[Editorial] Speaking in Forked Tongues
There was a time in Puerto Rico back in the early 1970s, in the days of our Lord before cable, when popular shows trending on stateside television were broadcast months late in Spanish with English audio available on radio station WBMJ. Hit shows “Police Woman” and “Kojak” were shown on local TV—in dual language—with English audio coming over radio. This way Angie Dickinson and Telly Savalas came to you in the original language they were speaking, rather than the voices of local actors who took on the personalities of their stateside counterparts.
It is not the same to read Ernest Hemingway in Spanish or el Gabo en inglés—no es lo mismo. The same applies to our translations coming from forked tongues on Capitol Hill interpreting the Puerto Rico status issue—we need the true interpretation.
The most recent affront to Puerto Rico came in the form of a missive from U.S. Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente, who in no uncertain terms informed Gov. Ricardo Rosselló that he should include the current commonwealth status option with the other two alternatives—statehood and independence—on the June 11 ballot.
Rightfully, Gov. Rosselló took exception to the letter because it forced his administration to include the very same status quo—the territorial option—that the plebiscite seeks to change. Justice’s stance betrays ill intent toward the process.
It would seem that the Trump administration has no interest in seeing Puerto Rico become a state of the Union—Exhibit A is Boente’s letter sent just two months prior to the referendum. Call it a screwball at the top of the ninth inning, a pitch that was fouled by the Rosselló administration because the Immediate Decolonization Act, the law enabling the plebiscite, was amended to include an option called “territorial,” rather than including the Estado Libre Asociado—then no one would complain.
Instead, the pro-statehood New Progressive Party opened the door for the pro-commonwealth Popular Democratic Party to boycott the process. They are joining the pro-independence Puerto Rican Independence Party in shunning the event.
Former three-term New York Gov. George Pataki, who supports Puerto Rico statehood, told Caribbean Business that Attorney General Jeff Sessions erred in meddling with the law enabling the plebiscite at this critical juncture. Pataki sees the boycott of the status contest as a misguided strategy that runs contrary to democracy. For him, “it is not something that is done in the United States, but rather in Third World countries.”
Some, who have seen the congressional subterfuge and inaction regarding contests past, would beg to differ with him.
Former two-term Gov. Pedro Rosselló, who held two status referendums in 1993 and 1998, told this journalist that he came to the realization that Congress also spoke in dual language—they spoke in favor of statehood on the Hill but when it came time to act, resolutions on the floor were all that was obtained.
The patriarch Rosselló made his assertions in 2002 during an interview that we held in Washington, D.C., which set off a pilgrimage of people visiting the former governor to beg his return to Puerto Rico politics for the sake of statehood. The interview, which ran on the AOL website of San Juan Magazine, had to be translated from English to Spanish because many of the statehood supporters who followed Rosselló were not completely fluent in English.
The translation points to a truth that underpins the whole status issue—we are perceived as U.S. citizens living in a Caribbean “nation” possessing an “otherness” that does not fit into the U.S. national fabric—not in these recalcitrant Trump times.
Former Gov. Rafael Hernández Colón once said that his best way to explain to a member of Congress whether Puerto Ricans felt a greater attachment to the United States or Puerto Rico would be to take him to a basketball game between Puerto Rico and the U.S. Dream Team. Fans teeming with pride after every J.J. Barea basket would unequivocally answer that question.
Let’s stop kidding ourselves; when the final tally on status is in, do not expect Congress to act on the result.