Last week, the press reported that the co-chairs of the White House task force on status would travel to Puerto Rico this week to meet with island political leaders. The visit would presumably “move the [status] issue forward,” according to the pro-statehood candidate for resident commissioner (STAR, May 20). Recalling the recurrent status procrastination surrounding the amended version of Clinton’s executive order of four years ago, one can only hope: “Oh, if only it were true!” (STAR, January 26).
Four more years of failure to devise a policy to “help answer the questions that the people of Puerto Rico have asked for years” regarding the options and process for status change would be a mockery. The conveniently timed visit curiously coincides with a political campaign in which Bush is courting -some say, pandering to- the “Hispanic” vote. Nevertheless, the Puerto Rican Independence Party, consistent with its commitment to advance decolonization, reiterated its readiness from the beginning to engage in what ought to become a serious dialogue.
The meetings took place Monday and Tuesday, this week. In the “photo ops,” the Republican-affiliated candidate for resident commissioner glowed proudly in the company of his benefactors and the pro-commonwealth candidate for governor, who has done nothing on status in four years as resident commissioner, tried to placate the leadership crisis that plagues him by meeting with an entity his party had reproved from the beginning. He invoked, as a sacred mantra, the constituent assembly he has refused to convoke while his party is in power, contradictorily proposing instead to call a referendum, if elected, to ask voters what to do. Naturally, the PIP also met with the co-chairs, albeit with modest expectations.
Recently, the press reported a Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund study that found Puerto Ricans in the U.S. still the poorest of the poor in that nation, and those in Puerto Rico even poorer -which accounts for continued migration. (May 23) According to Angelo Falcón, the sociologist who conducted the study, “American politicians … don’t even know that Puerto Ricans exist … Many believe that we are better off than most immigrants, when in fact we are worse off.” Hopefully, our visitors will become aware of the fact that Puerto Rico’s political and economic subordination correlates directly with our inability to promote economic development and to deal with the deplorable social conditions that linger under U.S. domination.
The task force visitors reiterated their willingness to “consider and develop” positions on proposals by Puerto Rican political representatives, even though one would have hoped that, by now, they would know everyone’s views. After all, between 1989 and 1991, Puerto Rico’s three political parties met frequently with U.S. authorities to negotiate self-executing and other forms of congressional action to authorize a federally sponsored status referendum. There is relevant documentation on record regarding a bill passed by the House of Representatives in 1990 and a Senate bill that died in committee the following year. The congressional record of the House of Representatives regarding various versions of the Young bill (1994-1998) is also well documented. And finally the 1990 Congressional Budget Office report on potential economic impacts of changes in Puerto Rico’s status, and various General Accounting Office and Congressional Research Service reports of the 1990s provide information that the task force can readily update.
Although the task force is charged with clarifying options “not incompatible with the Constitution and basic laws and policies” of the United States, lengthy consultations with constitutional scholars should be unnecessary by now. What the people of Puerto Rico need to know is which options the U.S. government is willing to commit to, not theoretically, but realistically. The U.S. must overcome its reticence to speak frankly about the dangers to federalism of incorporating a culturally foreign Latin American nation of the Caribbean as a state. Government officials, Republicans or Democrats, lack a deeper understanding of the social and economic consequences of our non-sovereign reality that leads to the perpetuation of a commonwealth arrangement that has become a problem and cannot therefore be the solution. There is therefore an urgent need to seek a sovereign solution to Puerto Rico’s status, and the U.S. should recognize that.
The PIP urged the Bush administration go beyond publicity gestures. A meeting with Bush -like the one with Puerto Rico’s leaders and Clinton four years ago- to talk about the course of U.S. policy could be indicative of a serious determination to solve the status problem. PIP president Rubén Berríos also suggested a policy pronouncement on Puerto Rico’s decolonization by Bush at the United Nations -a much needed conciliatory gesture to Latin America and the international community. Finally, support for a Puerto Rican initiative, like a status assembly, could truly energize an effective process, with the Task Force as a relevant interlocutor.
Only time will tell if we should indulge in cautious hope, or if the co-chairs were just visiting.