[Editorial] On Capitol Hill With…Cowboys and Indians
As Puerto Rico gets set to commemorate the ratification of its Constitution by Congress on July 25, 1952, there is a movement afoot in the pro-statehood New Progressive Party (NPP) to rid the island of the current status quo. True to the platform that the NPP laid out in 2016, the administration of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló sent a delegation—denominated La Comisión de la Igualdad—that will be occupying space in the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration’s office with the intent of raising consciousness regarding what the NPP has categorized as a violation of civil rights. The Equality Commission is denouncing that the United States shows bad form in denying Puerto Rico statehood after 97.3% of voters (only 23% of eligible voters participated) in this year’s plebiscite chose to become a state of the Union.
The commissioners for equality designated by Rosselló are attempting to pattern their blitz of Congress on the plan adopted by Tennessee in its entry to the Union in 1796—some things have changed since then. True to the tenets of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, Tennessee held a constitutional convention and requested statehood, but they jumped the gun by forcing the issue when they sent representatives and senators to take seats prior to being admitted by Congress.
Similar to what Puerto Rico is doing now, Washington, D.C., commenced sending shadow representatives to Congress in 1996, hoping it would lead to a better education of other representatives and eventual statehood for the District of Columbia.
As the igualistas set out on their quest to obtain statehood for Puerto Rico, they would do well to revisit the process other territories endured—two particular cases come to mind that stress the underlying importance of value and assimilation in the process. Take the case of the five “Indian nations” occupying Indian territory to the west of Oklahoma, which banded together to request becoming the Sequoyah State.
Despite being described as civilized tribes with doctors, engineers and lawyers among their people, the five tribes were denied admission to the Union because they were too different and did not speak the same language. The Indian territories considered themselves a nation and simply did not fit into the new [U.S.] American fabric.
Undoubtedly, some readers will say that the example is not fitting; that a look at Hawaii is a better comparison. Defenders of Puerto Rico statehood point to those islands in the Pacific as having a decidedly different culture, and yet Hawaii was admitted as a state of the Union. It is a self-evident truth that Hawaiians were not like Texans. But there was a markedly different approach to seeking statehood as perceived by people on Capitol Hill who hold a historical memory.
“The monied class in Hawaii bought all in and representatives got the impression that they were behind the progress of their people, not just themselves,” a source on the Hill with ties to the GOP told Caribbean Business. “The sense that we get on the Hill is that the monied class [in Puerto Rico] is not all in on behalf of the people, but rather out to protect their own corner of the Hacienda.”
“And we get the sense that Puerto Rico is foreign in a domestic sense—to quote from the insular cases—and we see insular thinking and a culture that is not ready to assimilate,” the source continued.
Simply stated, some members of Congress do not see Puerto Rico discussing issues in the same context that they contemplate things.
We Puerto Ricans must take a hard look at the true discourse underpinning a Republican Congress—know that they will ask hard questions and they will revisit thorny issues. Some of them will want to know how it is that former governors, some of whom racked up record debt, are back on the Hill asking to become the bankrupt partner of the Union; some of them will want to know how a ballplayer who played for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic said he was proud to represent his nation in a game against the United States—because when you get down to it, we Puerto Ricans root for Puerto Rico on the world stage.
They will want to know how it was that some commission members pushed for the elimination of Section 936 of the Internal Revenue Code without putting something else in place to keep the economy from tanking—only to return to ask for similar mechanisms such as Section 245A. Yes, these are hard and painful issues to revisit, and if members of Congress are not asking those questions publicly on the record, they are asking those questions on deep background.
The people deserve to know this and the commissioners must have an honest reply. Congress does not accept partners that speak a different language and discuss the “wrong” issues, even if they themselves speak in forked tongues.