The incredibly confusing referendum law, Part 1-2

NR – Una vez se decide un camino, el líder no cambia a menos que sea esencial hacerlo. La papeleta para la consulta plebiscitaria es confusa, se debe considerar aclararla, solo hay una opción entre las cuatro posibilidades: 1- Puerto Rico Territorio; 2- Puerto Rico Estado Federado; 3-Puerto Rico Soberano; y 4- Puerto Rico Independiente. Entendimos que las dos preguntas, donde se decidía si continuar o No siendo Colonia; y que los votaran Si eran los únicos que podían por las tres opciones era lo correcto; pero es confuso, por lo que se debe simplificar y aclarar.

The incredibly Confusing referendum law

By : CARLOS ROMERO BARCELÓ Volume: 40 | No: 1 Page : 21 Issued : 01/12/2012

At the end of last year, a law was finally passed ordering a referendum to be held on Puerto Rico’s political status. One would think, after all the discussion and arguments about what the referendum should accomplish and what choices should be presented to voters, that the law would be clear and precise, and the result would leave no doubt about what the people of Puerto Rico want. However, the law passed is anything but clear and precise. On the contrary, the law not only is vague in parts and Confusing in others, but also could be contradictory in its outcome.

Instead of clarifying the doubts and confusion many have expressed, it creates even more uncertainty than the original proposal. Clearly, to have held a first vote on whether we wanted a territorial or colonial relationship, on a different date, provided a result that either made the second vote unnecessary or would provide for a clear and precise choice. Yet, the definitions of the options left much to be desired. The options were, and will always be, open to confusion whenever “commonwealth” is included as a choice.

In its introductory statement, the Puerto Rico Legislature quotes parts of the White House Task Force Report that states the Popular Democratic Party’s historical proposal of a “New Commonwealth” is unconstitutional: “The U.S. Constitution would not permit the New Commonwealth proposal because land under the United States Sovereignty must either be a State or a Territory.”

It also recognized that a “free association” pact is a form of independence and could be offered as an alternative to independence. However, they also made it clear that the particulars of any such agreement could be unilaterally revoked by either party. Nonetheless, what the supporters of commonwealth aren’t willing to accept is that a free association compact, as a form of independence, would mean those born in Puerto Rico after the establishment of a free association wouldn’t be natural-born U.S. citizens.

In its introductory statement, the Legislature emphasizes that the Task Force strongly recommended “the President and the Congress support any fair, transparent and clear effort that reflects and is in agreement with the will of the Puerto Rican people.” However, instead of enacting a fair, transparent and clear referendum, it is, as I have said before, a vague, Confusing and even contradictory process.

The referendum will be held at the same time as the elections on Nov. 6, 2012, and two questions will be on the ballot. The first question will be: “Do you agree and support maintaining the present territorial political status? Yes___ No___?” Although the island’s present political status is territorial, in constitutional and legal terms, under the U.S. Constitution, it is also a colonial status pursuant to international definition of a colony.

Was the word “colonial” eliminated to satisfy former Gov. Rafael Hernández Colón and other commonwealth supporters? We shouldn’t continue being accomplices to the false and fraudulent assertions perpetuated upon our fellow citizens and upon the United Nations. The sooner we convince our fellow citizens in the 50 states that Puerto Rico is a colony, the more pressure there will be on the president and Congress to resolve our status dilemma.

A “yes” vote should not only acknowledge that Puerto Rico is a territory subject to the territorial clause, which grants Congress the power and authority to govern and enact laws by which we must abide, but should also acknowledge that Puerto Rico is a colony. Why not call a spade a spade?

The legal and constitutional architect of the so-called “commonwealth status,” José Trías Monge, defended full and complete autonomy for Puerto Rico for decades, including the years he was chief judge of the local Supreme Court. However, after he retired, he wrote a book in which he acknowledged Puerto Rico was the world’s last colony.

As a result of the amendments to the status referendum law, a majority vote in favor of Puerto Rico’s territorial status would contradict a majority for any of the three options provided in the second question on the ballot. Clearly, a majority vote for statehood, independence or sovereign commonwealth would be a vote for a nonterritorial status, which would contradict the affirmative vote on the first question.

I am convinced that not only are the voting alternatives provided by the referendum lawConfusing and contradictory, but the ballot would also probably be held by court to be soConfusing as to be null and void. I wouldn’t be surprised if some members of the U.S. House and Senate, the media and political pundits in the States would even make fun and ridicule Puerto Rico’s status referendum law. It would be very difficult to convince Congress, the White House and the stateside media that the law is clear, precise and fair.

The law is not only imprecise and contradictory, but also contains several misconceptions that confuse instead of educate voters. In the law’s definition of statehood, the official name of the nation is erroneous. The law refers to the U.S. of Northamerica, which is nonexistent.

The statehood option asserts that voters prefer Puerto Rico be a state of the U.S. of Northamerica, with equal rights, benefits and responsibilities as other states of the Union. The correct name is the United States of America. Furthermore, it isn’t the states that have rights, benefits and responsibilities; it is the citizens who have rights, benefits and responsibilities.

In addition, it isn’t the states that vote for president and have the right to full representation in Congress; it is the citizens who reside in any given state who have the right to vote for the president and elect representatives and senators to Congress.

The entire statehood option should be amended to make it clear to everyone that we understand our democratic form of government as a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.”

We still have time to amend the status referendum law and make the changes that would make the option clear and precise to voters, while at the same time simplifying the process and giving us, the nation and the world a very clear message about what the majority of U.S. citizens residing in Puerto Rico want.

The referendum would then become a process to define and establish the rights of the individual U.S. citizens who live in Puerto Rico and not a debate on political, legal and constitutional issues that the majority of people don’t quite understand or care about much. However, everyone is interested in his or her rights, privileges and benefits, as well as his or her duties and responsibilities as citizens. The vote becomes a personal issue and not a conceptual issue.

I propose that the statehood option be amended to read as follows:

“As a United States citizen and as a resident of Puerto Rico I want to have and hereby demand the same rights, privileges and benefits, as well as the same duties and obligations, that all other U.S. citizens have in the 50 states of the Union, including the right to vote for president and the right to elect representatives and senators to the nation’s Congress. Yes___ or No___.”

The only way a majority vote for equal rights could be made a reality would be for Congress to enact an enabling bill to provide for Puerto Rico’s admission as a state. A majority vote would therefore constitute a mandate to Puerto Rico’s governor and Legislature to provide the funds and enact laws ordering the government of Puerto Rico and the resident commissioner to carry out all necessary actions and campaigns to achieve the people of Puerto Rico’s demand for equality.

If we act now, we have time to make all necessary amendments to the status referendum law.

Carlos Romero Barceló is a two-term former governor of Puerto Rico (1977-84), a two-term former resident commissioner (1993-2000) and a two-term former mayor of San Juan (1969-78). He was president of the New Progressive Party for 11 years. He is now a consultant involved in real estate, doing business as CRB Realty. His email address is rbarcelo@prtc.net. Comments on this article are welcome at caribbeanbusiness.pr. Go to the “Sign in” link on the homepage to participate. Emails also may be sent to column@caribbeanbusinesspr.com.

The incredibly confusing referendum law, Part 2

By : CARLOS ROMERO BARCELÓ column@caribbeanbusinesspr.com Edition: January 26, 2012 | Volume: 40 | No: 3

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the referendum law and how it intended to follow the instructions and suggestions of the White House Task Force Report, but instead of providing for a clear decision, it allows results that could be even more confusing and contradictory.

Today, I am going to translate parts of the law, which, as far as I know, hasn’t yet been officially translated, so that you may judge for yourself if the law really provides for a clear decision, as the authors allege, or if the options spelled out are ambiguous and confusing.

The status referendum vote is supposed to be an opportunity to vote on what the legal, political and economic relationship of the American citizens who reside in Puerto Rico should be with the American citizens who reside in the 50 states of the Union, as well as with the federal and state governments.

At present, a considerable majority of all American citizens who reside in Puerto Rico are convinced that Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States and that it is subject to Article IV, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, which in its second paragraph, reads:

“The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any claim of the United States, or of any particular State.”

The territorial power which Congress exercises over Puerto Rico stems from the Treaty of Paris of 1898, which in Article II reads as follows:

“Spain cedes to the United States the Island of Puerto Rico and other Islands now under Spanish Sovereignty in the West Indies…”

Since the power and authority of Congress over Puerto Rico emanates from the Constitution, Congress cannot delegate this power nor deny any future Congress of its power and authority over the territory.

Even the judicial architect of the so-called “Commonwealth Status,” José Trías Monge, after he retired as chief justice of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico, acknowledged what I had been saying for years, that Puerto Rico is the last colony in the world with a population of more than one million inhabitants. Trías Monge not only acknowledged that Puerto Rico was a colony, he even confessed to having been guilty of misleading the people of Puerto Rico into believing that we were fully autonomous and no longer a territory of the United States.

However, Trías Monge went further than just admitting his guilt as an accomplice in misleading the people of Puerto Rico. As a legal scholar, he felt compelled to explain why he was now convinced that Puerto Rico was a colony. He gave no fewer than 11 reasons why he had changed his mind. To wit:

  1. The rights of U.S. citizens who reside in Puerto Rico are neither equal nor comparable to the rights of U.S. citizens in any of the 50 states.
  2. On several occasions the federal government has clearly alleged and held that the sovereignty over the citizens residing on our island rests solely upon the U.S. and not on the people of Puerto Rico.
  3. The president of the U.S., as well as U.S. ambassadors and others in positions of authority, make decisions without consulting us.
  4. The laws of the land (U.S.) apply to Puerto Rico even though we did not participate in their adoption. Federal laws in conflict with our local Constitution will prevail over our local Constitution.
  5. The U.S. Congress is convinced that it has the sovereign authority over Puerto Rico and can legislate without consulting us.
  6. Both the Congress and the executive branch of the U.S. act as if there were no bilateral compact. Members of the executive branch are firmly convinced that the alleged bilateral compact is legally untenable.
  7. The commonwealth status as it now exists does not comply with the United Nation’s established standards of decolonization.
  8. Even if the courts were to hold that there is a valid compact, the consent granted by the People of Puerto Rico in 1950, when it accepted Law 600, is excessively all-encompassing. Trías Monge points out that the consent granted the U.S. government by the referendum in 1950 did not eliminate the colonial nature of the relationship.
  9. In the world today, there is no other known colonial relationship where a people exercises such a complete and almost unlimited power over another.
  10. By virtue of a law of Congress, the U.S. courts of justice, were granted jurisdiction over matters and issues of a strictly local nature, by virtue of diversity of citizenship. And finally,
  11. Puerto Rico plays no significant role in the lives of the international community as a participant in the decisions taken by the U.S.

Upon this clear explanation of the colonial reality of Puerto Rico and how the “commonwealth” supporters have been lied to and misled, we must be extra careful not to become accomplices with the Popular Democratic Party leaders and continue to mislead the public with a law with so many errors and confusing concepts.

The most confusing and vague alternative is the option of the so-called “Sovereign Commonwealth.” I prefer that Puerto Rico adopt a status not subject to the Territorial Clause of the U.S. Constitution which acknowledges the sovereignty of the people of Puerto Rico. Sovereign Commonwealth would be based upon a free and voluntary political association whose specific terms would be agreed upon between the U.S. and Puerto Rico as sovereign nations. Such an agreement would set forth the scope of the jurisdictional powers that the people of Puerto Rico consents to leave in the hands of the U.S. and will retain the remaining powers or jurisdictional authority. If you agree, mark here ____.

Let us start with the first sentence of the Sovereign Commonwealth option. How many voters would understand what “not subject to the Territorial Clause of the U.S. Constitution that recognizes the sovereignty of the People of Puerto Rico” means or implies?

Then follows the most absurd of all proposals. That the specific terms of the “free and voluntary political association” would be determined in the future. In other words, a “carte blanche” proposal. The voters are not told whether they would keep their American citizenship or whether their children would be U.S. citizens or not. The proposal does not tell the voters whether federal programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, funds for housing, programs for the elderly, WIC (Women, Infants & Children special supplemental nutrition program), Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, rental subsidies and others, would be eliminated. Would the U.S. District Court and the U.S. First Court of Appeals remain in Puerto Rico? Would the U.S. District Attorneys, FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services, U.S. Customs & Border Protection, U.S. Post Office, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics, and other federal offices leave? Obviously the so-called Sovereign Commonwealth is a Pandora’s box. The voters would have a great number of unanswered questions and we would become accomplices to the lies and confusion which the Popular Democratic Party would set forth in the referendum campaign.

No, as the responsible ruling party, we cannot allow such a travesty upon our people on such an important occasion. The referendum law must be revisited and amended. 

Carlos Romero Barceló is a two-term former governor of Puerto Rico (1977-84), a two-term former resident commissioner (1993-2000) and a two-term former mayor of San Juan (1969-78). He was president of the New Progressive Party for 11 years. He is now a consultant involved in real estate, doing business as CRB Realty. His email address is rbarcelo@prtc.net. Comments on this article are welcome at caribbeanbusiness.pr. Go to Sign in link on the homepage to participate. Emails also may be sent to column@caribbeanbusinesspr.com.

 

Why not speak clearly to the people?

By : CARLOS ROMERO BARCELÓ
Volume: 39 | No: 33
Page : 22
Issued : 08/25/2011

Because the so-called “commonwealth status” lends itself to be misinterpreted—and the leaders of the Popular Democratic Party have complete divergent, different and conflicting definitions of their “commonwealth status”—they have developed an uncanny ability to fool themselves and others into believing impossible and unrealistic concepts of what their “status” represents. However, not only do they have unrealistic concepts of what “commonwealth” represents, but they also even lie to themselves and others as to the historical events in our history.

In so doing, they have managed to confuse those in the public who aren’t politically educated. They also mislead students who hadn’t been born or were too young in 1952. In addition, as part of their lies and misrepresentations, they also insist on improperly using names and definitions to make people believe in something that isn’t true.

As far as I am concerned, Puerto Rico is an island, and a very beautiful one, and I am as proud of being born on the island of Puerto Rico as the Spaniard, French or German citizens are proud of being born in their native country.

Languages are meant to be used for communication in order to foster friendship, cooperation, love and other constructive relationships between humans. The more articulate a person is, the better he or she can communicate with others. However, if that person insists on using words that create confusion, then his or her ability to communicate positively with others is affected negatively. That is precisely what is happening.

Why can we not call our Olympic Basketball team and our other Olympic teams the Puerto Rico Olympic Basketball team or our State Basketball Team. Wouldn’t we be as proud of our athletes who win world titles and championships if they win playing under the name State or Olympic, instead of National? Is our National Team the Puerto Rico team or the U.S. team? When we talk about our National Parks, are we talking about a U.S. National Park such as Yellowstone or El Yunque, or are we talking about a Puerto Rico State Park, such as Monte del Estado in Maricao?

Wouldn’t it be less Confusing if we used the right words, instead of trying to use one that can create confusion. It seems the use of the word “national” as applied in Puerto Rico arises out of an inferiority complex, as though being a community, state or island is less meaningful than being a nation.

The insistence on using the word “nation” and “nationality” smacks too much of nationalism, which along with religious fanaticism has brought upon our world the worst and bloodiest wars and genocides in our history.

Before the change of name from Territory to Commonwealth, the name “Island of Puerto Rico” was used. After the name of Puerto Rico was officially changed to “Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico,” our government should be the State Government (Gobierno Estatal).

So, what’s wrong with calling a spade a spade? You may think you can change reality by changing a name. You can’t. In Puerto Rico’s case, pretending we are an independent or sovereign nation merely hides the reality that we are a colony, not a sovereign nation. By fooling ourselves, we delay the solution of our colonial dilemma.

I love Puerto Rico with its limitations, its faults and defects. I have dedicated the greatest number of years of my life to work to improve our youth’s educational opportunities, for better healthcare for all, for higher wages and more and better jobs for our people and to improve our quality of life. In spite of our limitations, we have achieved much more than others who have quite a bit more resources than we do.

Why some people have to pretend we are what we aren’t to feel proud of Puerto Rico, I am unable to understand. We have much to be proud of, but economic and financial problems are creating new problems and desperate attitudes. Puerto Rico’s greatest strength is its enormous sense of compassion. Few people in the world have a greater impulse to help their neighbors in times of pain and sorrow. Unfortunately, the growing dependence on government to solve our problems is affecting our capacity to overcome hard times by working harder as we had always done before.

Nowadays, too many people are demanding that government solve their problems and their financial needs. In the recent University of Puerto Rico strike, the students—who receive more money for their personal expenses from the federal Pell Grants than students in any university in the 50 states—were demanding more money from federal government grants, but they never spoke about working to pay for their other needs. How different from the time when I studied, when so many students got jobs to help themselves through school and college. I worked during all four years of high school and during my four years at Yale, including the summers.

When I started law school at University of Puerto Rico, I was married and I worked through all my three years in law school, I never asked for any help from my parents or the government.

During the demonstrations at the university, some students and teachers complained that their human rights were being violated. They identified human rights as violations of their right to freedom of speech and their freedom to demonstrate peacefully. When they talked about human rights, they were actually referring to civil rights. The students, professors and press didn’t seem to know that our Constitution doesn’t guarantee those so-called human rights and that the rights they were claiming are civil rights, which are guaranteed by both our constitutions. As a matter of fact, the Bill of Rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution was the first Bill of Rights in any written constitution in the world.

It is shameful university students and professors don’t know that our local constitution doesn’t have a human-rights guarantee. They also apparently don’t know that human rights are economic rights and opportunities, which have nothing to do with freedom of speech and the right to demonstrate peacefully.

Perhaps their mistake is brought about by the Puerto Rico State Department and the Supreme Court, which don’t make it clear to the people that Section 20 of Article II in our Constitution was stricken out by the U.S. Congress in July 1952. Why was it stricken out and who asked that it be struck out?

It was stricken out because it guaranteed: “The right of every person to obtain work.”

Such a guarantee was unacceptable to labor, and the unions lobbied Congress to eliminate the “right to work” clause. Why? Because if that section had been kept in the Constitution, union shops and closed shops would have been unconstitutional in Puerto Rico.

The confusion stems from the fact that if you get a copy of our Constitution from the State Department or Supreme Court websites, you will receive a copy of the Constitution with Article II-Section 20, without any clear indication that Section 20 was rejected and eliminated by the U.S. Congress after our local Constitution had been adopted.

Here again, we have the government of Puerto Rico, under a Popular Democratic Party administration, hiding from the people of Puerto Rico the fact that Congress amended our Constitution unilaterally. Obviously, the congressional action of eliminating Section 20 after it had been approved by Puerto Rico clearly established there is no such thing as a compact, which binds and limits the authority of Congress.

Carlos Romero Barceló is a two-term former governor of Puerto Rico (1977-84), a two-term former resident commissioner (1993-00) and a two-term former mayor of San Juan (1969-78). He was president of the New Progressive Party for 11 years. He is now a consultant involved in real estate, doing business as CRB Realty. His email address is rbarcelo@prtc.net. Comments on this article are welcome at caribbeanbusiness.pr. Go to the “Sign in” link on the homepage to participate. Emails also may be sent to column@caribbeanbusinesspr.com.

The President’s Task Force Report on Puerto Rico’s Status

By : CARLOS ROMERO BARCELÓ
Volume: 39 | No: 11
Page : 25
Issued : 03/24/2011

The report on Puerto Rico’s political, constitutional and economic status by the President’s Task Force, is a significant step toward solving Puerto Rico’s long-lasting status dilemma. It is the first time that the president, albeit through a task force, clearly joins the increasing chorus of judicial, legislative and political voices pointing out that the so-called “Commonwealth of Puerto Rico” is nothing other than a territory subject to the territorial power and authority granted to Congress by the Constitution. In other words, it is a presidential recognition that the “commonwealth” isn’t fully autonomous. Furthermore, the report recognizes the present relationship is the result of several laws passed by Congress, not a compact. As laws enacted by Congress, they can be unilaterally revoked or amended by Congress. Minimum-wage law as well as income- and excise-tax laws already have been revoked and amended unilaterally by Congress. The highly touted “fiscal anatomy” already has been altered and reduced by Congress.

The report also makes it clear that under “commonwealth,” Puerto Rico will continue to be a “territory” subject to the territorial clause of the U.S. Constitution. In other words, it has told the “enhanced commonwealth” supporters to stop lying to the people of Puerto Rico and stop offering full sovereignty, which can only be achieved by independence, free association or statehood.

Yes, as a state, Puerto Rico would share national and international sovereignty with the 50 states and also would have the sovereignty reserved for the states in the U.S. Constitution. The claim made by “commonwealth” status proponents, that they can have sovereignty separate from U.S. (national) sovereignty is an unrealistic whim that isn’t viable under the U.S. Constitution. If an option to remain under the present status, called “commonwealth,” is presented to the people in a plebiscite, the proposed choice would be “commonwealth as is,” not enhanced.

Such a choice was overwhelmingly rejected by the people of Puerto Rico in the 1998 plebiscite, where it garnered only 993 votes, scarcely 0.1% of the vote. The present status, as is, has been rejected and called “the last colony in the world” by one of its two principal legal architects, former P.R. Supreme Court Chief Judge José Trías Monge. Most, if not all, Popular Democratic Party leaders of the past two decades have rejected the present “commonwealth” status as inadequate. Even former Gov. Rafael Hernández Colón has admitted “commonwealth,” as is, has a deficit of democracy. In other words, we don’t enjoy all the rights and privileges of equality to which all citizens in a democracy are entitled.

The people of Puerto Rico are overwhelmingly convinced “commonwealth,” as is, is unsatisfactory, nay, unacceptable. Even the leaders and spokespeople for “commonwealth” talk about an “enhanced commonwealth” with separate sovereignty from the U.S., but with irrevocable U.S. citizenship, and a bilateral pact that can’t be amended or revoked unilaterally. That proposal has been clearly rejected and classified as unconstitutional by Congress, the U.S. Department of Justice and now the White House.

Apparently, all these facts and circumstances weren’t discussed when the Task Force suggested the present “commonwealth” status should be included as an option. Why should it? Particularly, if it already has been so overwhelmingly rejected by the people of Puerto Rico, as recently as in 1998.

To include “commonwealth” as an option is tantamount to offering a selection to the people of Puerto Rico that deprives us from participating in the democratic processes of our nation. It is tantamount to including an option that deprives all [U.S.] American citizens residing in Puerto Rico of equal rights, and all the privileges and benefits enjoyed by all other U.S. citizens in the 50 states and, in some instances, by foreign citizens legally residing in the States. To include “commonwealth,” as is, is equivalent to including an option that subjects all U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico to live as disenfranchised citizens under a form of government that doesn’t have the people’s consent. In other words, it is an option that permits the governance of four million U.S. citizens without their consent. Is this acceptable under our democratic form of government?

The Task Force recommendation goes against everything our nation stands for. How can we spend billions of dollars to bring democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan, where we don’t know if the majority wants it or even understands it, while at the same time we opt to offer four million U.S. citizens an option to be ruled under conditions that deny us participation in our nation’s democratic process and as disenfranchised citizens under a relationship that exists without the consent of the majority. To include the option of “commonwealth” in a plebiscite merely delays the process to put an end to our existing colonial relationship.

Why should the problem, which everyone wants to solve, be offered as a possible solution? The suggestion to permit “commonwealth” and free association as a separate option would only unnecessarily delay the process and allow too much room for demagogues to try to continue Confusing voters. The free-association option with separate sovereignty can’t include U.S. citizenship because free association is a form of independence. It is the result of a bilateral pact between two sovereign nations, which can be unilaterally repealed. Puerto Ricans wouldn’t be U.S. citizens in a free-associated state, but all U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico at the time it became independent could be allowed to remain citizens as long as they lived. Free association should be included as part of the independence option, not as a separate option. By including free association as part of the independence option, the independence option should garner more votes.

As one reads the Task Force report, it becomes obvious they realized there really are only two definite options to solve the colonial-status dilemma. The two options are statehood and independence. The confusion arises when Puerto Rico’s dilemma, regarding its relationship with the 50 states, is put in terms of status options, instead of discussing it in terms of citizenship and our rights in a democracy.

The real issue before the people of Puerto Rico isn’t whether we want statehood or independence, but whether we want to be [U.S.] American citizens. That is why, instead of thinking in terms of a status plebiscite, we should think in terms of our citizenship, what it means to us and how we want it. In view of what I have analyzed, I suggest our referendum should be a simple question on our citizenship, as follows:

“I, as [a U.S.] American citizen, residing in Puerto Rico, want my citizenship with equal rights, privileges and benefits, as well as equal duties and obligations with all other [U.S.] American citizens, including the right to vote for the president and the right to elect representatives and senators to the U.S. Congress.” Yes____ or No_____.

If the vote is “no,” the road to independence would be opened and the people would then choose between complete and separate independence or free association.

If the vote is “yes,” then a bill for Puerto Rico’s admission as a state would be drafted by the White House, with the advice and participation of the people appointed by the governor and the Puerto Rico Legislature, and submitted to Congress with full support and endorsement by the White House.

Carlos Romero Barceló is a two-term former governor of Puerto Rico (1977-84), a two-term former resident commissioner (1993-00) and a two-term former mayor of San Juan (1969-78). He was president of the New Progressive Party for 11 years. He is now a consultant involved in real estate, doing business as CRB Realty. His email address is rbarcelo@prtc.net. Comments on this article are welcome at caribbeanbusinesspr.com. Go to the “Sign in” link on the homepage to participate. Emails also may be sent to column@caribbeanbusinesspr.com.

U.S. Congress recognizes that PDP has purposely confused the people regarding status

By : CARLOS ROMERO BARCELÓ
Volume: 36 | No: 18
Page : 25
Issued : 05/08/2008

Since 1952, Popular Democratic Party (PDP) leaders, beginning with Muñoz Marín and his legal and economic advisers, continuing with Hernández Colón and his close advisers, Sila Calderón and, at present, Acevedo Vilá, have lied to the people of Puerto Rico and misled PDP followers and many others. Presidents, members of Congress and influential leaders have either been misled or they knowingly joined the campaign to confuse and mislead people with respect to the issue of the political status of Puerto Rico.

Even when the courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, some presidents and many members of Congress, both in the House and in the Senate, have spoken clearly and truthfully regarding Puerto Rico’s status, their statements and arguments have not been publicized sufficiently, and too many people, including knowledgeable leaders and professionals, are still confused and misled.

The problem has been that any statement made by anyone with some public recognition who supports the erroneous and false arguments of the so-called “Commonwealth” leaders, is given a lot of publicity, and PDP leaders repeat this ad nauseam with the help of the media.

On the contrary, court decisions, studies and statements made by prominent politicians, political scientists, professors, research and study groups and other recognized authorities, all whom support the statements of statehood proponents, are short-lived in the media.

A recent example of what I have indicated above is the U.S. Congress Committee on Natural Resources Report on H.R. 900, entitled Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2007, submitted to the House April 22, 2008. The committee report, which explained and summarized the hearings, the discussions and the legislative process followed in the approval by the committee of the P.R. Democracy Act, contains a scathing criticism of the PDP’s deceit of the people of Puerto Rico since 1952.

The committee researched and studied the history as to what actually occurred in 1952 when Puerto Rico voted to adopt its own local constitution. Muñoz Marín wanted the unincorporated territory of Puerto Rico to change its name if nothing else. In Spanish, he chose the name Estado Libre Asociado. However, when his legal counsel and representatives tried to talk Congress into using the name Free Associated State, he ran into a solid wall. Congress refused to give the government of Puerto Rico the name Free Associated State because it was misleading. It implied a political relationship between Puerto Rico and the nation, which was not real. The committee explains the issue on page five of its report as follows:

“The constitution named the local government Estado Libre Asociado in Spanish, which translates literally as Associated Free State in English. Under international law, a free associated state is a sovereign nation in a joint governance arrangement with another nation that neither nation can unilaterally end.”

The committee went on to explain that the U.S. had a free association relationship with three Pacific island nations, which it had “formerly administered as parts of a trust territory for the United Nations.” The three island nations are Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau. The most important difference between Puerto Rico and the three island nations is that the inhabitants and residents of the island nations are not U.S. citizens, whereas all people born in Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens. In addition, the vast majority of Puerto Ricans value and cherish their American citizenship and are not willing to give it up or do anything that will deprive their children or their grandchildren of their American citizenship.

Whether Puerto Rico is an island nation or not, the committee, on page five, said:

“The 1950 and 1952 laws clearly did not make Puerto Rico an independent nation in free association with the United States. Because Puerto Rico, by virtue of its status as a territory, was not able to choose on its own to become an independent nation, a sovereign nation-state in free association with the United States or a state, its constitutional convention resolved that the local government would be called the Commonwealth in English.”

The committee recognized the pretended ploy of using the word “commonwealth,” which had no specific meaning as to a political relationship. A commonwealth could be anything you wanted it to be for argument’s sake. In that respect, the committee found that:

“The term ‘commonwealth’ does not denote a particular political status. The term is used in the formal names of four U.S. states (Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Kentucky) and another jurisdiction subject to congressional authority regarding territories (the Northern Mariana Islands). Although ‘commonwealth’ does not signify status in the way that the terms ‘state,’ ‘nation,’ and ‘territory’ do, Puerto Rico is often referred to as a ‘commonwealth’ and said to have ‘commonwealth’ status. Further, ‘commonwealth’ is also sometimes used as shorthand to refer to the governing arrangement between the United States and Puerto Rico. Finally, as if these different usages of the word were not Confusingenough, ‘commonwealth’ is used to refer to the PDP’s enhanced autonomy proposals.”

In other words, the Committee on Natural Resources in the House of Representatives, which has the original jurisdiction on issues related to all U.S. territories and must pass on any legislation related to Puerto Rico’s status, has realized, as we have been arguing for years, that the PDP has been purposely Confusing and misleading everyone regarding the political, legal and constitutional relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States. In that regard, in the third paragraph on page five of the 2007 report, the committee states: “The confusion over the meaning and significance of the term ‘commonwealth’ has been a major factor contributing to Puerto Ricans not determining their preference regarding the island’s future political status.” The committee goes even further than any other congressional committee has in the past. It is almost as if the committee reacted with annoyance at the PDP’s attempt to pull the wool over their eyes, as they have apparently managed to do with so many people in the past, including some very intelligent and capable professionals. In that respect, the Natural Resources Committee, in paragraph three of page five, further states:

“…(The confusion has also hampered congressional action on this issue.) An aspect of the question in Puerto Rico (although not in the federal government) is whether Puerto Rico is still a territory. Puerto Rican leaders do not want Puerto Rico to be a territory. Use of the word ‘commonwealth’ obscures the issue for many Puerto Ricans, who ask: Is ‘commonwealth’ a territory status or something different? Does it refer to the status quo or to the PDP’s enhanced autonomy proposal?”

Never before in all the time that I have been involved in the political status issue has any congressional committee come down so hard on the PDP’s longtime strategy. A strategy that pretends to claim Puerto Rico can obtain equal treatment in all rights and benefits guaranteed to all U.S. citizens and, at the same time, have full sovereignty over all matters of importance to it regarding issues pertaining to Puerto Rico. And that includes receiving equal funding in all federal programs without having to pay federal income taxes.

The report submitted to the House of Representatives by the Committee on Natural Resources in April 2008, if read and understood by all Puerto Ricans, should put an end to the PDP’s game with our people. We have only two real choices, which give us sovereignty and democracy without limitations on our voting and representation rights at all levels of government. Those two choices—everyone in Puerto Rico knows—are statehood or independence.

The time to decide will be thrust upon us if we don’t decide soon. The world’s leading democracy cannot continue to deny 4 million American citizens the right to vote and the right to be represented while chastising other nations for their lack of democracy.

Carlos Romero Barceló is a two-term former governor of Puerto Rico (1977-‘84), a two-term former resident commissioner (1993-2000) and a two-term former mayor of San Juan (1969-‘78). He was president of the New Progressive Party for 11 years. He is now a consultant involved in real estate, doing business as CRB Realty (email: rbarcelo@prtc.net).

Democracy, not status, is the issue

By : CARLOS ROMERO BARCELÓ
Volume: 34 | No: 12
Page : 23
Issued : 03/30/2006

Whenever I have approached a member of Congress, or a senator, on the issue of the “status” of Puerto Rico vis à vis the United States, I have found many of them to have been ill-informed about what the relationship is, and particularly about what “commonwealth” means. Most of those who have had little or no contact with Puerto Rico weren’t even aware of the fact that we have been native-born U.S. citizens since 1917, or for that matter, that we are U.S. citizens.

However, once you explained to them that we are U.S. citizens and that when the selective service law was in effect, even though we were disenfranchised U.S. citizens we were subject to be drafted to serve in the Armed Forces, they became more confused than ever.

The confusion about what “commonwealth” means and the confusion regarding the status issue, led me to conclude that the best way to explain the volatile and Confusing status issue isn’t by trying to explain the different alternatives, but by discussing and explaining the issue from the point of view of what “democracy” is all about.

How did I reach that conclusion? How can a discussion on “democracy” make it easier for those who never focused on our status dilemma to understand the issue, rather than discussing and explaining the different alternatives? Well, in the first place, if you start by defining the alternatives, you will never get a consensus as to the meaning or definition of the “commonwealth” alternative between those who advocate statehood, those who advocate independence and those who advocate “common wealth.” You won’t even get a consensus as to the meaning or definition of the “commonwealth” alternative among “commonwealth” supporters themselves.

If you start by explaining or defining the alternatives, they find it so Confusing that you begin to lose their interest. However, if you ask him or her: Did you know there are 4 million disenfranchised U.S. citizens? Did you know those 4 million U.S. citizens aren’t only denied the right to vote for president, but are also denied representation in our nation’s congress? Then, suddenly, they become very interested in the status discussion. Their immediate reaction has been a recognition of the fact that they were unaware of the unfairness of the existing relationship.

Once they become aware of the unfairness of the relationship, then it becomes important to define democracy, in order to determine whether the existing relationship called “commonwealth” is democratic or not. And what is “democracy?” It is: “A form of government where the sovereignty lies on the people, who exercise their sovereignty through representatives chosen in periodically held elections, where all citizens of voting age are allowed and encouraged to vote.” Once that is agreed to as the definition, the question arises: Do we, the people of Puerto Rico have sovereignty over our economic and political lives? The answer is clearly—no. Do we exercise our sovereignty through duly elected representatives? Here again, the answer is clearly—no.

If we choose to be and to remain U.S. citizens, can we have democracy without having the right to vote for the president of the nation that we are citizens of? Definitely, no!

If we choose to be and to remain U.S. citizens, are we participating in democracy, if we are denied the right to elect representatives and senators to the Congress of the nation that we are citizens of? Definitely—no!

Therefore, we must conclude that the status alternative called “commonwealth” is undemocratic, because it doesn’t allow us to vote for our president, nor does it allow us to elect our representatives in the congress that passes the laws that govern us.

How then can the United States of America support and maintain Puerto Rico as a territory that is called “commonwealth” and which has denied us our right to vote and to be represented in Congress since we became citizens in 1917? Particularly, when the United States claims to be the example and inspiration for democracy throughout the world. The United States was the inspiration of the voice for democracy in Tiananmen Square in China. The United States was the inspiration for the peaceful revolt against the Communist dictatorship in Poland, in East Germany and all Eastern European countries, including Russia.

We are now spending hundreds of millions of dollars to bring democracy to Iraq on the other side of the globe. How can the United States talk about democracy in the United Nations and other international forums, while nothing is done about the lack of democracy on an island that is a U.S. territory, inhabited by 4 million U.S. citizens? To talk about the need for democracy throughout the world, while neglecting its 4 million disenfranchised U.S. citizens, is tantamount to preaching morality in their underwear.

It is precisely because of the untenable situation of the undemocratic relationship between Puerto Rico and the rest of the nation that President Clinton issued an executive order, to appoint a Task Force to study the status dilemma of Puerto Rico and put forth a recommendation to deal with the issue. It is precisely because of this untenable situation, that President Bush amended President Clinton’s Executive Order and appointed a new Task Force to study the issue and put forth a recommendation. The report has been issued, and the recommendation is being implemented. A bill drafted by the New Progressive Party under the leadership of Pedro Rosselló, was sent to the Congressional leaders of both parties and to our Resident Commissioner Luis Fortuño. He worked on the draft bill with his staff and that of our congressional supporters and a revised new draft of the bill was filed by Fortuño. By mid-March, the bill already had 102 cosigners.

The bill provides for two plebiscites or referendums. In the first plebiscite, the people would vote to choose whether to remain a U.S. territory subject to the will of Congress, or whether to choose a constitutionally viable path toward a permanent, nonterritorial status with the United States.

For the first time since the so-called “commonwealth” was approved, the White House has defined “commonwealth” as what it really is—a nonpermanent, territorial status, subject to the will (or sovereignty) of Congress. If the people choose the second option, that is, a permanent, nonterritorial status, then a second plebiscite would be held, which would allow the people of Puerto Rico to choose between statehood and independence; the only two options that are nonterritorial and which are also permanent.

It is precisely the definition of the present status that the “commonwealth” supporters don’t like. They don’t like it because the “commonwealth” is unmasked and shown as it really is—a territory subject to the will of Congress—an undemocratic relationship.

Gov. Acevedo Vilá has called our bill “undemocratic” and “anti-American.” As usual, he misrepresents the reality. The truth is that it is the present “commonwealth” status that is undemocratic and being undemocratic can also be considered un-American.

The White House Task Force Recommendations, as set forth in our draft bill as filed by Luis Fortuño, will give the people of Puerto Rico the opportunity to vote for or against our so called “commonwealth”…defined in the ballot as it really is, and not with embellishments and unrealistic attributes that fool and mislead the voters.

The real issue is—whether or not we want a fully democratic relationship with the 50 states of the union. Can the president and the U.S. Congress continue their responsibility? Can the United States keep 4 million U.S. citizens disenfranchised and still talk about democracy in Iraq and Cuba? The ultimate issue in our status dilemma isn’t status, but democracy. If you believe in democracy, how can you support an undemocratic relationship such as “commonwealth?”

Carlos Romero Barceló is a two-term former governor of Puerto Rico (1977-84), a two-term former resident commissioner (1993-2000) and a two-term former mayor of San Juan (1969-78). He was president of the New Progressive Party for 11 years. He is now a consultant and involved in real estate, doing business as CRB Realty (email: rbarcelo@prtc.net).

U.S. District Court Judge Danny Domínguez

By : CARLOS ROMERO BARCELÓ
Volume: 33 | No: 1
Page : 24
Issued : 01/13/2005

On the night of Nov. 2, 2004, we were witness to surprising and unexpected election results. The majority of the people of Puerto Rico believed Pedro Rosselló would win the gubernatorial election. As the results being reported showed his slight lead at the beginning of the tally was slowly increasing and had reached a margin of over 14,000 votes, when fewer than one-third of the ballots had been counted, many went to bed taking it for granted that Rosselló had been elected.

However, as the night wore on, we started to see Rosselló’s lead, instead of increasing was slowly decreasing, and all of his supporters started to get worried. When Aníbal Acevedo Vilá started to gain more votes than Rosselló, we couldn’t believe what we were seeing. However, those of us who have been part of the electoral process for years had started to fear the worst when Rosselló’s lead started diminishing, and a trend became evident after an hour. Even though Rosselló was still ahead, the erosion of his lead, although slow, was continuous, and it became obvious the election was to be very close.

And close it was. Acevedo Vilá was declared the preliminary winner by 3,880 votes. The Electoral Commission agreed to start to scrutinize the tally sheet results, and to recount all ballots cast at the same time. However, Acevedo Vilá ordered his party to object to carrying out the scrutiny of the tally sheets, and the recount simultaneously. Upon the objection of Acevedo, the president of the Election Commission buckled under, and reversed his decision to carry out both procedures simultaneously. He ordered the scrutiny to be carried out first. He did this, even though he acknowledged it would be more efficient, faster, and more reliable to do both things at the same time. The reason why Acevedo Vilá objected to the ballot by ballot recount, and demanded the scrutiny of the tally sheets to be done first, was precisely because he knew that the minute the election officials started seeing the ballots with the three Xs in the gubernatorial ballots where only two candidates were up for election, the validity of those votes would be questioned and his preliminary victory would be in danger of being reversed. He knew, before we did, that his victory was a fraud. There is no democratic country in the world that I know of, where three votes (Xs) in a ballot to elect only two candidates is valid.

When our election officials became aware that these null and void ballots had, in some instances, been counted as valid, they demanded all those ballots be declared null and void. Then, the legal battles began.

True to form, the majority of the judges in the Puerto Rico Supreme Court, in a process where they violated federal law and acted without jurisdiction, decided in favor of Acevedo Vilá and ordered the invalid ballots with three Xs to be counted. They not only acted without jurisdiction, but they denied Rosselló and other plaintiffs who represented all New Progressive Party voters their day in court. The four politically partisan-biased judges decided without hearing any arguments from Rosselló and the New Progressive Party. They decided without any properly presented evidence. They obviously wanted to protect Acevedo’s preliminary victory, no matter what.

Knowing the majority of the Puerto Rico Supreme Court would decide in favor of Acevedo Vilá, whether or not he was right, Rosselló and the New Progressive Party filed an action in the U.S. District Court for Puerto Rico. In the federal court, Judge Danny Domínguez was assigned to hear the case.

He accepted his duty with full knowledge of the great responsibility on his shoulders. His decision, if upheld, would decide the elections in Puerto Rico. He also knew that no matter what he decided, approximately half the people would praise and applaud him and the others would jeer and insult him. Aware of this great responsibility, he acted cautiously, carefully, judiciously, and patiently. He went out of his way to allow both parties to present their cases, present their evidence, and argue their position. No one could find a reason to object to his procedure, so they decided to criticize him for taking too long to decide. His orders protected all parties, allowed for the scrutiny of the tally sheets, and the recount to proceed simultaneously, as was finally agreed to by all.

No one could allege any prejudice as the result of his orders. The decision to wait until all ballots were recounted, and the challenged ballots with the three Xs set aside, to determine after the recount whether the number of challenged ballots would change the recount result or not, was not only a very reasonable decision, but a very wise decision. Why decide whether a challenged vote is valid or not if it won’t affect the election results? However, it is a much more difficult decision to make, once you know your decision will, in effect, determine the result of the elections.

It takes a lot of moral courage to take the path Judge Domínguez opted to take. And it is because it was such a courageous and morally unassailable position that he has been insulted and criticized by Acevedo Vilá and other members of the Popular Democratic Party. Not having any sound arguments to criticize Judge Domínguez, they resorted to insults.

If Judge Domínguez made any error during the processing of the three Xs on a two-candidate ballot case, it was to be too impartial and too careful. It is true he could have acted faster, but it is very easy to criticize when you are not in the same shoes. Having to decide by himself, without two or more judges to share the responsibility of deciding who won the election for governor in Puerto Rico, is a very heavy burden. How many of those who so freely criticize Judge Domínguez would have acted faster, while at the same time acting objectively and impartially, giving all parties every opportunity to present evidence and plead their case?

When one analyzes Judge Danny Domínguez’s rulings, and the way he proceeded in this case, any impartial attorney must acknowledge we are indeed fortunate to have him as one of our U.S. District Court judges.

The decision overturning Judge Domínguez’s actions, and order in this case, is Confusingand contradicts itself on some issues. It assumes some data as proven when, as a matter of fact, they were not only not proven, but are false. The conclusion the votes of those who selected Rosselló were not “diluted” is clearly erroneous. When Rosselló and the other plaintiffs asked for a reconsideration en banc from the full Court of Appeals, the majority of the judges who didn’t participate in the decision voted to hear the case en banc. However, the hearing was denied four to three because the three judges who decided the case voted against the review. Obviously, almost half of the First Circuit Court of Appeals felt this case had merits for a rehearing.

Not only was the election very close, but the decision of the judges to review or not, couldn’t have been closer.

Judge Domínguez should pay no attention to the insults and criticisms. Unfortunately, the majority of the members of our local press are highly prejudiced against statehood, against the New Progressive Party, and against Rosselló. They were against you Judge Domínguez, the minute you assumed jurisdiction. They criticized you for acting objectively, impartially, and judiciously. They praised the majority of the justices of the local Supreme Court for violating Rosselló’s and the New Progressive Party’s right to due process, and for deciding without a hearing and without evidence. They praised the majority of the justices of the local Supreme Court for acting with purely political motives.

Time will bear out that Judge Domínguez acted correctly. He should be proud of what he did, and how he acted.

Carlos Romero Barceló is a two-term former governor of Puerto Rico (1977-84), a two-term former resident commissioner (1993-2000), and a two-term former mayor of San Juan (1969-78). He was president of the New Progressive Party for 11 years.

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