Democratic Puerto Rico Platform Hostage To Anti-Statehood Faction
The 2016 Democratic Party Platform includes this statement on Puerto Rico:
We are committed to addressing the extraordinary challenges faced by our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico. Many stem from the fundamental question of Puerto Rico’s political status. Democrats believe that the people of Puerto Rico should determine their ultimate political status from permanent options that do not conflict with the Constitution, laws, and policies of the United States. Democrats are committed to promoting economic opportunity and good-paying jobs for the hardworking people of Puerto Rico. We also believe that Puerto Ricans must be treated equally by Medicare, Medicaid, and by other benefits programs for families. Puerto Ricans should be able to vote for the people who make their laws, just as they should be treated equally. All American citizens, no matter where they reside, should have the right to vote for the President of the United States.
Finally, we believe that Federal officials must work with Puerto Rico’s local self government as laws are implemented and Puerto Rico’s budget and debt are restructured so that it can get on a path towards stability and prosperity.
A sentence-by-sentence review of the 2016 Democratic Party Platform reveals behind the scenes tension between the party’s faction in Puerto Rico supporting statehood, and the local faction favoring the political status quo under federal territorial law.
In its territorial plank the platform reads: “And we are committed to addressing the extraordinary challenges faced by our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico.” At least the party recognizes U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico face issues like denial of voting rights that are not ordinary for U.S. citizens in the states. Yet it is the federal and local governments, not a political party, that must adopt measures to address Puerto Rico’s challenges.
Of the island territory’s troubles the next sentence admits: “Many stem from the fundamental question of Puerto Rico’s political status.” So the Democrats also recognize that the current political status creates “many” challenges that are “extraordinary.”
Instead of specifics, however, overly cautious ambiguity arises in a sentence grudgingly confessing the real issue is denial of democratic self-determination: “Democrats believe that the people of Puerto Rico should determine their ultimate political status from permanent options that do not conflict with the Constitution, laws, and policies of the United States.”
This platform language is vague to a fault. After all, it is 2016, and in 2012 the people voted for statehood! Instead of addressing that reality the platform is silent on status options compatible with federal law. There is no secret, the legally valid and fully democratic options are statehood, sovereign nationhood based on right of independence (with or with out a treaty of alliance). Continued non-sovereign territorial status with revocable statutory “autonomy” is the less than fully democratic option favored by the anti-statehood faction.
In 2016 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled not once but twice that the “autonomous commonwealth” is a form of local territorial government created and sponsored by Congress, not a vested right to the current political status. Yet, the anti-statehood status quo faction in the DNC prevented the party from uttering the simple incontrovertible truth in its platform!
Instead, the platform changes the subject: “Democrats are committed to promoting economic opportunity and good-paying jobs for the hardworking people of Puerto Rico.” To do so the anti-statehood status quo faction proposes restoration of the federal tax code corporate welfare practices that created employment that proved unsustainable without federal subsidy. This created dependency on federal spending instead of a private sector led diversified market economy, so President Clinton agreed to end that tax shelter scheme in 1996.
Now no one in the Democratic Party wants to talk about the investment inflows that will flood the island once it is clear statehood is inevitable. That anti-statehood faction in the party has made it taboo to talk about the real job creation that will come with the sustainable economic growth statehood has brought in 32 other fiscally distressed territories that became states.
Instead of the statehood model for integration of Puerto Rico – homeland of 3.5 million U.S. citizens – into the national economy, the anti-statehood status quo faction prevailed upon the Democratic Party to limit its “commitment to addressing” Puerto Rico’s economic challenges to equality in dependence only. Thus, the platform ignores democratic political equality and merely states: “We also believe that Puerto Ricans must be treated equally by Medicare, Medicaid, and by other benefits programs for families.”
Yet, equality under these federal programs would be automatic under statehood. The cost of those program would be paid for from local revenues as the island’s full economic potential was realized through equal participation in the national economy as a state.
But the more glaring failure of vision comes with the truly absurd assertion that without any linkage to statehood “Puerto Ricans should be able to vote for the people who make their laws, just as they should be treated equally.” This ignores Article I of the U.S. Constitution, under which only U.S. citizens who have residence and citizenship in a state of the union have a right to voting representation in the Congress that makes federal law for the nation.
That is because the U.S. system of constitutional federalism is a union of states, not states and territories or citizens outside states without a political status defined by the national constitution. Representation in Congress is apportioned among those with national citizenship exercised through state citizenship. That is why Section 1 of the 14th Amendment includes both national citizenship and state citizenship clauses.
The anti-statehood status quo faction didn’t stop there, adding: “All American citizens, no matter where they reside, should have the right to vote for the President of the United States.” Oh, really? Article II of the U.S. Constitution also allocates representation in the Electoral College to national citizens who have citizenship of a state.
Both these sentences ignore that the only way to end the denial of equal rights of U.S. citizenship in Puerto Rico is through statehood, or amendment of the Constitution to separate representation in Congress and the Electoral Congress from the political status of statehood and citizenship of a state. That has been tried in the federal reservation of Washington DC, and it failed to remedy the denial of equal rights.
The final sentence is a non-event: “Finally, we believe that Federal officials must work with Puerto Rico’s local self government as laws are implemented and Puerto Rico’s budget and debt are restructured so that it can get on a path towards stability and prosperity.” That has already been accomplished in the fiscal control board legislation enacted a month ago.
As it was before the control board legislation and as it will be until Puerto Rico attains statehood or nationhood, Puerto Rico’s local self-government is what Congress decides it is and nothing more. That is because – as the Supreme Court recently confirmed – the “autonomy” of the “Commonwealth” exists at the pleasure of Congress in the exercise of its territorial powers.
The author of this post is Howard Hills, author of Citizens Without A State.