Democratic Party presidential hopeful John Kerry’s policy paper a few weeks ago explicitly recognized Puerto Rico as “an unincorporated territory of the United States and its ultimate status remains undetermined.”

The Puerto Rico commonwealth party’s gubernatorial candidate nevertheless demanded clarification of the obvious. Thus, when the Democratic platform committee approved official wording on July 10, the colonial leader must have regretted getting what he had asked for. Kerry elaborated his policy statement by recognizing Puerto Ricans’ “right to the permanent and fully democratic status of their choice,” (STAR, July 11) reiterating, in fact, that commonwealth is not only undemocratic, but that the Puerto Rican people should not be stuck with it forever.

Commonwealth party leaders decided to whistle a cheerful tune through a cemetery at midnight. They appear to be in a state of denial. One commonwealth loser involved in platform negotiations admittedly regretted the reference to the undemocratic nature of U.S. colonialism -the “democratic deficit,” according to a former governor of his party-in approved language. But he was wistfully pleased that the platform did not directly quote Kerry’s view of commonwealth as “temporary!”

Confusing resistance to change with permanence, some commonwealth supporters are content to embrace a harmless truism as political theory. John Killian, a Washington constitutionalist for the Congressional Research Service, said that, “If the United States and Puerto Rico choose, commonwealth could go on forever.” (STAR, July 11) Yes, marriage is permanent until the divorce is final! And Killian’s tautology, impetuously regarded by colonial leaders as irrefutable proof of the permanence of commonwealth, holds until fully democratic sovereign alternatives eviscerate “permanence” out of the commonwealth arrangement.

To Democrats, Puerto Rico’s good old commonwealth is evidently no longer good, but merely old. The current candidate for resident commissioner, for his part, is acting like a happy colonial puppy wagging two tails. Having previously proclaimed ecstatic bliss over the possibility of being allowed to cast a vote, so long as it doesn’t count, in a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, he now considers the approved language a “defeat” for what he frets as the statehood party’s “attempt to dismantle commonwealth.”

Is it a threat “to dismantle,” or a promise? Whose? What about the recurring rumblings out of Washington that federal taxes may be imposed on revenues in Puerto Rico? (STAR, July 12) These can further rattle the self-confidence of commonwealth advocates and over stimulate the ideological pleasure of statehood advocates. But perhaps the message out of Washington is that now Democrats and Republicans agree that Puerto Rico, a colonial territory, should move to a democratic and permanent political status. Because Washington may be ready to strip the former military colony of its phony medals now that its military usefulness for the U.S. is over.

Under these circumstances, the commonwealth party leaders naturally insist that they, not Washington, should initiate the status process, to give them time to procrastinate -which appears to be their idea of a process they would try to stretch for the next 50 years.

And statehood supporters gleefully rub their hands at the thought of a Washington initiative that would further degrade commonwealth. Wishful thinking has led some to believe that, since the independence option -after decades of crude political persecution, propaganda, repression and increasing economic dependence- garners fewer votes than statehood (contrary to half a century ago), once the commonwealth arrangement is exposed as colonial there will be no choice but statehood. Some statehood leaders who know better go so far as to declare the Democratic plank’s legalistic reference to Puerto Ricans as “disenfranchised American citizens” as “a giant step towards statehood.” (July 13)

But should they be so smug? If Washington is now ready to admit what the world has known for 50 years -that commonwealth was a monumental hoax-, there must be method in the madness.

Would Puerto Rico, poorer since then than the poorest state of the Union (Mississippi), be able to pay its way into the federal club? Would it want to? Would it be happy with a status that places its distinct national identity permanently in the minority? Would the U.S. unitary federal system be “happy” as a multinational -not to be confused with a “multiethnic”- state? If in doubt, ask Quebec, the Basques, and the Irish! This is not to suggest that the U.S. will unilaterally grant independence -although it could, just as they unilaterally, violently, and without a referendum invaded Puerto Rico in 1898. Besides, independence is the only status to which we have an inalienable human right, and need not apply for admission!

This is where a deliberative process through a fully representative, democratically elected status assembly (compatible with bipartisan Washington initiatives) is necessary for Puerto Rico’s self-determination to arrive at a permanent, fully democratic solution under Puerto Rican sovereignty -a process leading to negotiations in which mutual interests can be flexibly, rationally, and satisfactorily accommodated in light of the ethical, international, economic, and political demands of the 21st century.