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Posts Tagged ‘Puerto Rico Democracy Act’


If there was a news article of blog post that would match our thoughts on Puerto Rico 100%, it is the following one by Greg Acevedo, who contributed an essay called Somehow… Someday to the HuffPost Latino Voices section. Now if only more Americans understood this injustice and force the US Congress to act, or better yet, support the actions of Puerto Ricans to FINALLY determine their own political destiny. In the meantime, here’s hoping such well-written pieces like Acevedo’s start appearing on a regular basis.

Here is the post. We were going to just show segments and provide our own commentary, but the more we read, the more we agreed. So, here it is.

Fifty years ago, West Side Story jetted and sharked its way into the hearts of America. Half a century later, what does the average U.S. citizen know about Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans? I’m guessing much of it has to do with sandy beaches, Marc Anthony and J-Lo, the island’s success in Miss Universe competitions and international athletic events, and, of course, the star-crossed Maria and Tony.

But I’m betting that most Americans don’t know that Puerto Rico is, at best, a fledgling democracy — and that US. control over the island is the main reason why Puerto Rico hasn’t successfully developed a legitimate democracy. The first step on the road to democracy is self-determination, but Puerto Ricans living on the island have never had the chance to exercise that right. What’s more, the U.S. has had over a century to grant Puerto Rico that right, but it hasn’t.

As a Puerto Rican, I find it amusing when the U.S. tries to instruct other nations in the practice of democracy (See: Libya and Iraq). Before the U.S. instructs other nations on the practice of democracy, it must re-think its policy in Puerto Rico.

A bit of background: In 1897, after decades of struggle against colonial rule, Puerto Rico secured autonomy from Spain, but it was preempted from achieving full-fledged autonomy when the island became an official territory of the U.S. a year later. From the start of their relationship, the U.S. kept a colonial-like grip on the island’s governance. It took 50 years for the U.S. to grant islanders the right to elect its own governor. In 1951, the U.S. loosened its grip a bit, granting the island the right to craft its own constitution and to fashion a “new” status as a commonwealth. In terms of self-governance Puerto Rico had finally made it back to where it was in 1897, but it remains a U.S. territory, which seems like “colony lite” to me.

I can hear the voices of dissent: that Puerto Rico should be nothing but grateful, and has received numerous benefits from its arrangement with the U.S. Take U.S. citizenship. Since 1917, Puerto Ricans on the island have acquired US citizenship as a birthright. Certainly, the power of the U.S. passport and the freedom of movement it affords is no meager benefit.

In truth, Puerto Ricans are second-class citizens who have not been able to exercise the full spectrum of their voting rights. The contradictory nature of Puerto Rican citizenship is best illustrated in the grave responsibility of military service. Like stateside citizens, Puerto Ricans on the island are subject to military duty, yet they have no direct representation in Congress, which sanctions wars, and they cannot vote for the commander-in-chief.

Second-class citizenship mirrors the island’s showcase “sovereignty.” During the Cold War era, the U.S. strategically attempted to use Puerto Rico as a model in the practice of democracy and economic prosperity. But the island has never been able to pursue its own path in intergovernmental or economic relations with other countries without the approval (read: control) of the U.S. The dominant mantra in international politics today is that democracy and economic development go hand-in-hand. It’s a model that the U.S. promotes around the globe — yet it’s one that Puerto Rico has never had a chance to try out at home.

Puerto Rico’s smoke-and-mirrors “democracy” continues to wrestle with high rates of poverty and stagnant economic development. In a 2008 report by the World Bank gauging 215 nations in terms of economic growth, Puerto Rico had the dubious distinction of ranking 211th, in the same range as the Palestinian territories and Zimbabwe. Unemployment and poverty in Puerto Rico exceed levels in the 50 states. In 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau pegged the island’s poverty rate at 45%; double that of Mississippi, which had the highest poverty of any state (22.4%).

Does the political status of Puerto Rico have anything to do with Puerto Rican poverty? As Richard Figueroa, a Republican-leaning attorney and former diplomat in the U.S. Department of State admitted in a November 12 opinion piece in El Nuevo Dia, “The ambiguous nature of the political relationship of Puerto Rico with the United States is part of the main root of the economic and social problems of the island.”

Both Congress and the White House have had ample time and opportunity to resolve the U.S.’s ambiguous political relationship with Puerto Rico. On December 23, 2000, President Bill Clinton established the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status. Its goal is to recommend options for Puerto Rico’s path to self-determination. Eleven years later the Task Force still exits and Puerto Rico’s status remains the same.

The Puerto Rico Democracy Act was introduced in Congress first in 2007 by Congressman José Serrano (D-New York), and again in 2009 by Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, the island’s non-voting member of Congress. The bill sought to “provide for a federally sanctioned self-determination process for the people of Puerto Rico.” It died in the Senate when the 111th Congress closed.

In a March, 2011 report released by his Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status, President Obama said that he is “firmly committed to the principle that the question of political status is a matter of self-determination for the people of Puerto Rico.”

The very last lyrics to the finale of West Side Story are “somehow…some day!” So, get on with it. When do we get to the final scene?

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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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111th CONGRESS 2d Session

H. R. 2499


AN ACT

To provide for a federally sanctioned self-determination process for the people of Puerto Rico.

    Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

    This Act may be cited as the `Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2010′.

SEC. 2. FEDERALLY SANCTIONED PROCESS FOR PUERTO RICO’S SELF-DETERMINATION.

    (a) First Plebiscite- The Government of Puerto Rico is authorized to conduct a plebiscite in Puerto Rico. The 2 options set forth on the ballot shall be preceded by the following statement: `Instructions: Mark one of the following 2 options:
    • `(1) Puerto Rico should continue to have its present form of political status. If you agree, mark here XX.
    • `(2) Puerto Rico should have a different political status. If you agree, mark here XX.’.
    (b) Procedure if Majority in First Plebiscite Favors Option 1- If a majority of the ballots in the plebiscite are cast in favor of Option 1, the Government of Puerto Rico is authorized to conduct additional plebiscites under subsection (a) at intervals of every 8 years from the date that the results of the prior plebiscite are certified under section 3(d).
    (c) Procedure if Majority in First Plebiscite Favors Option 2- If a majority of the ballots in a plebiscite conducted pursuant to subsection (a) or (b) are cast in favor of Option 2, the Government of Puerto Rico is authorized to conduct a plebiscite on the following 4 options:
    • (1) Independence: Puerto Rico should become fully independent from the United States. If you agree, mark here XX.
    • (2) Sovereignty in Association with the United States: Puerto Rico and the United States should form a political association between sovereign nations that will not be subject to the Territorial Clause of the United States Constitution. If you agree, mark here XX.
    • (3) Statehood: Puerto Rico should be admitted as a State of the Union. If you agree, mark here XX.
    • (4) Commonwealth: Puerto Rico should continue to have its present form of political status. If you agree, mark here XXX.

SEC. 3. APPLICABLE LAWS AND OTHER REQUIREMENTS.

    (a) Applicable Laws- All Federal laws applicable to the election of the Resident Commissioner shall, as appropriate and consistent with this Act, also apply to any plebiscites held pursuant to this Act. Any reference in such Federal laws to elections shall be considered, as appropriate, to be a reference to the plebiscites, unless it would frustrate the purposes of this Act.
    (b) Rules and Regulations- The Puerto Rico State Elections Commission shall issue all rules and regulations necessary to carry out the plebiscites under this Act.
    (c) Eligibility To Vote- Each of the following shall be eligible to vote in any plebiscite held under this Act:
    • (1) All eligible voters under the electoral laws in effect in Puerto Rico at the time the plebiscite is held.
    • (2) All United States citizens born in Puerto Rico who comply, to the satisfaction of the Puerto Rico State Elections Commission, with all Commission requirements (other than the residency requirement) applicable to eligibility to vote in a general election in Puerto Rico. Persons eligible to vote under this subsection shall, upon timely request submitted to the Commission in compliance with any terms imposed by the Electoral Law of Puerto Rico, be entitled to receive an absentee ballot for the plebiscite.
    (d) Certification of Plebiscite Results- The Puerto Rico State Elections Commission shall certify the results of any plebiscite held under this Act to the President of the United States and to the Members of the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States.
    (e) English Language Requirements- The Puerto Rico State Elections Commission shall–
    • (1) ensure that all ballots used for any plebiscite held under this Act include the full content of the ballot printed in English;
    • (2) inform persons voting in any plebiscite held under this Act that, if Puerto Rico retains its current political status or is admitted as a State of the United States, the official language requirements of the Federal Government shall apply to Puerto Rico in the same manner and to the same extent as throughout the United States; and
    • (3) inform persons voting in any plebiscite held under this Act that, if Puerto Rico retains its current political status or is admitted as a State of the United States, it is the Sense of Congress that it is in the best interest of the United States for the teaching of English to be promoted in Puerto Rico as the language of opportunity and empowerment in the United States in order to enable students in public schools to achieve English language proficiency.
    (f) Plebiscite Costs- All costs associated with any plebiscite held under this Act (including the printing, distribution, transportation, collection, and counting of all ballots) shall be paid for by the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

Passed the House of Representatives April 29, 2010.

Attest:

Clerk.

111th CONGRESS 2d Session

H. R. 2499

AN ACT

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