Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Clash of the Titans

By on June 30, 2017

Former Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Roselló (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, Dec. 28, 2006)

Pedro Rosselló

Nearly two decades after former Gov. Pedro Rosselló spearheaded his last plebiscite on status in 1998, he continues to fight for the ideal of Puerto Rico statehood with lessons of history fashioning his stride. The first setback came in the run-up to passing a bill for Puerto Rico’s self-determination during his second term in office after intense lobbying led to the passage of HR 4765 in the U.S. House of Representatives but led only to a resolution in the U.S. Senate supporting Puerto Rico’s right to hold nonbinding advisory referenda.

Despite that congressional impasse, Rosselló pressed on with a locally mandated plebiscite that led to statehood’s defeat to “none of the above” as a protest vote by the people because they were in no mood to vote on status after the passage of Hurricane Georges left the island in tatters.

In the time since, Rosselló has pressed forward with this status crusade, taking what he calls a violation of Puerto Rico’s civil rights to forums such as the Organization of American States where he filed suit. He also descended upon the United Nations Decolonization Committee where he has testified on three occasions in an exercise that he has called superfluous, yet important in its raising of consciousness. The move to place statehood center stage is an exercise steeped in hardship that he insists must not rely on U.S. Congress, but rather is fought on multiple fronts that will lead to critical mass and eventual action.

Rosselló, the elder statesman, believes the most recently held status plebiscite, driven as a campaign promise of his son, the acting Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, will lead to change this time because Puerto Rico’s colonial condition has been unmasked on the island and beyond its shores. Those opposing statehood disagree that the result—97.1% for statehood—will be taken seriously in U.S. Congress because close to 80% of the electorate boycotted the vote.

Thus Puerto Rico’s status issue remains unresolved to this day. Pedro Rosselló remains convinced change is coming; here’s what the former two-term governor (1993-2000) had to say:

CB: It has been said by both of you in the past that the U.S. Senate often has rhetoric and action that are inconsistent as pertains to Puerto Rico’s self-determination because the upper chamber is conservative and designed to oppose change. Does that remain true to this day?

PR: Oh, yes, it remains true today, but you have to go back to the roots of why it remains so. If you go back to the founding fathers, you will find that they had an instinctual fear of unchecked passions of the masses, as they saw it. So they designed the Senate as a check to the fickle decisions of the people who were more directly represented by the House of Representatives. This has a historical underground. In its composition, the Senate—originally—the Senators were elected by the states, not by the people directly.

Although this has changed, the role of the Senate remains the same. The rules in the Senate are different to the House and they preserve this anti-radical change posture. We should consider that it is the nature of the beast and it persists even to this day.

CB: Given that the results of the 2012 status plebiscite were largely ignored by U.S. Congress, should we believe the results of this most recent status plebiscite will lead to congressional action?

PR: I think so, and I will tell you why—the big concept is change. The environment has changed and it has changed both internally and externally. For example, in Puerto Rico there is a wide consensus, not to say unanimity, in that Puerto Rico is a colony. If you go back three decades ago, few people were willing to say Puerto Rico was a colony. Not that many people today are willing to maintain that Puerto Rico is not a colony—that is a major change in the concepts or the context that Puerto Ricans think. This is based on the many decisions from the U.S. courts, the most recent of which—the Sánchez Valle case—established that Puerto Rico did not have separate sovereignty; the U.S. Congress, which enacted Promesa [the P.R. Oversight, Management & Economic Stability Act], which put into practice the territorial clause, so there is no question pertaining to the viability of that clause to this date. And you also have the many executive reports that have reiterated that Puerto Rico is under the territorial clause. So, what has happened because of this conceptual change is that we now have for the first time—reflecting that change—repeated decisions for decolonization in Puerto Rico—the first time in 2012 and, the second time, the plebiscite held in 2017.

That is supported by all polls that the majority opinion in Puerto Rico favored statehood. Puerto Ricans realize that there is a colonial problem and that it has to be changed—but that is not enough. Externally, in the U.S. big changes have also occurred. The U.S. is a more diverse society; the Hispanic component is an integral part of the fabric of that society. There is also a greater understanding of the imperial nature of the United States as long as it keeps its territories.

In addition to that, the island now has bankrupt colonial status that the U.S. is ultimately responsible for and, in addition to that, I am convinced there is more real pressure from the international community on the United States to recognize and to act on the colonial status of Puerto Rico. To summarize it in one word, the difference is “change”—both internally and externally.

CB: But there is an ebb and flow within the national discourse, which is the context within which you must work. I see some similarities now to a Hamiltonian federalism, which pushed for greater union in doing away with the articles of confederation. He talked about the political monster of ‘imperio in imperium’ [sovereignty within a sovereignty] and the underlying context of necessary centralization. Do you see that national sentiment present again—impeding the adding of a new state?

PR: Maybe these are a bunch of theories still roaming around, but I think they are pie-in-the- sky conceptions. There is no anchor in the national U.S. system or in the international system of accepted modes of self-governance, other than the ones that are recognized within the U.S. Constitution. You have territories and you have states. The territory is a dependent asymmetric territory. In the international scene, you have colonies, which are non-self-governing, and you have independent or associated types of relationships. There are no other alternatives than those presented to the people of Puerto Rico and, when you talk about federalism, if I am reading you correctly, this is another one of those ‘ELA mejorado’ [enhanced Commonwealth] declared statements, which are not consistent with the U.S. Constitution, therefore I think they have no real implications for the people of Puerto Rico.

CB: I am talking about a centralized national sentiment such as that underpinning federalism, which would repudiate otherness. For instance, the election of Trump, would that be indicative of a national repudiation of otherness?

PR: No, no, no—if you want to get into the Trump phenomenon, I think you would have to look at it through a different lens. The Trump phenomenon comes as the result of an extreme polarization that has occurred within U.S. society. On the one hand, you have those who believe in free and open markets, a vision that includes globalism, recognition of human rights. These people are concentrated in the East and West Coasts and in major urban centers.

Now, there is a different world—one that I am not that familiar with—one that is more rural, one that is more nativist—that is more against cooperation between nations; it is an America-first concept that is completely different. These populations cannot begin to understand or communicate with each other. Out of this extreme polarization comes the Trump phenomenon; it speaks to one part of that, which is very active because they feel aggrieved, they feel left behind. They are angry with the segment of the population that sees the world as a global system, instead of an isolated national system. So the Trump phenomenon has nothing to do with federalism or protecting a union, but rather the extreme polarization seen today in the United States. And not only in the U.S.—this is becoming a global phenomenon.

CB: Must Puerto Rico rally the support of constituents at the grassroots level in the States to pressure U.S. representatives in important congressional districts to obtain a change in status?

PR: It is an important strategy, but it is not a sufficient strategy. I have evolved from a thinking that the solution to our colonial problem was based on what I may call the magic bullet approach—that all we had to do was concentrate on getting an act of Congress; the magic bullet was an act of Congress. And you could say it was not all that difficult because you have 435 people on one side and 100 on the Senate side—so it should be manageable. However, I have evolved and I have learned throughout my trajectory that this is not as simple as it seems and now I try to evaluate the whole system based on a critical mass approach. The situation is multifactorial.

CB: What will be the effect of taking Puerto Rico’s most recent plebiscite results to forums such as the United Nations Decolonization Committee and the Organization of American States?

PR: Again these are elements—not a magic bullet. These are all elements that add up to a critical mass. But you are right when you say that the U.N. Decolonization Committee has driven itself into irrelevance. It has become a yearly ritual with no affirmative action. You were there before I presented myself on three different occasions, so I know this is a recurrent ritual on a yearly basis with no real action to account for. The only effect is an indirect effect that it continues to remind the U.S. of its colonial power and nature. That in itself is an element that is important but is not sufficient.

On the other hand, you mentioned the Organization of American States; we have a case before them—as you know they have accepted to evaluate our case, which means they have sufficient evidence to take our case seriously and I hope that a decision on the case will be another factor that will add to this critical mass. If we can get the Inter American Commission on Human Rights of the OAS to state that there are clear violations of human rights under the current colonial status—that would be added weight of the critical mass we are trying to create.

CB: Can the federal courts system be an effective venue to attend to Puerto Rico’s status issues?

PR: That has been another important, but so far, ineffective venue. If at any time we can mount a substantive challenge to the insular cases…. And I must parenthetically say here that we tried to do this by incorporating a group, and trying to get the resources that would lead to a challenge of the insular cases, which have been thoroughly researched to this point. But it is costly, particularly if you are trying to bring it to different circuits in the U.S. Courts to create an environment that will necessitate taking it to the U.S. Supreme Court. But it would be an important factor, as you mentioned a la Brown v. Board of Education, which reversed the doctrine of Plessy v Ferguson, establishing the doctrine of separate but equal. It is parallel to what is still the law of the land as it applies to the territories—a separate and unequal condition.

By Philipe Schoene Roura

Former Puerto Rico Gov. Rafael Hernández Colón (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, July 25, 2002)

Rafael Hernández Colón

At the age of 80, former Gov. Rafael Hernández Colón keeps active by studying and proposing ideas to improve political relations between the United States and Puerto Rico from the perspective of the current Commonwealth relationship.

Hernández Colón was the island’s fourth and sixth governor (initially in 1973-1977 and later in 1984-1993), and possibly the only person in Puerto Rico who has devoted the most amount of study to that relationship and to possible autonomous developments within the framework of the U.S. Constitution.

During his tenure as governor, he worked with proposals to strengthen the island’s economy, as well as deal with the political relations with the United States, seeking—from his perspective—an agreement with the U.S. government that would allow the island a degree of autonomy in certain areas without substantially affecting aspects such as Puerto Ricans’ American citizenship or the benefits of commercial relations, among others.

One cannot forget his efforts between 1989 and 1991, as governor and along with the political parties, to procure a plebiscite from the United States government whose result would be binding for the U.S. government—to which then-President George W. Bush and congressional leaders agreed.

During that process—one of the most active at a congressional level to address the Puerto Rican political situation—three bills were taken into consideration. The matter did not advance because there was no will to commit Congress to accept the possibility of a Puerto Rican decision in favor of statehood.

That process’ failure did not discourage former Gov. Hernández Colón in his efforts to get the U.S. government to give Puerto Rico—without having to touch the nature of their political relations—a series of mechanisms to address its economic development.

He is currently devoting his time to fighting the efforts of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares’ administration and those of the pro-statehood movement on all fronts. His most recent effort was asking the U.S. Department of Justice to refrain from endorsing the status plebiscite held by the current pro-statehood administration.

He also is preparing papers to discuss the Sánchez Valle case at the U.S. Supreme Court as well as the subsequent Promesa Act, which stripped the Puerto Rican government of its so-called fiscal autonomy and other powers to deal with its public policy, including preparing its general spending budget, among other aspects.

In tune with these efforts, we asked former Gov. Hernández Colón for his comments:

CB: It has been said by both of you in the past that the U.S. Senate often has rhetoric and action that are inconsistent as pertains to Puerto Rico’s self-determination because the upper chamber is conservative and designed to oppose change. Does that remain true to this day?

RHC: The Republican members of the Senate Energy Committee in 1991 defeated the only plebiscite bill that has come up for markup in the Senate since Commonwealth was established. They voted against it because their stated positions were that Puerto Rico should not be admitted as a state of the Union. This position by conservative and more moderate Republican Senators remains the same.

CB: If the results of the 2012 status plebiscite were largely ignored by U.S. Congress, why should we believe the results of this most recent status plebiscite will lead to congressional action?

RHC: The results of the June 11, 2017 plebiscite, held without ballot compliance from the federal Department of Justice and with dismal participation, will only receive pro forma hearings from the House and Senate Committees. No bill stemming from this plebiscite will reach markup by any committee of Congress. This is a self-inflicted indignity for the proponents of this plebiscite.

CB: Must Puerto Rico rally the support of constituents at the grassroots level in the States to pressure U.S. representatives in important congressional districts to obtain a change in status?

RHC: Such support should only be sought for a legitimate expression of the will of the people of Puerto Rico as to their political future. The June 11 plebiscite is not a legitimate expression of the people, but rather a partisan exercise.

CB: Do you see a national discourse similar to Hamiltonian federalism—as in a leaguing together through treaties tied to the center—prevailing in the United States today and what are the implications for Puerto Rico?

RHC: I see no unifying political discourse in the United States today. This raises the complexity in getting national attention to Puerto Rico’s problems.

CB: What will be the effect of taking Puerto Rico’s most recent plebiscite results to forums such as the United Nations Decolonization Committee and the Organization of American States?

RHC: Forums such as the U.N. or the OAS will not be receptive to the results of an illegitimate partisan plebiscite. They will, at best, dismiss it as not serious.

CB: Can the federal courts system be an effective venue to attend to Puerto Rico’s status issues?

RHC: Federal Courts can provide clarity as to the legitimacy and potential of Commonwealth. The U.S. Supreme Court does so in its opinion in Sánchez Valle where it has stated: “Puerto Rico boasts a relationship to the United States that has no parallel in our history. And since the events of the early 1950s, an integral aspect of that association has been the Commonwealth’s wide-ranging self-rule, exercised under its own Constitution. As a result of that charter, Puerto Rico today can avail itself of a wide variety of futures.” The Federal Courts, however, cannot provide for status change because this is a political question pertaining to the Congress and the President.

By Ismael Torres

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  • CB DID NOT ask the RIGHT questions to RHC. Two questions missing that COULD help bring the end of this ARGUMENT.

    1) Mr RHC why the PPD has been UNABLE to DEFINE an ELA Non-Territorial and Constitutional???

    2) MR RHC could you DEFINE your ELA Non-Territorial an Constitutional???

    These are two question the PRESS, all of it, DOES NOT DARE TO ASK. This is something REQUESTED by the US SENATE back in 2013. Why they do not I have no idea, specially when they calim to be good and “fair” and just ..????

    SHAME ON ALL OF YOU!

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