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In today’s El Nuevo Día, Pedro Pierluisi, the island’s Resident Commissioner and a pro-statehood Democrat, said that if Puerto Ricans want the U.S. Congress to act upon the island’s political status, voting “No” to the first question of the two-question November 6 non-binding plebiscite will send a strong message to Congress that Puerto Ricans desire a change in the current commonwealth system. Basically, the first question asks Puerto Ricans if they care to remain a commonwealth of the US or whether they prefer a change in status. The second question—if voters do indeed prefer a change—would ask voters to choose from three status options: independence, statehood, or sovereign free association.

Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner

Even though the entire November 6 plebiscite is non-binding (meaning Congress doesn’t have to do anything no matter what Puerto Ricans vote on), Pierluisi believes that a “No” vote on the first question would send the right message to Congress.

The first question of the two included in the consultation on the status 6th November that will determine if the U.S. Congress will act to implement the results of the vote, said today the Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi. This is what END reported (translation is ours):

“En la primera es que nos va la vida. Si se rechaza el status actual, pues entonces de la segunda el Congreso lo que va a recibir es el deseo de nuestro pueblo en cuanto a cuál de las opciones de cambio es la que favorece. Y ahí sí que no va a tener alternativa”.

“Si por otro lado, que yo espero que no sea el caso, pide que Puerto Rico permanezca con el status que tiene, hasta nuevo aviso, pues entonces la contestación de la segunda pregunta lo que le va a indicar al Congreso es hacia dónde va dirigido nuestro pueblo, pero el Congreso no va a actuar sobre ese resultado”.

“Si el pueblo le dice que no quiere cambio, estoy seguro, no tengo duda, que el Congreso va a esperar para actuar sobre el asunto del status hasta que el pueblo le diga lo contrario”.

“The first question is what matters to us and our lives.  If voters reject the current status [in the first question], that Congress will know what option the desire of our people will prefer with the second question.  There will be no alternative [in the second question].”

“If on the other hand, I hope it’s not the case, voters call for Puerto Rico to stay with the current status, until further notice, then the answer to the second question about what option our people want to indicate to Congress, well, Congress will not act on that result.”

“If the people says they do not want a change [in status], I’m sure, I have no doubt that Congress will wait to act on the status issue until the people tell them otherwise.”

Pierluisi, who is a pro-statehood Democrat and the island’s non-voting member in Congress, and is running for re-election (on November 6; yeah, we know it’s complicated) on the same ticket as pro-statehood Republican governor Luis Fortuño, did make it a point to say that Democrats in Congress would be more open to having Puerto Rico become a state (if the statehood option wins in the plebiscite’s second question) than Fortuño’s fellow Republicans. Yes, we know, it is really confusing. Anyway, this is what Pierluisi added:

“El resultado va a hablar por sí solo. Si la mayoría del pueblo rechaza el status actual pues entonces, como yo lo veo, no tengo dudas de que mis compañeros y compañeras en el Partido Demócrata van a tomar cartas en el asunto y van a querer responder a ese llamado del pueblo por un cambio”.

 “En el caso de los republicanos sabemos que hay sectores en el partido republicano que son muy conservadores, que se han opuesto hasta que meramente tengamos un plebiscito en el pasado y no tengo duda de que también se opondrían a que Puerto Rico se uniera como un estado”.

“The result will speak for itself. If the majority of people reject the current status for then, as I see, I have no doubt that my colleagues in the Democratic Party will take action on the matter and will want to answer the call of the people for a change.”

“For the Republicans, we know that there are sectors in the Republican Party who are very conservative, who have opposed to even have a plebiscite in the past and I have no doubt that they also oppose Puerto Rico becoming a state.”

The status question is the one issue that the island’s politicians have abused for decades. What Pierluisi should be saying on the floor of Congress is that the plebiscite be made BINDING immediately. Instead, Pierluisi falls into the same political trap as every other politician on the island: he is using the carrot of Congress being more accepting of the will of Puerto Rican voters by pushing for an initial answer that clearly benefits his pro-statehood beliefs. A true Resident Commissioner would push for a binding resolution NOW. Instead, Pierluisi is just playing partisan politics, which gets even more complicated on the island since most of his fellow Democrats are more likely to be pro-commonwealth advocates than pro-statehooders. Add the fact that Pierluisi is also saying the Democrats in the Congress would be more open to accept the plebiscite vote than certain sectors of the Republican party, the party that Fortuño is a part of, and it becomes one big political ball of confusion. How can anyone in Puerto Rico even understand it?

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We continue the Puerto Rican Plebiscite Seriers with part two 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 Two)

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, covered in Part One; 2) History has spoken and 3) Under domestic and international law, the ultimate decision is not “theirs”: it’s ours.

History has spoken: Oklahoma, 1907. New Mexico, 1912. Arizona, 1912. Alaska, 1959.  Hawaii, 1959.

Puerto Rico has been the property of the U.S. since 1898. Three States were added since the Spanish-American War to form the contiguous 48. The addition of non-contiguous states happened once, for Alaska and Hawaii, 61 years after Puerto Rico became war booty.

To complete the nationalization and permanence of the territorial limits in geopolitical terms, essentially, to make everybody belong to the same government, it made perfect sense to add Oklahoma (in the central portion of the country) and Arizona and New Mexico in the southwest (on the border with Mexico.)

Adding Alaska, a landmass equal to roughly 25% of the entire “lower 48”, and Hawaii, a Pacific sinecure, also made sense, as both were long-held territories where American interests were ripe for development. In the case of Alaska, it turned into federal reserves; in Hawaii, tourism-related development.

So, if Puerto Rico were to ever become a State, it is clear that post-1898 decisions about statehood have shown what the basic criteria are for being invited:

1) Political expediency, i.e., the forging of a potentially stronger geopolitical unit, or…

2) Economic enhancement.

Do we satisfy either or both of them?
No.

Are we being invited?

No and no and no.

By 1959, we were already being plucked by American interests and as they say in my neck of the woods: Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? There’s no doubt the U.S. makes tons of money off of Puerto Rico, so statehood is really not an economic enhancement for them and in fact, it is widely portrayed and considered as either a mistake that leads to carrying welfare freeloaders or a bottomless pit of economic rehabilitation expenses. Usually both.

So what about political expediency? Well, check out point #1 above. We’re not Anglo-Saxons. Or Protestants. Or native English speakers. Or descendants of the same parts of Europe that they are. Toss out all that as a unifying factor. We are way south of the border, and unlike Alaska, we are tiny with no natural resources and unlike Hawaii, we don’t occupy a strategic location under U.S. interests. We did in 1940; we didn’t by 1945.

If Puerto Rico–in the eyes of its political owners–were deemed worthy of statehood, it would have been decided between 1912 and 1945, when our economy was nonexistent, the potential for American investment was very high, our strategic location could have been considered vital, our population small enough (and in their eyes, malleable enough) to absorb and the “lower 48” were a unitary done deal. That it didn’t happen then means it isn’t going to happen at all. Ever.

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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Press Release (Spanish Version Here)

Monday, December 19, 2011 San Juan, PR: Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuño, along with the Presidents of the House of Representatives and the Senate, announced tonight that after receiving input from the different sectors that have participated in public hearings held at the Legislature that fostered greater participation of the island’s residents in a fair, reasonable, and inclusive manner, agreed to amend the island’s plebiscite status process.

“The amendments discussed and we are announcing today will permit that on the day of the vote, the first phase of the the plebiscite will consist of two questions on the same ballot. We decided that the questions that our constituents will be able to vote on will be detailed as follows:

First: Do you want to maintain the current territorial political status?

Second, voters will select from the following non-territorial options: statehood, independence and sovereign commonwealth, Fortuño said.

“The agreed process includes the main recommendations of the White House Task Force on Puerto Rico. It also addresses the concerns of various groups and members of all parties who participated in the discussion prompted by legislative bodies, which have requested that this process is a simple, fair, and inclusive,” the Chief Executive said.

“This way, all formulas will be represented on the same ballot and in the same query. Similarly, the agreed amendments result in savings for the people of Puerto Rico and will foster a fair and equitable distribution of public funds to the entitled parties or groups who choose to participate in the Consultation,” the Governor added.

Finally, it was noted that the Legislative Reform Consultation for the country will be held on August 19, 2012.

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Politics aside, ANYONE who wants to know about Puerto Rico’s colonial status and its relationship with the United States, needs to see the following video, produced by students at Antilles High School, a school operated by the US Department of Defense in Guaynabo, PR. This is the BEST summary we have ever seen about Puerto Rico’s political status. Now if only fellow American citizens could pay attention to this 113-year-old issue instead of worrying about the Middle East.

http://www.schooltube.com/v/31e1651ceb426a770c15

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Even with the historic White House Report on Puerto Rican status published this year, a new social media movement is gathering steam on the island of Puerto Rico on the heels of a June 14 visit by President Barack Obama.

Inspired by recent movements in both the Middle East and in Spain, residents of the Western Hemisphere’s oldest colony (a territory of the United States since the Spanish-American War of 1898) will gather in the streets demanding for political justice. President Obama, who had promised during his 2008 campaign bid that Puerto Rico’s paradoxical political status would be a top priority for his Administration, has nonetheless issued a White House Report that has failed to fulfill his promise. The report, which has been widely touted by the Republican, pro-statehood and Fox News media darling Governor Luis Fortuño, has been criticized by many for its leaning towards a more pro-statehood movement. It is clear that the current political climate of the United States (Arizona, immigration, anti-Latino hate, Republican refusal of Puerto Rico becoming the 51st state) will not result in a statehood solution. Any plebiscites held on the island (and Fortuño is proposing phase 1 in late 2011 and phase 2 in 2013) will ne non-binding and still be decided and determined by the US Congress.

The time to stop depending on the United States and the island’s current political system is NOW. Join the cause on June 14, either by attending the rally or by supporting it through social media.

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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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Remarks by Kenneth D. McClintock

As prepared for delivery

May 2, 2011

Puerto Rico's Secretary of State Kenneth D. McClintock

The 2011 White House Report on Puerto Rico is a sincere effort at addressing many of Puerto Rico’s problems and providing both a federal as well as local roadmap to address them. It has its flaws, but they are few.

With regard to Puerto Rico’s political status, the report does not state what it cannot state – that nothing is going to happen status wise in Washington during the remaining 19 months of President Obama’s first term.

While Puerto Rico statehood is and has been a part of the Republican Party platform for decades, and several Republicans in Congress have courageously attempted to address this issue and fulfill that commitment, the current scenario within the Republican majority in the House of Representatives and the Republican minority in the Senate precludes any congressional action during this Congress on the issue of Puerto Rico self-determination.

The report fails to acknowledge that reality, but it is an acknowledgement regarding this or any issue that no White House would make halfway into its mandate.

The report does set forth a more realistic local roadmap, one where Puerto Rico can move ahead in the political status chess game to place Congress, sometime in 2013, in the position of having to move on the issue.

While the report doesn’t impose one single route to follow, it does make very constructive suggestions as to the mechanics and content of a local electoral consultation process.

Based on those suggestions, which include the possibility of a two – step consultation that will produce results that will be more understandable by, and credible to Congress, and the need to include the present relationship as an option in order to provide more credibility, Governor Fortuño has made a two -phase proposal:

First, as the leader of the governing party, he proposed a political status resolution process that includes the current status, offers a two-step consultation, and attempts to avoid intermeshing status with the partisan politics of a general election, a proposal that has been endorsed by the Party.

Second, as governor of Puerto Rico, he invited Puerto Rico’s three political status –based registered parties to seek a consensus on a political status process by May 25th.

The consensus-seeking committee, with a representative from each party, held its first meeting 8 days ago in my office and has since held a second meeting. Let us hope for the best.

It is the Governor’s desire that local legislation, preferably by consensus, can be approved by the end of the legislative session in June.

Hopefully, by the time Congress gets down to work in the spring of 2013, the people of Puerto Rico will have withdrawn whatever consent it ever gave to the present relationship and will get down to the business of matching President Obama’s interest in resolving Puerto Rico’s political status problem.

One of the more remarkable status-related aspects of the Report is the Obama administration’s reiteration of the long-standing federal policy that Puerto Rico remains subject to the Territorial Clause of the Constitution.

Before briefly addressing the fascinating non-status related sections of the Report, I would like to put on the table a suggestion of a step that the Obama administration could take to speed things along.

As you may recall, in one of the several so-called “insular cases”, Balzac vs People of Porto Rico, decided in 1922 by U.S. Supreme Court. Chief Justice Taft, also known as former President William Howard Taft, in an act of judicial legislation set aside the precedents of Lousiana and Alaska in declaring that, in Puerto Rico’s case, the 1917 grant of American citizenship did not constitute incorporation and I quote:

It is true that, in the absence of other and countervailing evidence, a law of Congress or a provision in a treaty acquiring territory, declaring an intention to confer political and civil rights on the inhabitants of the new lands as American citizens, may be properly interpreted to mean an incorporation of it into the union, as in the case of Louisiana and Alaska.

This was one of the chief grounds upon which this court placed its conclusion that Alaska had been incorporated in the Union. But Alaska was a very different case from that of Puerto Rico.

It was an enormous territory, very sparsely settled and offering opportunity for immigration and settlement by American citizens. It was on the American continent and within easy reach of the then United States. It involved none of the difficulties which incorporation of the Philippines and Porto Rico presents.’’

While it is settled that the federal Government normally defends the legal status quo, be it a law or established judicial precedent, there are exceptions, the most recent being the refusal to defend the constitutionality of the federal marriage act.

I would suggest that the Obama administration announce that the federal government will no longer support the continued validity of the insular cases and will no longer set policy based on the holding of those cases.

Having said that, let me briefly address some of the economic proposals contained in the report. If Puerto Rico adopts the Report’s proposal to establish an autonomous energy and public utilities regulatory body, the implementation of that recommendation will revolutionize the energy market and provide benefits to consumers.

The report’s endorsement of the Caribbean energy grid project should be used by Puerto Rico to turn our territory into an energy hub that will create jobs, generate economic activity, and provide regional leadership opportunities.

Finally, we should not take lightly the report’s concern for a lack of  a professional class capable of recognizing the need, identifying, requesting, receiving, properly using, reporting and auditing Federal funds.

The absence of that set of skills is due in part to the deficient teaching of English in PR but the lack of understanding that Federal funds come with strings attached.

Puerto Rico should immediately accept the report’s offer to provide technical assistance to fill that void.

In closing, the Report recognizes the importance of the need to resolve our political status issue as well as the need to improve our economy.

A poor republic of Puerto Rico would rapidly look more like Haiti than Chile.

A poor Puerto Rico would have greater difficulty joining the Union.

A poor Puerto Rico only benefits those who cruelly want to keep Puerto Rico as it is.

As a believer in change, change through statehood, I believe in the need to strengthen our economy, within the constraints of our current states, as a prerequisite for status change.

Thank you.

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