Thursday, March 21, 2019

[Editorial] Stuffing in the Statehood Turkey

By on November 30, 2018

Editor’s note: The following originally appeared in the Nov. 22-28, 2018, issue of Caribbean Business.

The great thing about Thanksgiving in Puerto Rico is the variety of recipes for cooking turkey. Some folks stuff the turkey with a local favorite, mofongo (mashed plantain), others with a tasty mix of longaniza, butifarra mixed with applesauce; and others still enjoy frying the turkey, which requires a Ph.D. in physics for all the steps involved.

The morning prior to feasting on the banquet of turkey and National Football League games, this newspaper’s sources on Capitol Hill shared the draft of a missive penned by House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) exhorting the Department of Justice to assist the government of Puerto Rico in certifying a plebiscite that will allow for the resolution of Puerto Rico’s status.” That turkey is stuffed with bologna—here’s why.

Bishop’s is a lame-duck plea; a chairman about to leave his pulpit asking a recalcitrant Acting Attorney General Mathew Whitaker “to enable a proposed vote on Puerto Rico’s admission as a state consistent with the procedures that led to Alaska and Hawaii transitioning from territory status to statehood.” Whitaker is as likely to heed that call, as President Donald Trump is likely to adopt Mexican anchor babies. No lo creemos probable.

No sooner than the letter went public, Resident Commissioner in Washington Jenniffer González held a press conference touting the significance of this letter as a first step toward statehood. To call the act disingenuous would be an understatement because Puerto Rico’s nonvoting member of Congress knows full well that even if she garners the support of her brethren in the House, there is no way the Republican-led Senate will act on a Puerto Rico status bill.

One source on the Hill with ties to the Republican Party told Caribbean Business: “The governor really has few friends in the Senate. And the President is really not interested [in] anything that has to do with Puerto Rico.” The source did not limit the challenges to the Senate, indicating that “if you are a statehooder in Puerto Rico, your life is not good because if it was difficult to get it moving with Nydia Velázquez in the minority of the Natural Resources Committee, it is going to be impossible to move anything related to statehood forward with Nydia Velázquez in the majority of that committee.”

Puerto Rico’s nonvoting member of Congress doesn’t need to go that far back to understand Congress’ structural paralysis pertaining to the issue of Puerto Rico statehood. She could go back to 1998 when former Gov. Pedro Rosselló held considerable sway with the Clinton White House and the Democratic Party. Those statehood brigades led by then-Resident Commissioner Carlos Romero Barceló obtained passage a of bill for a federally mandated plebiscite for self-determination. Despite considerable influence in the GOP by one-time Gov. Luis A. Ferré, the bill died in the Senate with the fizzle of a resolution: “supporting Puerto Rico’s right to hold nonbinding advisory referenda for self-determination.”

That immovable Senate—the doublespeak prevailing on the Hill—prompted former Gov. Rosselló, the father of the actual governor, Ricardo, to tell this journalist: “The problem is the gap between rhetoric and action. I criticize the Republican Party for rhetoric that was very supportive of statehood but when the time came and they were in the majority, they did everything to oppose statehood.” Those modern lessons of history on the status front are not lost on Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, who, much as his father, has spent the first two years of his administration talking about statehood as a civil rights issue for the disenfranchised U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico. That he has done so in international forums brings confusion into the equation for many representatives on the Hill, who perceive Puerto Rico as a domestic issue to be handled by U.S. Congress under Article IV of the U.S. Constitution.

The GOP source told Caribbean Business that Puerto Rico’s politicians lack the sophistication to understand that they are acting as though they are a republic rather than a U.S. territory. “The things that were done during the first two years, the lack of sophistication, are going to result in difficult times over the next two years,” the source said in reference to the manner in which the status crusade has been waged outside of U.S. Congress.

Some grassroots organizations such as Igualdad are waging a stateside campaign exerting pressure on members of U.S. Congress who have significant Puerto Rican constituencies. That has been an exercise steeped in hardship; it is tough to deliver political pressure when you have less than 25 percent of Puerto Rican constituents voting, and those are split in half.

Whether or not a status bill comes down the pike, we should not delude ourselves into believing it will be different this time. Why not focus instead on job-creation measures that Puerto Rico so desperately needs.

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