Posts Tagged ‘Congress’

¡Sammy Ayala’s 75th Birthday!

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

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SOB’S Concerts
& Aurora Communications invite you to celebrate:

¡Sammy Ayala’s 75th Birthday!
Friday, February 22, 2008

An original, co-founding member of Cortijo y su Combo, singer/songwriter Sammy Ayala was part of the first all-black orchestra featured over Puerto Rican television daily in 1954 ….. ten years BEFORE the civil rights act was signed into Congress in the U.S. Rafael Cortijo’s group fused the music of the great Antilles, crossing color and economic divides, to pave the way for the upbeat salsa music we enjoy today.

Active in his senior years, Sammy Ayala is a member of Zon del Barrio alongside Yomo Toro who will be celebrating Sammy’s birthday. Read their bios @ www.zondelbarrio.com.

Take a look, hear the music, and i’m sure you’ll agree that Sammy’s life makes for an inspirational evening.

SOB’s
204 Varick St @ W Houston
212-243-4940

DIRECTIONS: IRT #1 Train to Houston St or IND Trains A B C D E F to West 4

Doors open at 6.00 pm Shows are at 8.00 pm & 10.00 pm
ADMISSION $12 FROM 6-8PM & $15.00 AFTER 8.00 PM

THE SIXTH ANNUAL HANDBALL COURT SUMMER FILMS SERIES IN WHITE PARK

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

THE SIXTH ANNUAL
HANDBALL COURT SUMMER FILMS SERIES
in WHITE PARK
(106th Street between Lexington and Third Avenues)
SATURDAY NIGHTS – AT SUNSET (approx 8PM)

For information: 212.828.0401 or info@medianoche.us

“Political Animals”, this year’s curatorial theme….

MediaNoche presents the free Handball Court Summer Film Series at White Park beginning Saturday, July 12. “Political Animals” is this year’s theme. Curator Judith Escalona brings together a set of fictional films, dramas and comedies, examining the U.S. electoral process. The Candidate (1972), which looks at how a young politician slowly gives up his ideals to be elected, is as relevant today as when it premiered 36 years ago! In the more recent Head of State (2003), a young politician who knows the ropes finds his voice and a way to embrace his ideals. The last film in this set is actually a documentary entitled An Unreasonable Man, a moving portrait of America’s greatest public advocate Ralph Nader that includes a critical view of the entrenched two-party political system.

“Hazardous to your health” groups films dealing with health and the environment. Not to be missed are: Sick Around the World, comparing health coverage in five capitalist democracies, and The Medicated Child, how troubled children are over-prescribed medicines that have unknown long term effects. Lastly, An Inconvenient Truth, screened last year but presented here again, to stress the urgency of global warming.

MediaNoche is a project of PRdream.com. Some program notes were provided by rottentomatoes.com and pbs.org.

“Political Animals”

July 12
THE CANDIDATE (Drama, 1972)
Director: Michael Ritchie
Runtime: 1 hr 54 mins
An idealistic young lawyer and son of a famous governor is pushed into running for the U.S. Senate against the popular incumbent with the assurance that he will lose and not have to give up his integrity or ideals. As the campaign deepens, he finds himself giving in, allowing himself to be manipulated as the polls slowly change and swing in his favor. Soon his backers decide they want him to win after all. By the time Election Day arrives, the young lawyer has become the person he used to speak so vehemently against.

July 19
VOTE FOR ME! (Comedy, 1998)
Director: Nelson Denis, former New York State Assemblyman
Runtime: 1 hr 15 mins
Mad as hell and can’t take it anymore? Become a candidate of the people, fighting for better schools, litter-free streets, more jobs, and less crime! A tenement superntendent Leo Rodriguez decides to make a clean sweep of things in Spanish Harlem by throwing his hat in the ring to help his community. A satirical look at New York City politics – funny and unfortunately based on real events. The names have been changed to protect the guilty!

July 26
HEAD OF STATE (Comedy, 2003)
Director: Chris Rock
Runtime: 1 hr 35 mins
Just weeks before the nation is about to elect a new president, one of the top candidates is killed in a plane crash. Plotting a future run in 2008, U.S. Senator Bill Arnot convinces his staff to pick a replacement who has no chance of winning. But he gets more than he bargained for when he selects Mays Gilliam. At first thankful to be in the spotlight, Mays plays the puppet, but eventually he uses his power to actually say something meaningful. Everyone is shocked to discover that Mays is giving the people exactly what they want.

August 2
BOB ROBERTS (Drama, 1992)
Director: Time Robbins
Runtime: 1 hr 43 mins
Right-wing folksinger Bob Roberts is the anti-Bob Dylan, wowing his supporters with tunes such as “Times Are Changin’ Back” and “Wall Street Rap”. With his clean-cut good looks and squeaky-clean image, Roberts appears as American as apple pie. Yet, he harbors some nasty secrets such as illegal drug trafficking and bank scandals. Roberts’s political trickery fails him when an innocent man is accused of attempting to assassinate the candidate.

August 9
THE DISTINGUISHED GENTLEMAN (Comedy, 1992)
Director: Jonathan Lynn
Runtime: 1 hr 52 mins
A small-time con artist goes big time when he hustles his way to the U.S. Congress. Once elected he reaps the usual benefits, and enjoys the perks of power. However, he decides to clean up the Capitol and ends up doing to Congress what Congress has been doing to its constituency all along.

August 16
AN UNREASONABLE MAN (Documentary, 2007)
Directors: Steve Skrovan and Henriette Mantel
Runtime: 2 hrs 3 mins
A close look at how one of the 20th century’s most admired and indefatigable social activists, Ralph Nader, became a pariah among the same progressive circles he helped champion. The film takes the form of an impassioned public debate when it tackles the contentious 2000 and 2004 presidential runs that elicited accusations of splitting the Democratic vote and enabling the election of George W. Bush, making enemies of Nader’s most ardent supporters. Once again, Nader exposes the undemocratic structure imposed by an entrenched two-party system.
Hazardous to your health

August 23
SICK AROUND THE WORLD (Documentary, 2008)
Producer/Director: Jon Palfreman, Correspondent: T.R. Reid
Runtime: 60 minutes
Can the U.S. learn anything from the rest of the world about how to run a healthcare system? Five Capitalist democracies are profiled: England, Japan, Germany, Switzerland, Taiwan. See how they do it!
Viewer comment from healthnet blog: “I watched Frontline’s Sick Around the World documentary last night and really recommend it to all as a sober examination of the healthcare issues that are such a high priority in America today. What I found most insightful about T.R. Reid’s reporting was the clear and practical way he looked at the pros and cons of the national health systems in the U.K., Japan, Germany and Switzerland. Even more impressive was learning how Taiwan went about reinventing their healthcare system by drawing on the best elements of programs around the world.”

THE MEDICATED CHILD (Documentary, 2008)
Producer: Marcela Gaviria
Runtime: 60 minutes
The availability of medication for children who are suffering from psychiatric problems is widespread, but how much research has really been done on the long-reaching effects of these drugs? This program in PBS’s FRONTLINE series speaks to a number of experts in the field, revealing some alarming facts and figures about the lack of research into the effects of commonplace drugs such as Ritalin. In particular, the show focuses on the growing numbers of kids who are believed to be suffering from bipolar disorder, questioning whether these diagnoses are correct and looking at the potential long term damage the medications they are taking could cause.

August 30
AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH (Documentary, 2006)
Director: Davis Guggenheim
Runtime: 1 hr 40 mins
According to most of the world’s scientists, we have just ten years to avert a major catastrophe that could send our entire planet into a tailspin of epic destruction involving extreme weather, floods, droughts, epidemics and killer heat waves beyond anything we have ever experienced. Since losing the 2000 presidential election, former Vice President Al Gore has been an outspoken figure against this potential environmental disaster. For Gore we can no longer afford to view global warming as a political issue – it is simply one of the biggest moral challenges facing every person in our times.

Puerto Rico status should be clearly decided

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

MCT News Service
October 29, 2009
Puerto Ricans need to be allowed to vote on changing their political status. The status quo is untenable.

With little fanfare, a bill is circulating in the U.S. House of Representatives that proposes an election that may ultimately decide the fate of Puerto Rico. The bill is needed now more than ever, for the island is gripped in a fiscal and political crisis that can no longer be ignored.

Puerto Rico has been an incorporated territory of the United States since 1898, and its residents were granted U.S. citizenship in 1917. Although the United Nations and much of the world have recognized it as a colony, Puerto Rico’s status as a “free associated state” has resulted in a stagnant economy and mounting political unrest.

It’s been a rough month for Puerto Rico.

First, in an attempt to rectify a financial crisis, the island’s governor, Luis Fortuno, announced the layoff of 17,000 government employees, which was met with massive, angry protest. A few days later, an unemployed worker threw an egg at Fortuno during a news conference, and one of the island’s biggest rap stars insulted the governor on an MTV awards show.

Then, the island’s largest labor unions led a general strike that paralyzed the capital city of San Juan.

Two weeks ago, drug violence took the lives of eight people in a shopping mall. Puerto Rico is suffering under a wave of drug crimes, as efforts to crack down on the illicit trade along the southern border of the United States have had the effect of rerouting it through the Caribbean.

This week, the island is recovering from a massive gas explosion that has cost $6.4 million to put out and may result in long-lasting environmental damage.

The chaos in Puerto Rico is largely a function of its peculiar status.

Since becoming a territory of the United States, Puerto Ricans have wrestled with three political options: “commonwealth” (status quo), statehood, and independence. But this struggle seems to have no endgame, and the people of this island nation are the losers.

By remaining a commonwealth, Puerto Rico has failed to acquire sufficient political power and has become subservient to U.S. economic interests.

Puerto Rico needs to move to a place where its economy can develop autonomously and not just as a subsidiary of U.S. and multinational corporations. It needs to set clear priorities on how to do this, and to finally decide among three options: statehood, a more autonomous version of commonwealth, or independence.

Since by law, Congress ultimately has the last word on the fate of the island, it should pass a plebiscite bill sooner than later. The time for serious discussion about viable alternatives is now. Puerto Rico’s current political system no longer allows for true self-determination, which is the right of every American citizen.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Ed Morales is a writer for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine. Readers may write to the author at: Progressive Media Project, 409 East Main Street, Madison, Wis. 53703; e-mail: pmproj@progressive.org; Web site: www.progressive.org. For information on PMP’s funding, please visit http://www.progressive.org/pmpabout.html#anchorsupport.

This article was prepared for The Progressive Media Project and is available to MCT subscribers. McClatchy-Tribune did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of McClatchy-Tribune or its editors.

(c) 2009, Ed Morales

Puerto Rico: Ready for the National Strike

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009 @ 21:01 UTC
by Firuzeh Shokooh Valle

Puerto Rico is getting ready for the national strike on Thursday, October 15. Since governor Luis Fortuño layed-off about 17,000 government employees the first week of October, there has been tremendous mobilization from different sectors of the civil society: workers and members of trade unions, women, environmentalists, students, and professors, among others. There have been multiple demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience to protest the economic policies that the government has assured are necessary due to the financial crisis. In total this year, the recently elected government has laid off around 25,000 public employees.

In the last months hostility has grown between the government and different civil society groups: eviction orders in socially and economically disadvantaged communities, police brutality, and the dismantlement of community initiatives such as the Fideicomiso del Caño Martín Peña. There have also been a string of comments from government officials considered offensive and insensitive, such as the now sadly famous “such is life”, and more recently, when the Governor’s designated Chief off Staff Marcos Rodríguez Ema compared demonstrators to terrorists. This is the context of the national strike on Thursday. In response to this comment, Tito Otero has posted a video of a boy playing the violin in front of the Congress. We can hear the boy say: “I am not a terrorist. I believe in justice for my country.”

Bloggers and twitterers are getting ready for the strike which aims to paralyze the country for one day. In Cargas and descargas [ES] Edwin Vázquez has covened bloggers and citizens to use Twitter and Facebook to circulate information the day of the national strike. Already, the people at @caribnews are asking followers for hashtag suggestions, and the conversation has started under #twittericans.

All Ranks Salute Olga Méndez, Political Trailblazer

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

By DAVID GONZALEZ
New York Times (August 3, 2009)

Befitting a scrappy, independent political pioneer – in 1978 she was the first Puerto Rican woman elected to a state legislature in the United States – her funeral attracted the governor, the mayor, several members of Congress and countless local officials. She was lauded for many things: her tenacity; her willingness to cross party lines; her embrace of labor, housing and educational rights for the poor. She was eulogized as a loyal friend, a fierce competitor and a proud Puerto Rican.

Outside the Church of the Holy Agony, on Third Avenue at 101st Street, beyond the honor guard of construction workers that flanked her hearse, groups gathered by the housing projects to remember La Senadora, and the friends and relatives who got a hand up because of her.

“I don’t think we’ll ever see another one like her,” said Monin Paez, who said she always voted for Senator Méndez. “When she spoke, you had to listen. The politicians today don’t talk to us. They only come by when they want your vote.”

Senator Méndez died from cancer last week at age 84. Married into a politically savvy East Harlem family – and possessed of no small measure of education and determination herself – she found her resolve tested in the State Senate, friends said. But she threw herself into her work, giving as good as she got.

“Many of you have gone toe to toe with her in political battles,” her niece, Annette Vasquez, told the mourners. “But later you would walk away with her arm in arm in friendship and respect.”

Just don’t play games with her.

“When you played Risk with Olga, it was never a game,” she said. “It really was about world domination!”

Among the politicians attending were Representatives José E. Serrano, Nydia M. Velázquez and Charles B. Rangel; the former Bronx borough president Fernando Ferrer; the city comptroller, William C. Thompson Jr.; and State Senator Pedro Espada Jr. Efraín González Jr., Mr. Espada’s predecessor, who recently pleaded guilty to using $200,000 in state funds for vacation homes and other personal expenses, was also there.

Some may have felt themselves in the crosshairs as Gerson Borrero, a fire-breathing columnist and political commentator, delivered his eulogy praising Senator Méndez.

“She worked hard behind the scenes while others pranced around like peacocks,” he said. “They still prance around like peacocks.”

Outside, there was a plainspoken pride among the construction workers who sweated for the duration of the Mass.

“Olga always did the right thing for El Barrio,” said one worker, Marty Torres. “She was about change. She was no punk.”

The plain setting for her funeral was fitting: not the marbled St. Patrick’s Cathedral – though she was well-connected enough to have had her service there – just the simple linoleum tile and plywood walls of Holy Agony, where she had been a loyal parishioner since the 1950s. Opened in 1953, it was built for the Puerto Ricans settling in El Barrio – old timers said it was the first local church where they celebrated in the main sanctuary, not hidden in some basement.

In the days before the funeral, friends recalled Senator Méndez, too, as visible and approachable. She asked about your children and treated you like family. She relished telling stories with a mischievous smile and a raspy voice. And she was fiercely Puerto Rican – not Latina, not Hispanic.

“She is the last of her kind,” said Gloria Quinones, a lawyer and activist often on the far left of the senator. “She represented reassurance that the community had a fighting voice and someone who loved them.”

Ms. Quinones remembers when she finished law school and Ms. Méndez asked her if she wanted to become a judge.

“To get me out of the way,” she said.

“But she always asked me how my boys were,” she added. “She was like that with everybody. At the same time she was always calling and asking me if I was going to run against her.”

Others noted that while she had sharp political instincts, they were further honed when she married into the Méndez family, whose patriarch, Antonio Méndez, was the first Puerto Rican district leader in Manhattan. Her mother-in-law, Isabel, was equally political.

“She pushed Olga,” said Carmen Villegas, a family friend. “She knew how to move the chairs like chess pieces. She worked in the senator’s office until she died. And she never called her Olga. She always called her La Senadora.”

The two women were just as devoted to Holy Agony, staying active and donating statues to the church over the years.

An urn with her ashes was set before the altar, flanked by the United States and Puerto Rican flags. Two state troopers stood smartly on either side. The Rev. Victor Elia did the final blessing, and people applauded as the urn was carried to the waiting hearse for burial in the Bronx.

Outside, under a glorious sun, a group of elderly women broke into song as the hearse prepared to leave. Wrapped in the Puerto Rican flag, they intoned Rafael Hernandez’s “Lamento Borincano,” the unofficial anthem of Puerto Rico. It is a song about hardship, hope and heartbreak.

It can never be sung without tears.

NiLP FYI: Puerto Rican Nationalism and Statehood

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

Note: The Natural Resources Committee approved the Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2009 on the future political status of Puerto Rico last week. This bill was submitted by the island’s resident commissioner, Pedro Pierluisi, who is a member of the pro-statehood New Progressive Paty (PNP). The other three Stateside Puerto Ricans in Congress have not endorsed this bill.

According to this proposal, voters would choose between keeping the island’s commonwealth status, adopted in 1952, or to opt for something different. In the latter case, a second plebiscite would let them decide whether they wanted statehood, independence or independence with a loose association to the United States.

Two of the island’s main parties oppose the proposal as having a pro-statehood bias, and a similar bill that the committee approved in October 2007 has since died. Last week’s committee debate marked the 68th time that the House has debated a bill related to Puerto Rico’s status. Puerto Ricans voted to maintain the island’s current status and rejected statehood in nonbinding referendums in 1967, 1993 and 1998.

Residents of the U.S. Caribbean commonwealth are barred from voting in presidential elections, and their Congressional delegate cannot vote.

We have reprinted below an interesting analysis supporting the statehood position that we thought would be helpful in promoting further debate on this status issue. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of NiLP on this subject and we will seek disseminate commentaries on the other status options.

—Angelo Falcón

Puerto Rican Nationalism and the Drift Towards Statehood
by Arienna Grody, Research Associate
Council on Hemispheric Affairs (July 27, 2009)

Near the Caribbean islands of Hispaniola and Cuba lies another, smaller island, the inhabitants of which have never experienced sovereignty. The arrival of Christopher Columbus [Colón] to its shores in 1493 heralded an era of enslavement and destruction of the native Taíno population at the hands of the Spanish colonial system. Four centuries later, the decadence of the Spanish royalty had significantly weakened the once-formidable imperial structure. The Spanish-American War of 1898 became the capstone of the demise of the Spanish empire and the Treaty of Paris ceded control of several Spanish-held islands to the United States. Of the territorial possessions to change hands in 1898, Puerto Rico is the only one that persists in a state of colonialism to this day.

“Puerto Rico has been a colony for an uninterrupted period of over five hundred years,” writes Pedro A. Malavet, a law professor at the University of Florida who has studied the subject extensively. “In modern times, colonialism – the status of a polity with a definable territory that lacks sovereignty because legal [and] political authority is exercised by a peoples distinguishable from the inhabitants of the colonized region – is the only legal status that the isla (island) has known.” Puerto Rico’s legal and political status has not, however, precluded the development of a national ethos. On the contrary, Jorge Duany, a professor of anthropology at the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras, explains that Puerto Ricans “imagine themselves as a nation [although they] do so despite the lack of a strong movement to create a sovereign state.” Furthermore, this perception of a unique Puerto Rican identity had already developed and become established under Spanish rule. Puerto Rican cultural nationalism has persisted through various stages of history, through drives for independence and efforts at assimilation. This puertorriqueñismo is apolitical. In fact, some of the strongest cultural nationalism is exhibited by Puerto Ricans living in the United States.

Nevertheless, the lack of association between puertorriqueñismo and sovereignty, or even of a clearly mobilized independence movement with widespread support, does not diminish the necessity of finding a just and permanent resolution to the question of the status of Puerto Rico.

American Imperialism Called to the Colors

In 1898, the United States won Cuba, Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico from Spain. As U.S. troops invaded Puerto Rico, they proclaimed that their intentions were to overthrow the ruling Spanish authorities, thereby guaranteeing individual freedoms for the inhabitants. However, as Michael González-Cruz, an assistant professor at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, writes, “the occupation and recolonization of the island did not improve basic rights such as health or labor conditions but rather reinforced the barriers that increased social inequalities among the population.” Although the U.S.’ initial promises of liberation and democracy won the support and assistance of many anti-Spanish Puerto Ricans, it soon became clear that “the United States’ interest in conquering land did not extend to accepting the colonized people as equals.”

Far from promoting the democratic republican ideals associated with the U.S.’ own independence movement and its aftermath, the new colonial regime on the island promptly instituted military rule. It “sought to consolidate its military and economic authority by repressing any activity that might destabilize it or threaten its economic interests.” U.S. military forces protected landowners against the tiznados, or members of secret societies dedicated to the independence of Puerto Rico, rendering the landowners dependent on their presence and rejecting any movement towards sovereignty for the island. Additionally, the period was marked by media repression and censorship as “journalists were systematically pursued, fined and arrested for reporting on the behavior of the troops of the occupation.” These were the first signs that island residents were not going to be treated as the equals of mainland Americans, but they were by no means the last.

The Insular Cases

According to writer, lawyer and political analyst Juan M. García-Passalacqua, the Insular Cases – the series of Supreme Court decisions that ultimately determined the relationships between the United States and its newly acquired territories – “made it clear that the paradigm was the governance of the property of the United States, not of a people.” This point is illuminated by the fact that the Insular Cases primarily addressed tax law. In De Lima v Bidwell (1901), the Court determined that Puerto Rico was not a foreign country – at least for the purpose of import taxes. But in Downes v Bidwell (1901), it held that the island was not part of the U.S. per se. Malavet points to the fact that it gave Congress “almost unfettered discretion to do with Puerto Rico as it wants” as the biggest flaw in the Downes decision.

The decision was neither undisputed nor unqualified. For example, Justice Edward Douglass White concurred, but on the condition that “when the unfitness of particular territory for incorporation is demonstrated the occupation will terminate.” Justice John Marshall Harlan II (best known for his dissent in Plessy v Ferguson (1896)) dissented emphatically, arguing that “the idea that this country may acquire territories anywhere upon the earth, by conquest or treaty, and hold them as mere colonies or provinces, – the people inhabiting them to enjoy only such rights as Congress chooses to accord them, – is wholly inconsistent with the spirit and genious, as well as with the words, of the Constitution.”

Despite these warnings, however, Congress (with the assent of the Supreme Court) continued to construct Puerto Rico as a dependent colonial possession, a status from which, more than a century later, the island has yet to escape. The civilian government introduced under the Foraker Act (1900) was appointed primarily by the president of the United States. The Jones Act (1917) can be said to have bestowed or imposed U.S. citizenship on Puerto Ricans. But this citizenship does not include the full rights guaranteed to citizens in the fifty states. In the case of Balzac v Porto Rico (1922), the Supreme Court held that personal freedoms, while considered a constitutional right on the mainland, were not legal entitlements on the island because of its status as a territory merely “belonging” to the United States, rather than as an “incorporated” territory. Malavet maintains that Balzac “constitutionally constructs the United States citizenship of Puerto Ricans as second class,” affirming Congress’ colonialist agenda and denying Puerto Ricans both the right to self-determination and the option to assimilate on equal grounds.

Americanization

Before Puerto Rico’s destiny to be a colonial possession indefinitely had been sealed, the United States instituted a policy of Americanization, centered on linguistically assimilating the islanders by establishing English as the language of public school instruction. Malavet has described this Anglo-centric agenda as “the most obvious effort to re/construct Puerto Rican identity,” which was made possible by the early view of Puerto Ricans as “overwhelmingly poor, uneducated people who could nonetheless be ‘saved’ by Americanization.” As Amílcar Antonio Barreto, Associate Director of Northeastern University’s Humanities Center, points out, clearly “an implicit assumption underlying Americanization was the presumed superiority of Anglo-American socio-cultural norms and the concurrent inferiority of Puerto Ricans.”

Americanization, although focused primarily on English language instruction to facilitate assimilation, included persecution of the independence movement. Significantly, Puerto Ricans, who had developed a national identity under Spanish rule, rejected the efforts at forced cultural substitution. According to Barreto, the Americanization project “endow[ed] the Spanish language with a political meaning and a social significance it would not have held otherwise,” laying the foundation for a cultural nationalism centered on the Spanish language and heritage.

Economic Dependence

Not only was the U.S.-imposed government unresponsive to cultural demands of the population, it allowed American corporations to control the island’s economy and exploit its resources, effectively plunging it into long-term dependency.

One of the most fateful decisions the government made was to promote sugarcane as a single crop. The dominance of sugarcane production undermined the coffee and tobacco economies in the mountain areas, allowed sugar corporations to monopolize the land and subjected workers to the cane growing cycle, forcing them into debt in the dead season and exacerbating the problems of poverty and inequality already present on the island. Furthermore, “the island became a captive market for North American interests.”

The economic policy of the early 20th century was a disaster for Puerto Rico. Its accomplishments were limited to widening the gap in Puerto Rican society, intensifying poverty on the island and creating the conditions of dependency on the United States from which it has yet to escape.

The Independence Movement

The American indifference to Puerto Rican cultural objectives, political demands and economic needs led to an initially determined drive for independence. One of the most prominent figures of the independence movement was Pedro Albizu Campos. A lawyer and a nationalist, he gained recognition when he defended the sugar workers’ strike of 1934.

The 1934 strike was a response to the wage cuts imposed by U.S. sugar corporations. Faced with a reduction of already marginal incomes, the workers organized a nationwide strike that paralyzed the sugar industry. Albizu Campos took advantage of his position as the primary advocate of the strikers to link the workers’ demands to the struggle for independence.

Albizu Campos based his argument for independence on the fact that Spain had granted Puerto Rico autonomy in 1898, before the Spanish-American War and before the Treaty of Paris. Therefore, he contended that Spain had no right to hand over Puerto Rico to the United States as war plunder. Unfortunately for Puerto Rico, autonomy does not equate to sovereignty. Sovereignty is not a condition that Puerto Rico has ever experienced. But there has been a significant push for an independent Puerto Rico. Nevertheless, this movement has been consistently and violently repressed.

In 1937, a peaceful protest in support of Puerto Rican independence was organized in Ponce. Shortly before the demonstration was to begin, then Governor General Blanton Winship revoked the previously issued permits. Police surrounded the march and, as it began, opened fire on the activists, leaving 21 dead and 200 wounded. The Ponce Massacre is one of the better known examples of the use of violence to silence the independence movement, but by no means was it an isolated event.

Assimilationism

The United States, despite its disregard for the Puerto Rican people, placed a high premium on the use of the island for military purposes. This was highlighted by the location of both the Caribbean and South Atlantic U.S. Naval Commands in the 37,000 acre naval base Roosevelt Roads, which closed in 2004.

The obvious alternative to independence is statehood, an option which entails a certain degree of assimilation. González-Cruz posits that “the extreme economic dependency and the U.S. military presence provide favorable conditions for Puerto Rico to become a state.”

As Governor of Puerto Rico in the 1990s, Pedro Roselló of the Partido Nuevo Progresista (PNP) proposed instituting a form of bilingual education, allegedly because of the advantages associated with both bilingualism and speaking English, but more plausibly to boost the island’s chances of becoming a state. In 1976, President Gerald Ford declared that it was time for Puerto Rico to become fully assimilated as the 51st state. But there was strong opposition, not only from island independentistas, but from American politicians, some of whom were determined to refuse Puerto Rico admission to the union without instituting English as the official language of the island.

In the 1990s, there was lingering xenophobic objection to Puerto Rican statehood as well as echoes of the linguistic intolerance exhibited in the 1970s. The American intransigence on language and assimilation is likely what pushed the Roselló government to try to institute bilingual education on the island.

“Because of the uncertainty of the status question, the proannexationist government [...] steered the island toward a neoliberal model in which statehood would not generate additional costs for the United States,” writes González-Cruz. They catered to the U.S. Congress as much as possible in order to try to direct the future of the island toward full incorporation into the United States.
However, this assimilationist push for statehood, embodied by the proposed education reforms was flatly rejected by the population. The Partido Independentista Puertorriqueña (PIP), may have never been able to garner more support than what it needs to barely survive, but assimilation is also perceived by many modern islanders as contrary to the needs, desires and interests of the Puerto Rican people.

Puertorriqueñismo

Puerto Ricans favor neither independence nor assimilation in crushing numbers. They are reluctant to forego the benefits of U.S. citizenship and unwilling to give up their identity as Puerto Ricans. Malavet argues that “cultural assimilation has been and positively will be impossible for the United States to achieve.” This is because Puerto Ricans perceive themselves as “Puerto Ricans first, Americans second.” Yet, in spite of this apparently strong nationalist sentiment, Puerto Ricans reject legal and political independence. In the words of Antonio Amílcar Barreto, “Puerto Ricans are cultural nationalists [but] the island’s economic dependency on the United States [...] outweighs other considerations when it comes to voting.”

“Culturally speaking, Puerto Rico now meets most of the objective and subjective characteristics of conventional views of the nation, among them a shared language, territory, and history,” writes Jorge Duany. “Most important, the vast majority of Puerto Ricans imagine themselves as distinct from Americans as well as from other Latin American and Caribbean peoples.”

This cultural nationhood emerged in the 17th and 18th centuries. As more Spaniards were born in Puerto Rico, they developed a distinct criollo cultural identity, inextricably linked to the island. Towards the end of the 19th century, the criollos began to push for greater independence from the distant fatherland. In March 1898, the first autonomous government was established under Spanish rule. Despite its imperfections, the autonomous charter indicated the growing nationalist sentiment on the island. Unfortunately, the United States invaded the island before it was ever granted independence.

Nevertheless, this criollo culture was sufficiently strong and entrenched to withstand the onslaught of the Americanization effort. One side effect of the attempted imposition of American culture and values was the development of a puertorriqueñismo largely defined in terms of anti-Americanism. Rather than simply creating a unique Puerto Rican identity, early nationalists defined Puerto Ricanness strictly in contrast to Americanness. Thus, “Puerto Rican nationalism throughout the 20th century has been characterized by Hispanophilia, anti-Americanism, Negrophobia, androcentrism, homophobia, and, more recently, xenophobia,” writes Duany. To a large extent, this accounts for the rejection of English (or even bilingualism) in favor of Spanish, which is perceived as an important part of contemporary Puerto Rican identity. Even Puerto Ricans living in the United States are often not considered real Puerto Ricans by island nationalists.

Nationhood

Duany describes a nation as “a ‘spiritual principle’ based on shared memories and the cult of a glorious past, as well as the ability to forget certain shameful events.” It is not inextricably linked to statehood. As legal scholar and political leader of the Puerto Rican independence movement Manuel Rodríguez Orellana explains, “Even before the phenomenon of the political unification of nations into states, the French were French and the English were English. Michelangelo was no less Italian than Mussolini.” It is this separation between the concepts of nation and state that allows Puerto Ricans to assert their Puerto Rican nationalism without demanding independence, instead defending their U.S. citizenship.

Although Rodríguez Orellana describes puertorriqueñismo as a “political act on the colonial stage,” it has generally lost its political undercurrents. As Rodríguez Orellana himself says, “the daily life of Puerto Ricans runs, consciously or unconsciously, along the track of their national identity.” Puerto Ricans are always Puerto Ricans. This is not a political act, but a cultural fact. Although independentista intellectuals like the relatively early and highly influential scholar Manuel Maldonado-Denis worry that “the colonization of Puerto Rico under the American flag has meant the gradual erosion of [Puerto Rican] culture” and argue that “Puerto Rico is a country that is threatened at its very roots by the American presence,” the evidence is to the contrary. In fact, migration “has produced an affirmation of puertorriqueñismo as a nationality in the continental United States that is stronger and may be more important than the development of it on the island.” Puerto Ricans clearly continue to exhibit a strong sense of cultural identity and nationalism in spite of their failure to connect it to independence.

A Century of Colonialism

In the words of Maldonado-Denis, “Puerto Ricans are a colonial people with a colonial outlook,” meaning that neither the Puerto Ricans on the island nor Puerto Ricans in the United States have yet achieved “a true ‘decolonization,’ either in the political or in the psychological sense of the word.” In spite of Puerto Rican complacency and in spite of the fact that the United States has managed to design “a process of governance that hides Puerto Rico in plain view,” the colonial relationship that persists between the two polities cannot last forever. 111 years after the acquisition of the island, the time to decide the future of Puerto Rico is overdue.

The Future of Puerto Rico

Malavet identifies the three legitimate postcolonial alternatives for Puerto Rico as independence, non-assimilationist statehood and “a constitutional bilateral form of free association,” arguing that “it is unconstitutional for the United States to remain a colonial power [...] for a period of over one hundred years.” The territorial status is only valid as a temporary, transitional status. It must lead to either independence or incorporation.

Given the unacceptability of Puerto Rico’s current colonial legal and political status, the question becomes: what is the best viable option for Puerto Rico?

Independence

García-Passalacqua writes that, “with the reemergence of all sorts of nationalisms, [sovereignty] has become the logical aspiration of any and all peoples in the new world order.” There is no reason why this wouldn’t be true for Puerto Ricans. The $26 billion drained from the island by U.S. corporations each year is sufficient justification to push for separation from the United States. The unequal treatment of island residents, embodied by the phrase “second class citizenship,” provides further grounds for dissociation from the imperial power. Additionally, Puerto Ricans self-identify as a nation.

There appears to be no reason for Puerto Rico to continue as anything other than an independent nation-state. In this vein, then Governor of Puerto Rico, Anibal Acevedo Vila, spoke before the UN General Assembly last year, accusing the Bush administration of denying the island its right to chart its own course and demonstrating a sense of frustration with the aimless direction in which the United States has dragged Puerto Rico. This seems to imply preference for autonomy, if not sovereignty. But while Puerto Ricans certainly insist upon their autonomy, there is no such consensus on independence – that option has never garnered more than five percent of the vote in any of the status plebiscites.

Statehood

Puerto Ricans are not ready to give up their ability to hop across the blue pond on a whim. Despite the fact that the United States continuously exploits the island – its resources and its people – , most Puerto Ricans perceive the benefits of their relationship to the United States as outweighing the costs.

Puerto Rico is “consistently losing its ability to achieve self-sustaining development, and the current economic course” makes it less likely that there will ever be “any significant degree of political and economic sovereignty.” Furthermore, the presence of U.S. military bases on the island reduces the likelihood that the Pentagon would easily let go of the valuable strategic outpost. The greatest opposition to Puerto Rican statehood would come from xenophobic American politicians arguing that Puerto Ricans are inassimilable.

This combination of factors could tilt the balance in favor of statehood over independence. Because Puerto Ricans perceive their economic interests as being tied to their connection to the mainland, they are likely to opt for a status that allows them to maintain the current relationship virtually unaltered. While the majority of island intellectuals may advocate independence, it is important to note that the majority of islanders are not intellectuals.

A New Proposal

Last month, Pedro Pierluisi presented a new bill in the Committee of Natural Resources in the U.S. House of Representatives, seeking authorization from Congress to allow Puerto Rico to conduct a series of plebiscites to determine the preferred future status of the island. However, the bill does not commit Congress to act on the results of the plebiscites and, although it presents Puerto Ricans with and opportunity to choose a reasonable permanent status, it also allows them to perpetuate themselves in an unacceptable state of colonialism indefinitely.

Malavet writes that “perhaps the biggest harm perpetrated by the United States against the people of Puerto Rico can be labeled ‘the crisis of self confidence.’ This form of internalized oppression that afflicts the people of Puerto Rico leads them to conclude that they are incapable of self-government. Under this tragic construct, Puerto Ricans believe that they lack the economic power to succeed as an independent nation – that they lack the intellectual and moral capacity for government.” This U.S.-imposed inferiority complex will almost certainly lead Puerto Ricans to vote against independence if given the option. They have consistently expressed no desire whatsoever to be categorized as a sovereign state.

Because Puerto Ricans do not connect their cultural nationalism to sovereignty and because of the island’s extreme dependency on the United States, the most likely eventual outcome for Puerto Rico will be statehood. Although this is not necessarily the ideal status for the island, it is undeniably preferable to its current second-class existence. What is most important is that the island ceases to be a territorial possession. In the words of Manuel Maldonado-Denis, “colonialism as an institution is dead the world over. Puerto Rico cannot – will not – be the exception to this rule.”

The Hope of a Nation

With any luck, Congress will pass Pierluisi’s bill (or a more forceful version that pushes for change) and Puerto Ricans will be given the opportunity to vote on their future. In spite of the strong cultural nationalism that permeates contemporary Puerto Rican society, the economic benefits of statehood are likely to be the most influential factor in a status vote.

Statehood entails a certain degree of assimilation. For instance, Puerto Rican athletes will now have to compete for spots on the U.S. Olympic team before heading to the international event. This absorption into the United States certainly erodes the sense of Puerto Rican nationhood as Puerto Rico is no longer able to represent itself as a specific entity on a world stage. However, this should not hugely effect the continuation of a thriving Puerto Rican culture distinct from American culture.

Moreover, there are definite advantages to becoming a state, not least the expansion of Medicare and the ability to vote. If the territory joins the Union, it will be nearly impossible for the U.S. to rationalize the perpetuation of the poverty currently found in Puerto Rico.

And if the population decides that the economic benefits of statehood do not outweigh the cultural costs, perhaps the shock of losing their Olympic team will spark a widespread Puerto Rican independence movement.

The Black Agenda Report article opposing Sotomayor

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

Sonia Maria Sotomayor — She’s No Clarence Thomas, But No Thurgood Marshall Either

By Bruce A. Dixon
Created 06/03/2009 – 10:36
by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

sotomayor_biden_obama.jpg

What is and what should be the story around the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the high court? Is the main story a celebration of how humble origins and hard work won out? Should we spend all our time and energy refuting the racism of Republican talking heads, and none examining her record, and how she arrived at the door of the Supreme Court? Is this a good time to explore what a just and democratic society must demand from its courts — more nonwhite faces in high places? More rights for corporations? Or more justice for people? And if this isn’t a good time, is that time ever coming?

Sonia Sotomayor: She’s No Clarence Thomas, But No Thurgood Marshall Either
by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
The bubble of false reality corporate media blow around the nomination of Sonia Maria Sotomayor begins with the racist rants of Limbaugh, O’Reilly, and a host of Republican senators and talking heads. It encompasses a torrent of righteous air and ink denouncing the racists, along with an inspiring story of humble origins, hard work and determination to succeed. It feeds the ongoing narrative of America’s ultimate triumph over old fashioned racism by allowing highly qualified and carefully vetted minorities to join its ruling elite. And it includes the view of places like Business Week, which designate the nominee “centrist” and a “moderate, [1]” a view that corporate media revealingly agree is nonpolitical,” which means that the prerogatives of America’s business elite are not now and never will be up for discussion.
Absent from the conversation around the Sotomayor nomination are all but the most cursory review of her legal career before being appointed a federal judge by George Bush — a mere twelve years of legal experience, five as a prosecutor for the D.A.’s office in Manhattan, and another seven as partner at the international law firm of Pavia & Harcourt. Summaries [2] of her decisions are hard to find. Although much is made of the fact that she will be only the fifth judge not a white man to sit on the high court, few detailed comparisons are made between her legal career and those of Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas. Finally there are no attempts to discuss the unique, and not always positive role that the US Supreme Court plays or ought to play in the life of the country.
All these concerns are outside the bubble, not only for corporate media, but for the blogs and commentators who allow corporate media to draw the limits of their universe.
Sotomayor’s first job out of law school was as a prosecutor in the Manhattan D.A.’s office. Her time as a prosecutor roughly coincides with the end of the first decade of New York’s infamous Rockerfeller drug laws [3], a time when our nation’s historically discriminatory law enforcement apparatus began locking up larger percentages of black and Latinos than anywhere else on the planet. From there she moved on to a spot as associate, then partner at the international law firm of Pavia & Harcourt [4], and international law firm offering “…a full range of legal services to companies, individuals, and Italian and French governmental organizations and agencies… who do business in the United States as well as American clients who do business in the U.S. and abroad.”
Among Pavia & Harcourt’s areas of special focus are the enforcement of intellectual property laws, and obtaining writs of confiscation and seizure of goods believed to be in violation of such laws. In this selection from Ed Shanahan’s IP Law & Business he assembles quotes from the Wall Street Journal, the National Journal and the New York Times that paint a picture of Sotomayor’s passionate involvement on behalf of her corporate clients:
“…as the Wall Street Journal Washington Wire blog further explains in this colorful post [5]
, the “peak” of her career at the firm “came in representing Fendi in trademark actions against makers and sellers of counterfeit handbags and other items, according to George Pavia, the firm’s managing partner.”
“Sotomayor, the WSJ reports, didn’t just fight for her clients in court.
“Firm founder George Pavia told the paper that when the firm would get a tip about suspect cargo, investigators “would trace where the shipment had gone—for example, to a warehouse or a store. Then, working with police, the firm would seek a warrant to view and attach the items. Often, the lawyers learned through experience, such visits would prompt angry responses from the merchants involved. But Sotomayor, who became a high-profile defender of the brand, seemed to enjoy going along. ‘On several occasions,’ Pavia said, ‘she went in wearing a Kevlar vest and seized the goods.’
“(In this profile [6]
of Sotomayor, The New York Times adds to the judge’s legend: “One incident that figures largely in firm lore was a seizure in Chinatown, where the counterfeiters ran away, and Ms. Sotomayor got on a motorcycle and gave chase.”)
“The Journal also reports that Sotomayor played an integral role in what might be termed an IP publicity stunt aimed at calling attention to the then-growing problem of high-fashion knockoffs:
“With Sotomayor in charge, the firm decided in 1986 to stage a bonfire —to be known as the ‘Fendi Burn’—in the parking lot of the Tavern on the Green restaurant. There was a catch, however: the New York Fire Department refused to permit it.
“So the firm decided on the next best thing, crushing the items in garbage trucks, in an event that came to be known as the ‘Fendi Crush.’
“‘In the presence of the press…we threw masses and masses of handbags, shoes, and other items into these garbage trucks,’ Pavia said. ‘It was the pinnacle of our achievement, and Sonia was the principal doer.’”
No place on earth has more lawyers than the U.S., and in the late 80s, early 90s, New York City had more lawyers than anywhere in the country. This is how a young former prosecutor gets noticed and considered for the federal bench. Maybe Democratic senators and the White House of George H.W. Bush took note of her on their own. Maybe lobbyists and campaign contributors affiliated with her clients recommended her as someone who would look out for their interests. Take your pick. Either way, Bush put her on the federal bench in 1992.
For the twelve years she was a prosecutor and in private practice, right up until her appointment to the U.S. District Court, Sotomayor spent evenings, weekends and personal time, as an active board member of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Committee. During those years PRLDEF publicly opposed police brutality, the death penalty, felony disenfranchisement, and discrimination in housing and employment. It filed lawsuits to protect the voting rights of minorities in New York and the human rights of migrant workers. PRLDEF even sued an official of the Reagan administration for defamation over his public statement that most Puerto Ricans were on food stamps. No reports we have seen say that she personally filed those suits or that she ever appeared in court on behalf of litigants in discrimination and other lawsuits. As a board member she was reportedly involved in the planning and overall supervision of these activities.
After his graduation from Yale Law School in 1974, Clarence Thomas attached himself directly to the Republican party as a black man squarely against equal rights under the law. He became assistant attorney general in Missouri in 1974, chief counsel for Senator Sam Brownback in 1978, and in 1982, chairman of the Office of Economic Opportunity under Ronald Reagan, where he publicly defied the Congress by sitting on thousands of age and race discrimination complaints till the statute of limitations ran out on them. After only fourteen years as an attorney, Thomas had earned his appointment to the federal bench in 1989, and shortly after that to the Supreme Court.
The only other nonwhite person to serve on the US Supreme Court in two centuries has been Thurgood Marshall. Marshall’ graduated Howard University law school in 1933, where he was mentored by Charles Hamilton Houston [7]. Houston was the architect of a decades-long crusade to use the courts to overthrow America’s Jim Crow segregation laws. After less than a year of private practice, Marshall joined Houston at the NAACP, where he spent the next quarter century crisscrossing the country, sometimes at the risk of his own life [8], defending African Americans in court who were falsely accused of murder and rape. Marshall took their cases, along with those of black people who directly challenged Jim Crow laws all the way to the Supreme Court where he won a phenomenal 29 out of 32 cases, including the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education, which ruled that separate school systems for blacks and whites were unconstitutional.
After 28 years of legal practice, far longer than either Thomas or Sotomayor, Marshall was named to the US Court of Appeals in 1961, US Solicitor General in 1965, and in 1967 was nominated to the Supreme Court by Lyndon Baines Johnson. Before donning the black robe Marshall had already fundamentally changed the American legal landscape. He had directly represented the poor and disenfranchised in the courts of dozens of states, raised money and public support for their legal defense. By the 1950s, Marshall was known around the country as “Mr. Civil Rights.” He is said to have taken a dim view of civil disobedience and many of the tactics of the Freedom Movement in the 1950s and 60s, but generally refrained from publicly voicing those sentiments, and defended some of them in court.
The comparative pre-judicial careers of these three seem to indicate that the speedy road to the federal bench is to be a useful right wing political operative like Thomas or a zealous advocate of multinational business, like Sotomayor. Defending the poor and changing history seems to be a longer and much less certain way to get a federal judgeship.
Sonia Sotomayor is no Clarence Thomas, to be sure. The PRLDEF did great work during the years she served on its board, but she can hardly claim sole credit for it. In any case, PRLDEF wasn’t her full time job, and certainly not what got her on the federal bench. She is no Thurgood Marshall either, not by a long shot. There are still lawyers who devote most of their practice to defending the poor and disenfranchised, and an even larger number who file suits against giant corporations on behalf of ordinary people. No matter their legal brilliance, those attorneys rarely get judicial appointments. Why? No Supreme Court Justice since Marshall has represented a defendant in a criminal case, let alone a death penalty case. Why? No Supreme Court Justices sued wealthy and powerful corporations on behalf of ordinary working and poor people either. Why?
Why should representing poor people as defendants in a court of law, or suing wealthy corporations on behalf of the ordinary people whose rights these powerful and immortal institutions trample upon every day rule a judgeship out of any lawyer’s future? Was that the founding fathers’ intent? More importantly, should it be ours?
A frank discussion of what a democratic society should expect from its court system is also long overdue. For the last generation, the courts have squatted squarely on the necks of working class Americans, relentlessly affirming the unearned privileges of a wealthy corporate elite over the rest of us, often in ways no governor, president or legislature would dare attempt. To name just a few instances, the courts have ruled that equal funding of public schools between wealthy and poor neighborhoods cannot be accomplished, even when state constitutions require it. Judges have affirmed that the First Amendment gives corporations the right to lie to and deceive the public for commercial gain, that patent laws allow US corporations to claim exclusive rights to crops grown by farmers for dozens of centuries in various parts of the world. The Supreme Court recently ruled that money, in the form of campaign contributions, is free speech, setting major roadblocks in the path of campaign finance reform.
We need to take note of the historic significance of the first Latina to be nominated to the Supreme Court. Like the embrace of a black president by most of the nation’s ruling elite, it does signify a departure from a kind of old fashioned nineteenth and twentieth century racism, at least insofar as the admittance of carefully vetted and well-qualified minorities to that elite goes. But the advancement of a few is not necessarily the advancement of democracy, or of the many.
The easy out for progressives around the Sotomayor nomination is to waste all their time and oxygen debating Republicans, ridiculing and refuting their racism. While this is important, it mustn’t be allowed to take all the air from the room. If we really want more than a change in the color of the faces at the top of American society, we’ll have to spend a lot more energy evaluating their corporate connections of our judges on every level, and determining who they and our courts really serve.

Puerto Rico’s Moment in the Sun

Friday, May 23rd, 2008

By MICHAEL JANEWAY
New York Times (May 22, 2008)

PUERTO RICO, an afterthought trophy for the United States 110 years ago at the end of the Spanish-American War and an island in limbo since, has become an improbable player in the contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Its primary on June 1 could bolster Mrs. Clinton’s claim to a majority of the popular vote — the combined tally for all the Democratic primaries and caucuses held across the country over the past six months.

Puerto Rico’s formal role in the process is indeed weighty. Its 63 voting delegates — 55 elected ones and eight superdelegates — at the Democratic National Convention in Denver this summer will outnumber delegations from more than half the states (including Kentucky and Oregon) and the District of Columbia. Yet Puerto Rico does not have a vote in the Electoral College, nor will its 2.5 million registered voters cast ballots for president in November.

How in the world did this happen? From the beginning, the question of Puerto Rico has perplexed the United States. The island was essential to the defense of the Panama Canal, so we did not make it independent, in contrast to two other Spanish possessions we gained in the war, Cuba (which become independent in 1902) and the Philippines (1946). And we judged it foreign in language and culture — and worse, overpopulated — so New Mexico-style Americanization leading to statehood was out of the question.

Similarly, Puerto Ricans have never resolved their relationship with the United States. For almost 50 years after the Spanish-American War, Puerto Rican sentiment was divided between dreams of statehood and of independence. This ambivalence deterred the island from ever petitioning Congress for one or the other. And until mid-century, sporadic outbursts of violent nationalism haunted the scene.

Partly to put such extremism out of business, Congress in 1948 allowed Puerto Rico to elect its own governor and then in 1950 gave it an intricately designed, semi-autonomous “commonwealth” status short of statehood. Two years later, the island adopted its own Constitution, and Congress quickly ratified it.

Puerto Ricans elect their own Legislature, along with the governor. They enjoy entitlements like Social Security, but they do not pay federal income taxes. They retain their own cultural identity (Spanish is the prevailing tongue) but live under the umbrella of the American trade system and the American military. They have been citizens since 1917, but they have no vote in Congress or for the presidency.

The man who brought forth this unique arrangement, which has come to seem permanent, was Luis Muñoz Marín, who dominated Puerto Rico’s politics beginning in 1940. In 1948 he became the island’s first elected governor. He won three more terms and could easily have been “president for life.” A stretch of 116th Street in Manhattan’s Spanish Harlem is named Luis Muñoz Marín Boulevard in his honor.

Muñoz was an eloquent advocate of independence until, faced with daunting statistics at the end of World War II, he concluded that Puerto Rico’s impoverished economy could not support nationhood. So he began packaging his third-way brainchild.

When pitching commonwealth on the mainland, Muñoz — an artist of words and imagery who also enjoyed a drink or two — would observe that Puerto Rico is the olive in the American martini. The phrase went down well in Washington, but Muñoz used different language at home. Neither Congress nor the American courts have ever embraced Muñoz’s Spanish-language phrase for “commonwealth,” universally recognized in Puerto Rico: “estado libre asociado,” or free associated state. Those three words suggested an autonomy (or even statehood or independence) beyond what came to pass. But Muñoz was too popular on the island for that to cause him trouble.

Still, Muñoz always intended to bring “enhanced autonomy” in trade, self-governance, taxation and entitlements to Puerto Rico. But Fidel Castro’s seizure of power in Cuba in 1959 moved Washington’s attention away from the commonwealth.

Muñoz left office in 1965. His dreams faded. The economy he jump-started went flat. Today, the government accounts for 30 percent of Puerto Rico’s work force (compared with 16 percent on the mainland).

Then in 1974, the Democratic National Committee and some shrewd local political strategists came up with an idea for how to play to lingering discontent over the island’s status: Why not make nice with Puerto Rico (and, as important, with the Puerto Rican vote in American cities) by awarding it the number of delegates to the Democratic presidential nominating convention that its population would yield as a state? But not until this year has a presidential race been close enough, long enough, to yield Puerto Rico a role in the endgame.

On the island, politics is focused on the longstanding deadlock between the two dominant parties, whose identities — one is for statehood and one is for enhanced autonomy — today bear no relation to those of the Republicans and Democrats in the 50 states. Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama are, gingerly, bidding for support from both of them.

But the mainland population of Puerto Ricans (like the island’s, almost four million) is watching, too. That fully enfranchised constituency is up for grabs in November. Republicans have fished in these waters, too.

Presidential candidates usually offer Puerto Ricans hazy promises that are sure to be unfulfilled. First on the list: We’ll do whatever you want about the island’s status if you deliver us an overwhelming majority for one or another option. That’s not going to happen.

Since 1967, public support on the island has seesawed inconclusively between statehood and enhanced autonomy — a better version of the deal they already have. Muñoz’s commonwealth helped eclipse independence; that course enjoys only limited support today. An overwhelming majority of Puerto Ricans wants, one way or another, to be American.

The next president could just appoint another commission, more high-level and forceful than past ones, to reopen the dormant question of Puerto Rico’s status. But there is an additional option.

Fidel Castro is gone from office, Hugo Chávez’s influence is growing, Brazil is becoming an oil power, and the United States has no Latin American policy to speak of. John F. Kennedy wisely turned to Puerto Rican leaders to help him frame a new policy for the region in 1961. Similarly, the next president could ask Puerto Rico, with its democratic tradition and its past success with economic development, to help us plan for the post-Castro Caribbean.

The United States is overdue in re-engaging with this special place, which landed in our lap as a stepchild of imperialism in 1898, and which we have never seen clearly.

Michael Janeway, a former editor of The Boston Globe and a professor of journalism and arts at Columbia, is writing a history of the United States and Puerto Rico in the 20th century.

Puerto Rico’s Moment in the Sun

Friday, May 23rd, 2008

By MICHAEL JANEWAY
New York Times (May 22, 2008)

PUERTO RICO, an afterthought trophy for the United States 110 years ago at the end of the Spanish-American War and an island in limbo since, has become an improbable player in the contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Its primary on June 1 could bolster Mrs. Clinton’s claim to a majority of the popular vote — the combined tally for all the Democratic primaries and caucuses held across the country over the past six months.

Puerto Rico’s formal role in the process is indeed weighty. Its 63 voting delegates — 55 elected ones and eight superdelegates — at the Democratic National Convention in Denver this summer will outnumber delegations from more than half the states (including Kentucky and Oregon) and the District of Columbia. Yet Puerto Rico does not have a vote in the Electoral College, nor will its 2.5 million registered voters cast ballots for president in November.

How in the world did this happen? From the beginning, the question of Puerto Rico has perplexed the United States. The island was essential to the defense of the Panama Canal, so we did not make it independent, in contrast to two other Spanish possessions we gained in the war, Cuba (which become independent in 1902) and the Philippines (1946). And we judged it foreign in language and culture — and worse, overpopulated — so New Mexico-style Americanization leading to statehood was out of the question.

Similarly, Puerto Ricans have never resolved their relationship with the United States. For almost 50 years after the Spanish-American War, Puerto Rican sentiment was divided between dreams of statehood and of independence. This ambivalence deterred the island from ever petitioning Congress for one or the other. And until mid-century, sporadic outbursts of violent nationalism haunted the scene.

Partly to put such extremism out of business, Congress in 1948 allowed Puerto Rico to elect its own governor and then in 1950 gave it an intricately designed, semi-autonomous “commonwealth” status short of statehood. Two years later, the island adopted its own Constitution, and Congress quickly ratified it.

Puerto Ricans elect their own Legislature, along with the governor. They enjoy entitlements like Social Security, but they do not pay federal income taxes. They retain their own cultural identity (Spanish is the prevailing tongue) but live under the umbrella of the American trade system and the American military. They have been citizens since 1917, but they have no vote in Congress or for the presidency.

The man who brought forth this unique arrangement, which has come to seem permanent, was Luis Muñoz Marín, who dominated Puerto Rico’s politics beginning in 1940. In 1948 he became the island’s first elected governor. He won three more terms and could easily have been “president for life.” A stretch of 116th Street in Manhattan’s Spanish Harlem is named Luis Muñoz Marín Boulevard in his honor.

Muñoz was an eloquent advocate of independence until, faced with daunting statistics at the end of World War II, he concluded that Puerto Rico’s impoverished economy could not support nationhood. So he began packaging his third-way brainchild.

When pitching commonwealth on the mainland, Muñoz — an artist of words and imagery who also enjoyed a drink or two — would observe that Puerto Rico is the olive in the American martini. The phrase went down well in Washington, but Muñoz used different language at home. Neither Congress nor the American courts have ever embraced Muñoz’s Spanish-language phrase for “commonwealth,” universally recognized in Puerto Rico: “estado libre asociado,” or free associated state. Those three words suggested an autonomy (or even statehood or independence) beyond what came to pass. But Muñoz was too popular on the island for that to cause him trouble.

Still, Muñoz always intended to bring “enhanced autonomy” in trade, self-governance, taxation and entitlements to Puerto Rico. But Fidel Castro’s seizure of power in Cuba in 1959 moved Washington’s attention away from the commonwealth.

Muñoz left office in 1965. His dreams faded. The economy he jump-started went flat. Today, the government accounts for 30 percent of Puerto Rico’s work force (compared with 16 percent on the mainland).

Then in 1974, the Democratic National Committee and some shrewd local political strategists came up with an idea for how to play to lingering discontent over the island’s status: Why not make nice with Puerto Rico (and, as important, with the Puerto Rican vote in American cities) by awarding it the number of delegates to the Democratic presidential nominating convention that its population would yield as a state? But not until this year has a presidential race been close enough, long enough, to yield Puerto Rico a role in the endgame.

On the island, politics is focused on the longstanding deadlock between the two dominant parties, whose identities — one is for statehood and one is for enhanced autonomy — today bear no relation to those of the Republicans and Democrats in the 50 states. Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama are, gingerly, bidding for support from both of them.

But the mainland population of Puerto Ricans (like the island’s, almost four million) is watching, too. That fully enfranchised constituency is up for grabs in November. Republicans have fished in these waters, too.

Presidential candidates usually offer Puerto Ricans hazy promises that are sure to be unfulfilled. First on the list: We’ll do whatever you want about the island’s status if you deliver us an overwhelming majority for one or another option. That’s not going to happen.

Since 1967, public support on the island has seesawed inconclusively between statehood and enhanced autonomy — a better version of the deal they already have. Muñoz’s commonwealth helped eclipse independence; that course enjoys only limited support today. An overwhelming majority of Puerto Ricans wants, one way or another, to be American.

The next president could just appoint another commission, more high-level and forceful than past ones, to reopen the dormant question of Puerto Rico’s status. But there is an additional option.

Fidel Castro is gone from office, Hugo Chávez’s influence is growing, Brazil is becoming an oil power, and the United States has no Latin American policy to speak of. John F. Kennedy wisely turned to Puerto Rican leaders to help him frame a new policy for the region in 1961. Similarly, the next president could ask Puerto Rico, with its democratic tradition and its past success with economic development, to help us plan for the post-Castro Caribbean.

The United States is overdue in re-engaging with this special place, which landed in our lap as a stepchild of imperialism in 1898, and which we have never seen clearly.

Michael Janeway, a former editor of The Boston Globe and a professor of journalism and arts at Columbia, is writing a history of the United States and Puerto Rico in the 20th century.

Puerto Rico eyes statehood status

Monday, May 5th, 2008

By Brian DeBose

Washington Times (April 26, 2008)

The status of Puerto Rico — commonwealth, U.S. state or independent — could be settled soon by the island’s populace if Congress will allow it.

Earlier this week, a bill to allow Puerto Rico residents to hold an official vote on whether to become a U.S. state or continue commonwealth status, passed a congressional committee for the first time, and the head of Puerto Rico’s governing party says the time has never been more ripe for the Caribbean island to become the 51st state.

The New Progressive Party of Puerto Rico, which is pro-statehood, has been trying to get Congress to sanction a vote for more than two years and says it thinks a bill can be passed this year. Previous referendums on the island’s status have been held by its government without U.S. authorization.
“In the past, we’ve never had a federally sanctioned vote, which caused turnout to drop to about 70 percent, and we feel we can reach our average of 83 percent participation if we have Congress’ support,” said Puerto Rico Senate President Kenneth D. McClintock, a party member.

Mr. McClintock’s party is at the height of its political power, controlling both Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives and Senate, and 42 of the island’s 78 mayoral posts. Party Chairman Luis Fortuno is the territory’s nonvoting delegate to Congress. In addition to that, their chief rival and leader of the opposing party, Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila has been indicted on 19 count of campaign-finance violations and mail fraud, negating his ability to effectively advocate against the bill.

Rep. Jose E. Serrano, New York Democrat, introduced the Puerto Rico Democracy Act in 2006, along with with Mr. Fortuno, but the bill had been languishing in committee until this week. “I am very pleased that the process is finally moving forward to allow Puerto Ricans the ability to decide once and for all whether they would like to be a state or an independent nation,” Mr. Serrano said.

Mr. McClintock wants a congressional floor vote by summer in order for his party to reach its goal of a referendum on the territory’s status before the end of next year. “We are very excited now, because my trip here was to advocate for the bill to come out of committee, and an hour before I arrived Tuesday, it was moved, and we are now calling for Congress to hold a vote on the floor,” he said. Mr. McClintock is also involved in the Democratic presidential race as co-chairman of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s National Hispanic Leadership Council.

He said it should be no surprise that recent polls of Puerto Rico voters show her getting 50 percent to Mr. Obama’s 37 percent in advance of the island’s June 1 Democratic primary, in which 63 delegates are up for grabs. While both Mrs. Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama have significant Puerto Rican populations in their states, her policy record is far more robust in terms of issues specific to Puerto Rico.

“In six years, she has either sponsored or worked to get passed a number of bills, including the domestic-manufacturing tax cut, and working to expand the child care tax credit so that any Puerto Rican with a child is eligible,” he said. Currently, Puerto Ricans must have three or more children to receive a child tax credit. He also said Mrs. Clinton has visited the island many times, most notably after Hurricane Georges to make sure the island received Federal Emergency Management Agency funding. Mr. Obama’s only recent trip has been a fundraiser, in which he met with Mr. Acevedo Vila, but not with Mr. McClintock.

“Senator Obama has not sponsored or co-sponsored any legislation related to Puerto Rico,” Mr. McClintock said. “I have had two private meetings and one political meeting with her, and none with him.”