Puerto Rico governor's response to the President's Task Force
Posted on Sun, Mar. 19, 2006
When Puerto Ricans vote, they choose commonwealth
BY ANIBAL ACEVEDO-VILA
More than five decades ago, Puerto Rico and the United
States charted a bold new course by formalizing our
mutually beneficial relationship. We called it
commonwealth, and in a 1952 referendum, more than 80
percent of our island supported its creation. Since
then, commonwealth has served both the island and U.S.
mainland well, and has remained the status option of
choice in subsequent plebiscites. Yet a recent report
issued to the president by a White House task force
not only dismissed commonwealth but also raised new
questions about our future relationship. Whether
islanders or mainlanders, whether supporters of
commonwealth, statehood or independence status --
Puerto Ricans deserve better. It's time to lay the
questions about our U.S. relationship to rest so that
we focus on the issues that really matter.
Since approving our commonwealth constitution, Puerto
Rico has voted three times on the island's status. We
have invested ourselves in these referendums, engaging
in serious spirited debate. Twice, a continuation of
commonwealth status was the clear choice. In the most
recent referendum, commonwealth advocates won by
campaigning in favor of the ''none of the above''
option to protest the ballot's terminology. Each time
Puerto Rican voters had the option to choose between
commonwealth, statehood and independence. Each time we
reaffirmed our commitment to commonwealth.
Stacking the deck
Our people care deeply about our relationship as part
of the United States. And we have a highly active
electorate, with more than 80 percent turning out to
vote regularly, compared to 40 percent in the states.
For that reason, the report issued by the
''President's Task Force on Puerto Rico's Status''
sent shock waves through our island.
The task force report casts doubt upon and belittles
the mutually irrevocable compact between the United
States and Puerto Ricans, even with the U.N.'s
certification and the courts' repeated decisions to
uphold Congress' right to enter into such agreements.
The report questions our identity as American citizens
by claiming that Puerto Ricans could have our U.S.
citizenship revoked at any time, at the will of
Congress. And the report ignores five decades of
democratic inclusiveness, putting forth an unfair
process and effectively tilting the scales in favor of
a single status option. The task force advocates a
two-tiered referendum designed to stack the deck
unfairly in favor of statehood. The task force's
actions have further divided Puerto Ricans, rather
than uniting us.
Instead, we need a new vision. The process to consider
our status should follow the example of America's
forefathers: the constitutional convention. For that
reason, I have worked with a distinguished, bipartisan
group, including U.S. Senators Trent Lott, R-Miss.;
Ted Kennedy, D-Mass.; Robert Menendez, D-N.J.; and
Richard Burr, R-N.C., who recently introduced S.2304,
''The Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2006.''
The bill offers congressional authorization and
support to Puerto Ricans to hold a constitutional
assembly to achieve a new level of self-governance.
Just as we have become an even more prosperous
commonwealth, this process will make us an even more
democratic one as well. It will not only provide a
fair and inclusive forum to voice our preference among
all three options including commonwealth, statehood
and independence, but also will allow us to dictate
the process for doing so.
The time to resolve Puerto Rico's status is now. Other
crucial matters require our attention and energy. For
example, our thriving pharmaceutical industry, the
bedrock of our economy, faces new pressures from
Singapore and Ireland. As we build a Puerto Rican
workforce of ''thinkers'' who will research, design
and manufacture the important medicines our fellow
American citizens need, we must focus our resources on
education. In a world with new security concerns, we
must protect ourselves from threats and serve as an
important beacon in the Caribbean for the U.S.
mainland. We should dream lofty dreams, but also must
devote the attention needed to accomplish them.
Time for new approach
By bringing together Puerto Ricans from all parties,
we can finally reach consensus. By setting aside
partisanship and the two-tiered proposal, we can move
forward to achieve our economic and social goals. Our
commitment to democracy will be tested. Our ability to
listen, consider alternatives and compromise will
never be more important.
Yet with the same clarity of vision and conviction in
our beliefs that guided our parents and grandparents
more than five decades ago to select commonwealth, I
am confident that our people can join together once
again for the best interests of our commonwealth of
It's time to take a new approach to our future.
Aníbal Acevedo-Vilá is governor
of the commonwealth of Puerto Rico.