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Yesterday Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, a non-voting member of the US Congress, published the following public letter on his Facebook site (the original document can be seen here). Pierluisi, a pro-statehood Democrat who actively campaigned for President Obama and distanced himself from Republican pro-statehood and Mitt Romney supporter Governor Luis Fortuño, who lost his re-election bid on November 6. As suspected, Pierluisi is using his political capital to try and get the Obama administration to begin a status process for Puerto Rico, a US territory/colony since American troops landed on the island in 1898.

In the meantime, Governor-elect Alejandro García Padilla (a pro-commonwealth Democrat) wrote his own letter to President Obama. In that letter, García Padilla said that the latest status vote—which rejected the island’s current status quo in its first question and preferred statehood even though close to 500,000 votes in the second question were left blank—did not produce a “clear result,” and suggested that he meet with the President to discuss this matter formally. He also added that even though the pro-statehood faction is claiming victory, García Padilla believes that this is not the case. He told the President that the combined voted of those who support the Estado Libre Asociado (ELA), Puerto Rico’s current commonwealth system, defeated the statehood voices.

Puerto Rican Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi

Here is Pierluisi’s full letter:

November 13, 2012
The President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

I want to begin by warmly congratulating you on your re-election. You and the administration you lead have done an outstanding job under difficult circumstances at home and abroad, and the election results are evidence that the American people recognize this fact. Moreover, in your first term in office, you have been a champion of fair treatment for the U.S. citizens residing in Puerto Rico and the other territories, particularly in the areas of economic development, health care, and public safety. I look forward with enthusiasm to continuing to work with you over the next four years.

I write to you today about an issue of fundamental importance not only to Puerto Rico but also to the nation as a whole. As you know, on November 6th—the same day as the U.S. general elections and Puerto Rico’s local elections—Puerto Rico held a political status plebiscite authorized by local law. Although the final results have not yet been certified by the Puerto Rico State Elections Commission, I would like to convey the preliminary results to you,[1] to describe their significance, and to express my hope and expectation that the White House will take appropriate and timely action in light of these results, consistent with the recommendations contained in the March 2011 Report by the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status, a body whose mandate you renewed—and expanded—though Executive Order 13517 (October 30, 2009). I know this letter will be the first of many communications between my congressional office and your administration on this topic.

The plebiscite ballot consisted of two questions. On the first question, voters were asked whether they want Puerto Rico to remain a U.S. territory, the status the Island has had since 1898. Over 1.74 million people responded to this question. That is approximately 75 percent of all registered voters in Puerto Rico, a level of participation that is substantially higher than the national turnout for the U.S. general elections on the same day. More than 943,000 voters—54.0 percent—said they did not want the current territory status to continue, while 803,400 voters—46.0 percent—said they did want it to continue.

On the second question, voters were asked to express their preference among the three alternatives to the current territory status that are legally and politically viable according to the federal government and international law: statehood, nationhood in free association with the United States, and independence. Over 1.32 million people chose an option. 61.13 percent—nearly 810,000 people—voted for statehood; 33.33 percent—about 442,000 people—voted for Puerto Rico to become a freely associated state; and 5.54 percent—about 73,000 people—voted for independence. In addition, some 472,000 voters did not provide an answer, a point addressed below.

As evident from the hundreds of news reports that have appeared in the national and international press in the wake of this plebiscite, the vote was historic in several respects.

This was the first time voters were directly asked whether they want Puerto Rico to continue as a territory. One of the two main political parties in Puerto Rico, the Popular Democratic Party, strongly urged a “Yes” vote. Nevertheless, the “No” vote against the current territory status won by an eight-point margin, 54 percent to 46 percent. Those voting “No” included statehood supporters, as well as advocates of free association and independence.

There is no reasonable way to interpret these results as anything other than a decisive rejection of the current territory status. This status deprives the U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico of the two most basic democratic rights: the right to choose the leaders who enact and execute their national laws, and the right to equal treatment under those laws. This vote fundamentally alters the terms of the status debate in Puerto Rico, which has seemingly been stuck in neutral for years. In my view, after this vote, the question is not whether, but when, Puerto Rico will cease to be a territory and will instead have a political status—either statehood or nationhood—that provides its people with full democratic rights and full equality under the law. In short: it is clear that a solid majority of my constituents want to close the long territory chapter in Puerto Rico’s political life, and to begin a fresh new chapter.

The result of the second question, which asked voters which status should replace the current territory status, is also of great import. As noted, of the 1.32 million people who voted for one of the three viable alternatives to the current status, a supermajority of over 61 percent chose statehood. It is critical to note that the number of votes cast in favor of statehood on the second question—nearly 810,000—is also greater than the number of votes—803,400—cast in favor of the current status on the first question. For the first time ever, there are now more people in Puerto Rico who want to become a state than who want to continue as a territory. This fact further undermines the democratic legitimacy of the current status.

Naturally, some are seeking to downplay the historic nature of this plebiscite by citing the voters who left the second question blank at the urging of some leaders in the Popular Democratic Party. This argument may have some superficial appeal, but it does not withstand scrutiny.

First and foremost, in our democracy, it is well-settled that outcomes are determined by ballots properly cast. Power rests with the citizen who votes, not the one who stays home or refuses to choose from among the options provided.

Moreover, this was the first status vote in Puerto Rico’s history to include only the valid status options. True self-determination is a choice among options that can actually be implemented, not an exercise in wishful thinking. Because all viable status options were on the ballot, not voting was an empty act.

Logically, some voters may have left the second question blank simply because they prefer the current status to any of the three possible alternatives. Those voters were able to—and did in fact—vote for the current status in the first question, so their viewpoint was fully reflected in the plebiscite results. Other voters may have declined to answer the second question because they were led to believe there was another status option that should have been on the ballot—namely, a proposal sometimes called “Enhanced Commonwealth.” But each of the last four presidential administrations, including your administration, has considered and rejected this proposal as a valid status option,[2] as have all key congressional leaders who have examined the proposal.[3] A blank vote to protest the exclusion of an impossible status proposal is entitled to no weight.

To summarize: a majority of voters in Puerto Rico have soundly rejected the current status in favor of a new status. Among the three viable alternatives, statehood won a decisive victory. And, in a historical first, statehood obtained more votes than the current status (or any other status option).

* * *
In light of these results, I believe that the White House has a clear basis, and a clear responsibility, to act. I further believe that the precise steps to be taken ought to be guided and informed by the recommendations in the March 2011 Task Force Report and the public statement you delivered during your historic visit to Puerto Rico on June 14, 2011.

The first recommendation in the Task Force Report notes that the government of Puerto Rico had plans to hold a plebiscite under local law. The Task Force states: “Without taking a position on the particular details of this proposal, the Task Force recommends that the President and Congress support any fair, transparent, and swift effort that is consistent with and reflects the will of the people of Puerto Rico. If the process produces a clear result, Congress should act on it quickly with the President’s support.” See Page 23.

In its second recommendation, the Task Force says that four status options should be included in the plebiscite: “Statehood, Independence, Free Association, and Commonwealth.” See Page 24. The Task Force then explicitly states: “Under the Commonwealth option, Puerto Rico would remain, as it is today, subject to the Territory Clause of the U.S. Constitution.” See Page 26.

In its third recommendation, the Task Force discusses a number of possible ways to structure the plebiscite process, while confirming that it “supports any fair method for determining the will of the people of Puerto Rico.” See Page 26.

And in its seventh and final recommendation, the Task Force states that, “[i]f efforts on the Island do not provide a clear result in the short term, the President should support, and Congress should enact” federal legislation that “specifies in advance for the people of Puerto Rico a set of acceptable status options that the United States is politically committed to fulfilling.” The Task Force recommends that “the Administration develop, draft, and work with Congress to enact the proposed legislation.” See Page 30.

Several months after the release of the Task Force Report, you traveled to Puerto Rico and delivered a speech where you stated as follows: “[A] report from our presidential task force on Puerto Rican status provided a meaningful way forward on this question so that the residents of the island can determine their own future. And when the people of Puerto Rico make a clear decision, my administration will stand by you.”

I am the first to recognize and respect that you face many important domestic and foreign policy challenges as you begin your second term in office. However, in light of these historic plebiscite results and the commitments embodied in the Task Force Report, I believe that the White House must devote the necessary time, resources and—above all—leadership to help resolve the question of Puerto Rico’s political status. There are a number of possible steps that the White House can take to fulfill its responsibility in this regard, and I look forward to discussing the alternatives with senior administration officials and congressional leaders in the coming days. In the final analysis, the people of Puerto Rico have spoken and, as their official representative in Washington, I intend to do everything within my power to ensure that the federal government responds in an appropriate and timely fashion.

Congratulations again.
Sincerely,
Pedro R. Pierluisi
Member of Congress

cc: Hon. David Agnew, Co-Chair, The President’s Task Force of Puerto Rico’s Status
Hon. Tony West, Co-Chair, The President’s Task Force of Puerto Rico’s Status
Hon. Cecilia Muñoz, Director, White House Domestic Policy Council
The Hon. Luis Fortuño, Governor of Puerto Rico
The Hon. Alejandro García Padilla, Governor-elect of Puerto Rico

[1] As of this writing, ballots from 1,615 of Puerto Rico’s 1,643 electoral units—98.3 percent—have been tabulated.

[2] See, e.g., March 2011 Report by the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status, pg. 26 (“[C]onsistent with the legal conclusions reached by prior Task Force reports, one aspect of some proposals for enhanced Commonwealth remains constitutionally problematic—proposals that would establish a relationship between Puerto Rico and the Federal Government that could not be altered except by mutual consent. This was a focus of past Task Force reports. The Obama Administration has taken a fresh look at the issue of such mutual consent provisions, and it has concluded that such provisions would not be enforceable because a future Congress could choose to alter that relationship unilaterally.”)

[3] See, e.g., December 1, 2010 Letter from Chairman Jeff Bingaman and Ranking Republican Member Lisa Murkowski, Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, to President Barack Obama (endorsing the view that the “Enhanced Commonwealth” proposal is “incompatible with the Constitution and basic laws of the United States in several respects”); see also House Report 111-294, accompanying H.R. 2499 in the 111th Congress (“Proposals for such a governing arrangement have been consistently opposed by federal authorities in the executive and legislative branches, including this Committee, on both constitutional and policy grounds. Nevertheless, this hybrid proposal continues to be promoted in Puerto Rico as a feasible status option. Such proposals have resulted in misinformed and inconclusive referenda in Puerto Rico in July 1967, November 1993, and December 1998.”)

Last week, I suggested that García Padilla avoid making the status vote a political matter that has kept Puerto Rico from progressing. I still believe that his suggestion to leave the second question blank in the vote backfired since it allowed the pro-statehood factions to control the status agenda. This latest example of Obama letters confirms that. Pierluisi took advantage of the vote and proactively pushed his agenda. García Padilla still appears to be in a defensive position, and he continues to place politics over the vote.

Alejandro García Padilla

Now García Padilla enters his first term with a major headache, which could have easily been avoided if he had told his supporters to choose other status options for the second question besides statehood. Furthermore, García Padilla is making a huge tactical mistake by ignoring the KEY TAKEAWAY of this entire vote, which is the first question. That question led to a rejection of the island’s current status quo, which García Padilla supported. He cannot dodge that fact, and if he continues to do so, the luster of his well-deserved victory over Fortuño will fade rather quickly.

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Now it gets interesting. Just a month before Puerto Ricans get to determine the fate of incumbent pro-statehood Republican governor Luis Fortuño as well as vote on yet another non-binding political status plebiscite, today’s poll by El Nuevo Día (the island’s largest newspaper) has Fortuño trailing pro-commonwealth Democratic challenger Alejandro García Padilla by just two points, 41%-39%.

The poll, published today, suggests that Fortuño continues to gain as he seeks his second term as Puerto Rico’s governor. According to reports, García Padilla was leading by 5 percentage points after an August poll and by 7 percentage points after a poll in May. Fortuño, who favors statehood for Puerto Rico and is head of the island’s New Progressive Party, has recently turned his campaign push as a push for statehood, even though the upcoming plebiscite—held the same day as the elections—would be non-binding, meaning that the US Congress would still have to decide Puerto Rico’s political status and while Mitt Romney has promised that if Puerto Ricans chose statehood in the plebiscite he would push for the island’s entry into the Union, President Obama went on record last year to say that the plebiscite’s results would have to be pretty definitive before Congress could act.

As for Puerto Rico’s Independentista candidate Juan Dalmau? According to the latest poll, he is still stuck at 4%. That is less than those who told said they were still undecided (6%). Ouch.

So, in the end, what can be said about where Puerto Rico’s race stands? Let’s just say this: In the end, Fortuño, the Republican, is like President Obama, the Democrat. Both are trying to tell voters that things are getting better, and they both have a tough case to make. Fortuño can also dangle the fantasy of statehood, which is still attractive to about 40%-45% of the island.

García Padilla is a lot like Romney. Not the greatest of candidates. But just like Romney, if García Padilla keeps pounding Fortuño’s record, just like Romney is pounding Obama’s, García Padilla (and Romney) just might win. But polls are polls, and who knows what will happen on November 6. What we can guarantee is this: it should make for an intense night, both on the mainland and on the island.

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What planet is FOX’s John Stossel on? This weekend, Stossel had Republican and pro-statehood Puerto Rican governor Luis Fortuño on to discuss the “economic miracle” or Puerto Rico. Stossel proudly stated in his fluff interview with Fortuño that the Puerto Rican economy was growing due to Fortuño’s austerity measures.

The fact that Stossel didn’t even address the fact that Puerto Rico under the Fortuño administration has been stuck at double-digit unemployment with a shrinking labor force is an issue with his lack of journalism. Just create a more balanced view the next time and stop the overhyping. Basic fact checking could take you far.

According to the CIA’s World Factbook, Puerto Rico’s GDP in 2010  was -5.8%(the last recorded year, which was worse than the island -3.7% in 2009, which was worse that the island -2.5% in 2008).

As the CIA says:

Puerto Rico has one of the most dynamic economies in the Caribbean region, however, growth has been negative for the past four years, and unemployment has risen to nearly 16% in 2011. The industrial sector has surpassed agriculture as the primary locus of economic activity and income. Mainland US firms have invested heavily in Puerto Rico since the 1950s. US minimum wage laws apply. Sugar production has lost out to dairy production and other livestock products as the main source of income in the agricultural sector. Tourism has traditionally been an important source of income with estimated arrivals of more than 3.6 million tourists in 2008. Closing the budget deficit while restoring economic growth and employment remain the central concerns of the government.

Also this graph shows that the island’s GDP has been going down since 2005.

Another financial analysis by an independent group states the following:

The official PR Planning Board macroeconomic forecast for 2012 estimate a modest recovery of less than 1%.  US Stimulus funds received in 2008-2010 in the amount of $4.8BN have led to an increase in Personal Income within a period of reduction in GDP, exports, investment and credit concession.
Our main concern is that given high and increasing levels of debt, prolonged structural recession, reduction in pharmaceutical exports due to patent expiration and need to strengthen the banking system and credit flows while addressing real estate loan portfolios and market price adjustments, US financial regulatory institutions, private sector leaders and the Government of Puerto Rico need to aspire to and implement a comprehensive and high quality policy strategy, focusing on integrated macroeconomic, fiscal and financial system performance and proposing changes in structural impediments to optimal investment, labor market participation, reductions in operational costs and improved human capital investment returns.
Puerto Rico’s economy is climbing out of its marathon recession at a slighter quicker pace than expected this year.
That was the word Thursday from the Planning Board, which said the economy is on pace to grow by a modest 0.9 percent during fiscal 2012. That is narrowly ahead of the agency’s earlier estimate of 0.7 percent for the year, which ends June 30.
The upturn will mark the first annual growth in Puerto Rico’s economy since the onset of the local recession in 2006.
Puerto Rico’s economy contracted 1 percent in fiscal 2011 after shrinking 3.8 percent in fiscal 2010, 4 percent in fiscal 2009, 2.9 percent in fiscal 2008 and 1.2 percent in fiscal 2007, according to Planning Board numbers.
The island economy was last on positive footing in fiscal 2006, when it posted 0.5 percent growth, down from 1.9 percent the previous year.
The Planning Board said Thursday it expects the economic rebound to gain ground in fiscal 2013, projecting growth to edge up to 1.1 percent.
“We have seen the light at the end of the tunnel for some time,” Planning Board President Rubén Flores Marzan said. “But now we are essentially pulling out of the tunnel.”
So basically, the irony of all this is that Fortuño will take any sliver of good news spin, just like President Obama. The fact remains: Puerto Rico has been in the NEGATIVE for years. Any “growth” would be still keep you in a historical negative place. The challenge is true economic transformation that is bipartisan and works for everyone on the island. Let’s put the FOX NEWS pom-poms away. Fortuño’s legacy will be mixed, if that. All we ask is for better and true accountability, a true no-spin zone.
Will voters see the whole picture of the Puerto Rican economy? Will it be enough for another four more years of Fortuño? That is the question.

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There is journalism and then there is fluff.

FOX’s “STOSSEL” show is fluff. One-sided agenda journalism at its worst.

Republican and pro-statehood Puerto Rican governor Luis Fortuño, the incumbent who is trailing in polls to an opponent who has his own issues, is trying to put a spin on an economic situation on the island as he runs for re-election. Strategy #1: Get on a show where you get the most softball of questions from a supposed journalist. As for John Stossel? Try asking actual factual questions, like: Why is your island still stuck at 15% unemployment? Why is your labor force shrinking? Why is public sector employment still growing? If you are so popular, why are you not leading in the polls, even though you claim that you and your opponent are “dead even?” And why are young people leaving the island for jobs in the United States? Also, Fortuño should take credit for one thing: cutting taxes since the rate in Puerto Rico was actually much worse than the mainland, so all he did was bring it down to US levels. So, basically, it is not like Fortuño cut taxes to levels that are favorable. Sure, taxes in Puerto Rico were high, how hard was it to lower it to levels that match the US?

And why should you need facts to tell your story when you are running for re-election as an incumbent and losing in the polls?

To the Fortuñistas, the following video is the central focus on their re-election campaign. To the rest of Puerto Rico, it is a sham. And Stossel? Do some more homework about Puerto Rico, and stop pretending that you are all of a sudden an expert about it.

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UPDATE: As of May 14, around 10PM EST, the Por Puerto Rico 2012 page is now up and running.

Does the 2012 campaign team for Puerto Rico’s incumbent Republican and pro-statehood governor Luis Fortuño having issues with its website? Tonight around 10:15 EST, a simple search off the governor’s Facebook site lists Por Puerto Rico 2012 as the Fortuño’s official campaign page.

Once you click on that site, you get this: “Your website is ready. This site has been successfully created and is ready for content to be added. Replace this default page with your own index page.”

The same site is referenced on the New Progressive Party’s official site, and the same thing happens. You would think that in the middle of a tough election this year, Fortuño 2012 might want to double-check where it is taking people interested in what his campaign is saying. Or maybe not.

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Good to see Florida Senator Marco Rubio commenting about the upcoming November plebiscite question in Puerto Rico. Sure, Rubio, who is of Cuban American descent, represents the state of Florida, which has seen an increase in voters of Puerto Rican descent the last few years, so it makes sense that he would weigh on the island’s non-binding vote to determine its political identity (statehood, independence or enhanced commonwealth). However, Rubio’s opinion reflects what most of the US Congress and President Obama is saying: the final decision by Puerto Ricans on the island has to be a clear majority, whatever that means. Just for reference, the 1958 statehood vote by Alaska won by a 6 to 1 margin, although only about 46,000 voted in Alaska. In 1959, Hawaii gained a 94% voted for statehood. Ironically, the one person who is pushing for a binding resolution of the status question is GOP front-runner Mitt Romney.

This is what a report from Caribbean Business chronicled about Rubio’s comments:

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a rising star in the Republican Party and potential vice presidential pick, has broken ranks with GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney over the issue off Puerto Rico statehood.

Rubio said in an interview that 50 percent plus one vote in a status plebiscite isn’t enough to put Puerto Rico on the path to become the 51st state.

“It doesn’t have to be 100 percent, nor 90 percent, but it cannot be, to say a figure, 51 percent of the votes,” Rubio reportedly told a local newspaper.

That puts the Cuban-American lawmaker, often mentioned as a vice presidential running mate for Romney, at odds with the former Massachusetts governor on statehood.

Romney has pledged to support statehood for the island if that option wins the Nov. 6 referendum on Puerto Rico’s political status, saying a simple majority at the polls should be enough.

The position taken by Rubio, a Tea Party favorite, actually puts him on the same page as Democratic President Barack Obama when it comes to statehood for Puerto Rico.

Right now, polls on the island show a virtual dead heat between enhanced commonwealth and statehood. It is highly doubtful that either option enters Hawaii or Alaska numbers, and in the end, the US Congress will still have final say. So, after 114 years of a complex (and colonial) relationship with the United States, Puerto Rico looks like it will still be stuck in the status quo.

One thing all Puerto Ricans, both on the island and the mainland, should agree on is that the upcoming plebiscite needs to be BINDING.

If you agree, let your elected officials know by visiting their official Congressional pages.

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Can the charades just stop about how amazing and awesome the Puerto Rican Wonder Boy, Governor Luis Fortuño, has been for the island of Puerto Rico? The latest news is that Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus is now telling the Washington Post that it plans to showcase Governor Fortuño, a darling among GOPers who have no clue about how unpopular and divisive the governor is on his own island (psst, he is not even leading in current polls for his re-election bid), so that the Mitt Romney’s campaign can gain more of the US Latino vote.

Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuño

Let’s just give Mr. Priebus the benefit of the doubt and share the following, since the 2012 campaign is all about jobs, right?

  • Also, let’s really stop to look at the actual stats about Fortuño’s push to make Puerto Rico leaner and meaner when it comes to public sector jobs. Just a few facts, from the same DOL stats: In September 2011, there were 265,000 public sector employees in Puerto Rico. In February 2012, there are now 269,000 public sector employees. Of the total jobs in all of Puerto Rico as of February 2012, roughly 25% of the jobs are classified as public sector jobs. Sure, Fortuño came in when it was a 33% but it is still at 25% and the number of public sector jobs is growing again.
  • When Fortuño took office in January 2008, the unemployment rate in Puerto Rico was at 10.7.%. As of February 2012 it is at 15%. Call us crazy, but that is progress? Romney and the RNC is praising a leader whose unemployment rate is worse that the overall US rate and this is the guy who want to showcase to US Latino voters? Also, does anyone who wants to look at actual statistics want to share the following information: the labor force in Puerto Rico is plummeting, young people are leaving the island for jobs in the US. Where is the Fortuño miracle?

Hey, but if the RNC wants to roll out Governor Fortuño as the new Latino star of the GOP, more power to them. In the end, Romney will be lucky to gain 15% of the US Latino vote, anyway. Bringing out Fortuño to prove that the GOP is listening to US Latino voters won’t really make a difference anyway.

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