On June 26, 2000, Puerto Rico's leaders from all political parties sat across from President Clinton and his national security advisers. On the table were two pressing issues: Vieques and Puerto Rico's unresolved political status. During the electoral campaign, the Puerto Rican Independence Party pressed to place both prominently on the agenda. The Popular Democratic Party embraced them dramatically an managed to win the election. It thus committed the new government to end the U.S. Navy's abuses in Vieques and labeling the PIP's proposal for a Constituent Assembly as an "excellent idea" to seek a solution to the status problem.
Following protests, civil disobedience campaigns, the arbitrary imprisonment of over half of the PIP leadership and hundreds of other Puerto Ricans by the Navy's minions in the U.S. District Court, the consensus for peace in Vieques became stronger and more widespread. Since the November election, the presidents of Puerto Rico's three political parties, as well as our religious, civic, and labor leaders have demanded the immediate and permanent cessation of all military practices in Vieques more than once. We are waiting for the governor's fulfillment of her campaign commitments.
And since Vieques is Puerto Rico, and Puerto Rico is Vieques, the question arises: Whatever happened to Puerto Rico's status?
At the White House meeting last summer, Clinton promised that the Departament of Justice would analyze each party's preferred status definition from the American constitutional perspective, in order to initiate bilateral talks between Puerto Rico and the United States. The DOJ analyzed the definition for a "New Commonwealth" which the PDP had published in its platform for the elections, as well as the Statehood and Independence definitions which had previously been published. The DOJ analysis sent to the Congress early this year, however, has received very little publicity and even less public attention. Yet, it is extremely important for the discussion of the status issue heralded by Governor Calderón's graceful adoption of that issue—imposed as it was by the electorate in the last campaign.
I would not presume to exhaust the subject, but merely to underscore its importance. I would also emphasize that the DOJ memorandum should not be discarded merely because it was issued by the past administration. The report's analysis is based on position papers which the DOJ elaborated through more than a decade of congressional hearings on Puerto Rico's status under Democratic and Republican majorities, and under the Bush (senior) and the Clinton presidencies. The bipartisan nature of the consensus on the subject that has evolved during that period therefore becomes inescapable.
Independence, in my judgement the most convenient status for Puerto Rico's economic and cultural development, provides the most flexibility for a smooth transition. The report's analysis is consistent with this reality. It correctly interprets the proposed language regarding a treaty of co-operation, free transit and commerece, for a reasonable economic transition, and for our ultimate goal regarding Puerto Rico's demilitarization, as proposals to be negotiated by two free countries in the exercise of their sovereign equality, and finds no constitutional impediments. However, it raises a constitutional question on whether Congress could constitutionally require Puerto Ricans under Independence to choose between American citizenship, or the citizenship of a sovereign Puerto Rico which we would already enjoy. And it reiterates that it would not "run afoul of any constitutional stricture," if Puerto Rico's independence were to result "in a significant number of people acquiring dual citizenship."
For the PDP, however, the DOJ's analysis is most embarassing. It leaves today's commonwealth with no place to hide its colonial feathers. As for the PDP's most recent proposal, the constitutional analysis deals the demagoguery of "sovereignty-and-permanent- union" a mortal blow; and it re-affirms the plenary powers of Congress to alter, under the Territory Clause, any governing arrangement whenever it deems appropriate. Finally, it labels the so-called "mutual consent" theory under either commonwealth modality as "constitutionally unenforceable," emphasizing that Puerto Rico's sovereignty is only possible outside that of the United States.
But the DOJ analysis also pummels the Statehood option, making it extremely uncomfortable for statehood leaders in theNew Progressive Party to discuss it openly especially now that the party has been set adrift, with former governor Rosselló and his ersatz successor deserting the fight after losing the election.
The federal analysis underscores how undesirable Puerto Rican statehood is for Americans. Contrary to what statehooders claim, the DOJ states that Puerto Rico's incorporation as a state of the union would result in the "impairment" of the other states' congressional representation. The impairment of representativeness would occur in both the Senate and the House of Representatives in the latter case, regardless of whether seats are added or eliminated to make room for a Puerto Rican delegation. And although the DOJ report is purportedly limited to matters strictly constitutional, it cannot refrain from highlighting the fact that the "shift in status to statehood would also have tax consequences not fully articulated in the statehood proposal itself."
Considering how statehood would dilute Puerto Rico's power, when compared to the powers Puerto Rico would enjoy as a sovereign nation; and taking into account the nefarious economic and cultural consequences of turning Puerto Rico into a permanently depressed appendage of the United States; the DOJ's analysis regarding statehood is simply devastating.
Since Puerto Rico is Vieques, and Vieques is Puerto Rico, it is time for Governor Calderón to appoint the Committee for Unity and Consensus on Status and begin the process, as she promised. The people of Puerto Rico have signaled status as a priority, now. Tomorrow could be too late.