence Party leaders want the first consultation to not be an option on status, but on how we will resolve the status: as a direct vote in a referendum or in an assembly status. The reason is obvious: they hope to win the assembly status to try to achieve something in a dark room which obviously cannot be accomplished at the polls. That is not an option: it would be a mockery of democracy.

Finally, leaders of both the Popular Party and the Independence Party have complained that the alternatives that we present to the people is too much time between the first and second consultations. Although it is desirable that the two consultations occur closer to each other, the truth is that 2012 is an election year in which we have three electoral events: local political primaries, presidential primaries and national general elections next November.

Despite these disagreements, we must make every effort to achieve consensus among political parties on the process to be followed so this fundamental status issue is resolved. Just as we did recently on the issue of electoral reform, which enables a dialogue process that resulted in consensus among the parties about the issues that were most in dispute, I am confident that a similar dialogue can result in a consensus that encourages greater voter participation possible in the consultations that we will have to decide our political status.

To do this, I am asking political parties to nominate one representative to a Dialogue Committee so that together—within 30 days—consensus through dialogue is reached. I make this call to dialogue with the utmost good faith, and confident that consensus is possible. However, it is clear, that if within 30 days of the formation of the Dialogue Committee, a consensus is not reached, I will have to submit the necessary legislation so that before the end of my four years here, we hold the first referendum for a definitive and permanent solution to the status problem.

Puerto Rico has waited too long, and we will not allow those who prefer inertia and breeching to deprive an entire people of their right to reach a final decision, non-colonial and non-territorial, to ensure our children a future of progress and wellness.

To this end, we are allocating the necessary resources in the budget for the next fiscal year to conduct such consultation BEFORE THE END OF THIS TERM. We promised the people and we are going to do it because we will continue to BE WITH PUERTO RICO.

Puerto Rican brother and sister, the time has come. Our country deserves that their daughters and children respond to the call. Puerto Rico has been more than patient. The island has waited decades for us, but it can not wait any longer. I ask that you evaluate the reliable and responsible patriotic opportunity presented to us in the White House proposal that I presented to you to resolve the status issue. For that we can finally see the day free from the obstacle that divides us. Let us walk together, like a united family, to the glory that the Creator has reserved for Puerto Rico.

God bless you… and God bless Puerto Rico!

Thank you very much.

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The weekend was a busy one for Puerto Rico’s pro-statehood party and its Republican Governor Luis Fortuño. The island’s New Progressive Party, which is led by Fortuño, approved two plebiscites that will determine Puerto Rico’s political status. The first one would be held in late 2011, with the second one to be held in early 2013.

Puerto Rican Republican Governor Luis Fortuño

Inspired by the recommendations of the White House Task Force on Puerto Rico, the PNP would not allow the island’s current Commonwealth status (Estado Libre Asociado, or Associated Free State—also known as the ELA) as an option on the first plebiscite.

“We will file management legislation as recommended on page 28 of the task force established two ballots, the first one between the non-territorial options, statehood, independence and free association, as defined on pages 24, 25 and 26 of the report, “said Fortuño.

Free association is loosely defined as a state that is “a minor partner in a formal, free relationship between a political territory with a degree of statehood and a (usually larger) nation, for which no other specific term, such as a protectorate, is adopted.” All free associated states either are independent or have the potential right to independence. Unlike the ELA, which has a more colonial relationship with the United States, a free associated state is more in line with current thinking of political status, as supported by the United Nations.

The PNP leadership claimed that they are following the White House report faithfully.

“And we will pass legislation at the state level are going to write so that the voting process is a requirement to the President and Congress to resolve this once and for all,” Fortuño said. “We are voting to make a claim the Puerto Rican people.”

The White House report states the following on page 28 (we include part of pages 27 and 29 for more context) of its recommendation:

Two Plebiscites. In response to concerns about the potential for uncertainty that may result from a single plebiscite, many advocates have supported an approach with two plebiscites, the first of which would narrow the options and the second of which would make a final decision.A challenge with any two-tiered plebiscite system is the perception that how the votes are ordered may favor one outcome over others.

H.R.2499, the Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2010, provides for just such a process.It would first require voters to choose between the current political status and a different political status.Under H.R.2499, if a majority voted for the current political status, then a plebiscite would be held every 8 years to see if the electorate has changed its mind.

In the original form of the bill, if a majority voted for a different political status, the people of Puerto Rico would then have another plebiscite to vote on three options: (1) Statehood; (2) Independence; or (3) Free Association.There was criticism that, under H.R.2499 in its original form, if change of status won the first vote but the vote was close, the second vote would not include an option that perhaps 49 percent of the population supported as a first option and an unspecified number believed was the second best option.In part, for this reason, those supporting certain options objected to the bill, and, as a result, it was amended to include a fourth option in the second plebiscite: the current political status.

A second option would be the reverse of the original version of H.R.2499.Under this approach, all of the status options would be included in the first vote, except the current political status.The option that received sufficient votes from the first plebiscite (plurality, majority, or supermajority) would then be paired against the current political status in the second plebiscite.Another variation of this type would have all status options as part of the first plebiscite, with the top two vote-getters being the two options in the second plebiscite.This would effectively operate like a single plebiscite with a runoff, as discussed above.

Another variation of the two plebiscite option is to have a first plebiscite that requires the people of Puerto Rico to choose whether they wish to be part of the United States (either via Statehood or Commonwealth) or wish to be independent (via Independence or Free Association).If continuing to be part of the United States were chosen in the first plebiscite, a second vote would be taken between Statehood and Commonwealth.If independence were selected, a second vote would be taken between full Independence and Free Association.

As noted above, this last variation has certain appeal.To the extent that a core question is whether—given clear and specific information about each option and commitments that the United States would or would not make—the people of Puerto Rico would prefer to remain part of the United States or (as noted below, with their existing citizenship protected) be an independent nation, this approach would address that question directly.

Alternative Voting Systems. To overcome the limitations of a single plebiscite and the criticisms that would attend any of the above ways of managing two plebiscites, one could choose from several other systems of voting rather than a pure one-person, one-vote, one-option approach.The benefit of such systems is that they may provide more information about the will of the people; the drawbacks are that they are complex and require significant voter education.In addition, these systems do not answer the question of how many votes are sufficient to justify a change in status.

One option would be ranked voting, which would allow voters to rank the status options in order of preference.Such an approach would reveal, for example, in a single plebiscite, if a substantial majority of the people put one status option as first or second, whereas another status option was the first choice of a similar number of people, but poorly ranked by the rest of the population.A further step in this regard would be cumulative voting, which could give each voter four votes that could be distributed among several options or dedicated entirely to one; such an approach would reveal the strength of the voters’ views.

Constitutional Convention. Given the uncertainty about the status options and the need for a full debate on these issues on the Island, some advocates have suggested that a constitutional convention is a superior means for reaching resolution on the status question.Constitutional conventions have the advantage of being able to adapt the language of the status options and to allow for a more complete consideration of a variety of subsidiary issues.However, if (as discussed below) congressional legislation commits to honoring the outcome of a determination made by the people of Puerto Rico, the virtues of a constitutional convention are reduced.Any changes made by the constitutional convention to the status options outlined in the legislation could negate the commitment made by the United States, or at least require further congressional action reflecting consent to the changes made.

An additional challenge of a constitutional convention is the selection of delegates for that convention.The Task Force’s outreach indicated that there would be significant disagreement concerning how delegates would be selected.Delegates could be elected, but it is unclear whether such a process would be an improvement on the idea of a plebiscite itself.Some advocates argued that delegates should be selected from a broad swath of Puerto Rican society, with a de-emphasis on political parties.

The most common form of a constitutional convention suggested was one that itself would define the status options, which would then be taken to the people for a popular vote.Under such an approach, the constitutional convention would define the status options (or choose a single option to be presented to the people), develop a process, and draft a ballot, which would then be presented to the people of Puerto Rico, who would vote in a referendum.The constitutional convention could precede a vote of Congress defining the status options or could follow it.If the convention preceded congressional action, the status options defined by the convention could take effect only with congressional approval.If Congress failed to provide such approval, the constitutional convention might need to reconvene to consider other options.If the constitutional convention followed congressional action, the convention could approve the congressionally defined status options or modify them, but any modification would then require further congressional approval.H.R.1230, the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2007, proposed a process that included a constitutional convention.

Because 2012 is a year full electorally in Puerto Rico and the United States, the second query would be left in early 2013 and that would involve the formula that is winning on the first ballot and “territorial status” as described the first executive to the Commonwealth.

The PNP decided to not have the second plebiscite until 2013 because 2012 is a major election year both in the United States (President) and in Puerto Rico (Governor).

As expected, the PNP’s actions created some very strong reactions from the island’s other political groups.

Alejandro García Padilla

The gubernatorial candidate for the Popular Democratic Party (PDP), Alejandro García Padilla, said the intention of excluding the ELA in a vote this year demonstrated the “lack of seriousness and determination on the issue of status.”

He noted that nothing prevents the two plebiscites to be conducted this year, as proposed by the PDP.

“With the President pledging to present the results to Congress, the PNP cannot seriously justify neither the structure nor the separation proposed so wide of the two events,” said García Padilla.

“Just looking to create artificial and false appearance of support for statehood is worthless. And to postpone the second vote for the next two years, the Governor seeks only to remove the President and to wait to see if there is a change of government in the United States to return to the crooked ways of the past. The Popular Party strongly rejects the decision of the board of the PNP as an insult to Puerto Ricans who want this settled now and as a rebuke to a president who is committed to address this issue, “said the gubernatorial candidate.

Earlier today, García Padilla sounded more determined when he said the following at a PPD press conference: “The PPD will not stand idly by, we’re going to expose here and in Washington. The PNP has positioned itself as the party of tricks and deceptions.”

PPD Senator Eduardo Bhatia

PPD Senator Eduardo Bhatia was very clear when saying that the PNP’s intentions to include the current ELA as a option is “illegitimate, anti-democratic, and has no validity.”

“The United States, since Congress and the White House and the people of Puerto Rico have been emphatic that the Commonwealth [ELA] must be included in any process of self-determination. Democracy can not be a half democracy, without all the options there is no democracy, “said Bhatia.

Julio Fontanet, the former president of the Puerto Rican Bar Association and spokesman for the United Sovereignty Movement (MUS) , focused on the political reality that the PNP is facing in the 2012 elections

“They are doing this process on the premise that their option will prevail in this first round, perhaps with the hope that it will strengthen their party in 2012 because they anticipate a big defeat, and that’s why they put the second round after the election,” said Fontanet.

Fernando Martin, President of the Puerto Rican Independence Party

As for comments from the island’s Independence Party (PIP), Fernando Martin, the PIP’s executive president, said the following:

“It is clear that this decision is a politically motivated move which is not intended or will result in accelerating the decolonization of Puerto Rico and it is being made by the New Progressive Party (NPP) to create an electoral advantage for the upcoming elections.”

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I could write 3,000 words about my love for my homeland. I could tell you that Puerto Ricans suffer from the paradoxical condition of misguided identity: are we Puerto Ricans? Americans? Puerto Ricans and Americans? But as I was about to write this post, I came across this video: PUERTO RICO A NATION. This is how I feel. Puerto Rico needs to be free: either being freely associated with the United States or as an independent country. Simple as that.

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