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

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

Here is what POLITICO said:

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

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The story also added the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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In response to a November 6 plebiscite vote in Puerto Rico, where 54% of voters rejected the island’s current status quo and 61% chose statehood as its preferred option, the White House today said that Puerto Rico has “made it clear” that it wants to resolve its political status, according to a report in El Nuevo Día.

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As the newspaper reports in Spanish, David Agnew and Tony West, co-chairs for The President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status, stated that the Obama Administration “will work with Congress to provide the people of Puerto Rico a clear process that would establish ways that Puerto Ricans could determine their status. [Note: this quotes and others were translated from the END report in Spanish. They do not reflect the official English version of the statement. END received an advanced copy of the statement.]

Agnew and West also stated the following:

“This Administration is committed to the principle that political status is a topic of self-determination for the people of Puerto Rico.”

“Besides the status question, the Task Force will continue to work with Congress, the people of Puerto Rico and its leaders to address the concerns of the (close to) four million American citizens who call Puerto Rico home, implementing the recommendations of the 2011 report to promote the creation of jobs, improve security, education and address other important education, health and clean energy goals.”

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

Puerto Rican Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi

Puerto Rican Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi

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

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

TRANSCRIPT

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PIERLUISI: Thank you.

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

Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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

Puerto Rico: Never a State (Part Three)

By Gil C. Schmidt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And they should. Because we can do better.

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

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

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

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Read and sign the petition to Pass a Revised Puerto Rican Democracy Act here.

The time for games and votes that don’t matter are over. If the United States is truly serious about practicing the democratic principles it tries to spread all over the world, it must finally formally answer the Puerto Rican question. Next year will be the 114th anniversary of this paradoxical and colonial relationship. Five generations of Puerto Ricans have unsuccessfully resolved the issue of the island’s political status. Without this happening, Puerto Rico will continue to be a country in economic, social, and political limbo.

If you believe (no matter your opinion of what path Puerto Rico should take as a country) that President Obama and the US Congress are obligated to make the next plebiscite binding and formally recognize the will of its own citizens, please consider singing the following petition which is being address to ALL the members of the US House of Representative, the US Senate, and President Obama.

Read and sign the petition to Pass a Revised Puerto Rican Democracy Act here.

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Congressman Luis Gutiérrez (D-Illinois) has clearly become the voice of all things Puerto Rican.

Congressman Luis Gutiérrez

This week, on the floor on Congress, Gutiérrez reveals facts about how the Archbishop of Puerto Rico was the latest scapegoat of the the current administration of pro-statehood and Republican Governor Luis Fortuño. Gutiérrez speaks about how the current Puerto Rican government was attempting to silence the Archbishop about his views about Puerto Rico’s political status.

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