Monday, November 28, 2011

Decision 2012: Puerto Rico at a crossroad

Tuesday 28 of November 2011 
Edwin R. Jusino 

Joint Mock Elections exercise done by various
local news media on November 6th.
Sunday November 6th, thousands of Puerto Ricans participated in an electoral exercise, exactly one year before the next elections sponsored by NotiUno, WAPA TV and Vocero newspaper. Thousands voted upon their desired candidate for governor, and resident commissioner. But what made this “mock election” unique was the fact that a third ballot was added asking Puerto Ricans if they desired to changed the non incorporated territorial status of Puerto Rico to a permanent status.

The results of the question asked about the current status of Puerto Rico, according to the official results published by WAPA on their webpage, were a 75% of the voters that participated wish to change the status, in front of a 29% that wishes to remain the same.

 On Tuesday September 13 2011, Governor Luis G. Fortuño of the New Progressive Party (NPP) announced that there would be a plebiscite next august 2012 to ask the population whether they wish to remain as a non-incorporated territory or if they wish a change in the current political status of the island.

Currently, Puerto Rico is a non-incorporated territory of the United States. This means, that Puerto Rico is owned by, but not a part of the United States. Even though Puerto Ricans were granted U.S. citizenship in 1917, the American citizens of the island have no voting representation on Congress, nor can they vote for the President of the United States. A problem, considering that any U.S. citizen that moves to Puerto Rico from any of the States loses their right to vote in the general and midterm elections.

The idea to become the next State of the Union has grown in popularity in recent years, winning surveys both here and abroad in the continent. But many of those who oppose Statehood fear that Puerto Rico could lose its culture and language; although legal and historical facts prove otherwise.
Attendees to the U.S. Citizenship Forum

Professor Jorge Schmidt III, a pro-independence advocate and professor of Political Sciences in the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez Campus (RUM), said “the pro-independence movement in Puerto Rico is in crisis. We need to recognize the moment of urgency that is upon us, and assume a more pro active role. The Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) is contempt with keeping its electoral franchise. Other non electoral sectors are contempt with working with the base to make sure we preserve the national identity. Independence activists have yet to realize the real threat that is upon us”.

On the other hand, licensed lawyer Mr. Jorge Martinez Luciano, a defender of an enhanced Free Associated State or Enhanced Commonwealth option, said “the Commonwealth proposed by Luis Muñoz Marín has served its purpose. Indeed it was a step on the right direction to move from an organic law (Jones Act of 1917) to have a Constitution like the rest of the States. In fact, Puerto Rico is treated like a State in a lot of different matters, but the current status has stagnated. We have a lot of current legal problems that are antique and do not adjust to the reality of Puerto Rico. We need to have the highest degree of sovereignty, within a continued relationship with the United States”.

Mr. Martinez believes that Puerto Rico should not become a State of the United States because the island has its own cultural identity, separated from the rest of the homogenous U.S. States, with exception of Alaska and Hawaii.

Gregorio Igartua on the U.S. Citizenship Forum.
The interviews were done on Thursday November 17, 2011 after a forum about U.S. Citizenship organized by the History Students Association (AEH as written in Spanish). On the forum the issue of U.S. Citizenship was discussed as a way to educate upon the Status of Puerto Rico. The Pro-Statehood proponent, licensed lawyer Gregorio Igartúa, was unable to be interviewed due to his rapid exit of the conference as he was feeling ill.

Even though an interview was not able to be performed to Mr. Igartúa, a renowned pro-statehood activist, he did say in his address that the United States has, de facto, incorporated Puerto Rico into the Union. He said that the proponents of status quo, and enhanced commonwealth, like Mr. Martinez, practice political segregation. Igartúa argued that the Supreme Court of the United States in US v. Laboy, in an opinion given by Sandra Day O’Connor, retired Supreme Court Justice, said that Puerto Rico was not considered foreign, but a domestic issue. Thus, he argued, that in doing so the Supreme Court had stated that Puerto Rico was an incorporated territory of the United States.

Igartúa contradicted himself during the activity, saying that Puerto Rico does not need to vote on the matter, just demand the right to become a State. Though at the end he said we were just a vote away from becoming a State.

For Puerto Rico to become a State of the Union it needs only to have a republican form of government, a constitution, and a certain amount of population as defined by the Enabling Act of 1802 and the Northwest Ordinance. The most important of the clauses of the Enabling Act of 1802, which granted Ohio statehood, is that any new State must be admitted on equal footing as done with the latter States. Thus, Congress cannot impose upon the people of Puerto Rico restrictions it did not impose upon other States.

Certainly the Status issue is a debate that has transcended generations, and should be taken seriously. The territorial political parties use it every election to try to mobilize their base, according to their ideological belief. But, it is the people, and not the parties, whom should control the debate and solve the issue of the Status of Puerto Rico. 

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