According to Jeane J. Kirkpatrick and Kenneth L Adelman ("Stirring Up Trouble in Puerto Rico: New York Times, Feb 26), 25 years ago Puerto Rico was "doing just fine" under its current commonwealth status. In 1980, however, the U.S. Supreme Court had reiterated that Puerto Rico was still, since the early 20th century Insular Cases, an "unincorporated territory.”
Also back then, presidential candidate Ronald Reagan admitted that, "As a 'commonwealth' Puerto Rico is now neither a state nor independent, and thereby has a historically unnatural status. Moreover, the former president proclaimed in 1982 "the right of the Puerto Rican people to self-determination”.
Kirkpatrick, the U.S. envoy to the United Nations under Reagan, and Adelman, currently a paid consultant for a Washington public relations firm that represents the pro-commonwealth governor, rise from the Cold War crypt with a tale of colonial desperation that accuses the Bush White House of trying to move the Puerto Rican decolonization process to "Fidel Castro's position" and that of "its Communist allies:' In so doing, they selectively omit not just Supreme Court rulings, but the pronouncements on Puerto Rico of every White House incumbent since Jimmy Carter.
Prior to Reagan, the Carter administration had proclaimed an "Alternative Futures" policy recognizing the right of the people of Puerto Rico to decide on a final political status different from commonwealth. Subsequent to Reagan, in 1991, President George H.W. Bush recognized Puerto Rico as "an American territory stating that, "[W] e owe it to the world that watches to see whether the United States of America believes as much in the consent of the governed now as it did in 1776.” In a 1992 official Memorandum, he reiterated, "As long as Puerto Rico is a territory the will of its people regarding their political status should be ascertained periodically by means of a general right of referendum”.
On the congressional side, in 1990, under the 'first Bush presidency' the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R.4765, a bill "To enable the people of Puerto Rico to exercise self-determination”. On March 4, 1998, under the Clinton presidency and a Republican Congress, the House of Representatives approved H.R. 856 to sponsor a status referendum on constitutionally valid options defined by federal law - independence, free association, the current commonwealth arrangement identified as an unincorporated territory, and statehood. These legislative efforts failed in no small measure because the use of the "S-word” according to some, appeared to commit the United States to a statehood option.
Since then, however, the Clinton administration explicitly recognized that Puerto Rico was still an "unincorporated territory" with the right to self-determination and created, on Dec. 23, 2000, the President's Task Force on Puerto Rico's Status by Executive Order 13183, adopted by the George W. Bush administration. The Task Force Report, issued on Dec: 22, 2005, reiterates the non-permanent nature of Puerto Rico's territorial status under U.S. sovereignty.
Evidently, the democratically deficient and economically dependent commonwealth is no longer an arrangement of which anyone is particularly fond. Now that Fidel Castro and the U.S. finally agree on something, Kirkpatrick and Adelman, crypt keepers of this antediluvian political fossil of the Cold War, would seek to revive it. They support an anachronistic bill introduced in the Senate at the begging of Puerto Rico's governor that would simulate a fake constituent assembly to revise a colonial commonwealth that never commanded much international respect. They urge the U.S. Congress to again authorize Puerto Rico to again propose a colonial arrangement subject to congressional enactment, within the legal parameters of the existing arrangement -in other words, the problem as the solution.
Obviously seeking to avoid a potentially embarrassing statehood petition from the same Latin American nation that forced the U.S. Navy out of the island-municipality of Vieques, these Cold War mongers would, in fact, stir up trouble by perpetuating Puerto Rico's economic woes under the existing arrangement. It is precisely colonial commonwealth's inability to integrate into the world market that has caused economic dependence and increased support for statehood's federal transfer payments."
It is precisely commonwealth within the existing undemocratic structure - or any variation on the theme - that would further increase economic dependence and the statehood ranks - and stimulate them to come back with a vengeance, sooner rather than later.
The Presidential Task Force, on the other hand, proposes a two-step process that begins with a yes-or-no vote for territorial commonwealth -periodically, if necessary, as the first president Bush had proposed - until Puerto Rico finally says "no" to this ghoulish colonial arrangement. A second step would provide Puerto Ricans with the opportunity to choose a non-colonial, non-territorial status of a fully democratic nature. This later step should be the subject of separate legislation, to allow the U.S. Congress to come to grips with its national interests and its colonial contradictions.
It is commonplace that any journey begins with a first step. Congress should take it -carefully avoiding the "S-word” – to advance a true decolonization process and not allow this opportunity to sink back into the ruinous crypt of the Cold War.