While the press speculates wildly about the prospect that the U.S. Supreme Court will decide the future of Puerto Rico, a former anti-statehood party leader and one time Governor of Puerto Rico dismisses the idea that the court’s ruling in the case will alter Puerto Rico’s political status. While the case raises the question of whether the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico should be treated like a State of the Union for some purposes but not others, the former Governor argues that whether Puerto Rico is treated like a State in one case or not like a State in another case will not change its current status as a U.S. territory.
PR51ST reached the same conclusion when the case was filed.
Former Governor Anibal Acevedo Vila made his remarks online, as reported in this press coverage from CyberNewsPR.com:
Former governor Anibal Acevedo Vila said Tuesday in a letter posted on his website that the Supreme Court of the United States in the case being heard in that forum on double jeopardy in the courts of Puerto Rico will not lead, for example, to the passage of federal Bankruptcy Chapter 9.
“This case…will not tell the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch that we have to be dealt with in dignity, ” said Acevedo Vila. He said that in the best case scenario, this case is going to say what the federal Court of Appeals in Boston established over 25 years ago about the constitutional double jeopardy clause, which is that Puerto Rico is equivalent to American Indian tribes. “Yes, that was what Boston decided over 25 years ago and nothing changed in Puerto Rico or Washington, DC,” he said.
He noted that “putting all hopes in the federal Supreme Court solving all [issues] is only procrastinating the inevitable; we have to move. The only solution is to move, seize and transform our reality. For us, especially for autonomists, it’s time to move. ”
He said further that it is Congress that “rules” on the island.
“There is no more time to lose. The first step toward change is to accept this reality. I know that in the coming weeks many pro-sovereignty supporters live in the hope that this will soon be clarified by the Supreme Court of the United States, but that is not the reality.”
“Puerto Rico continually interacts with the federal Executive Branch and Legislative Branch. Those are the branches that give to us and take away, which hear us and heed not and those for which we clearly are not a high priority or any priority. For those we are merely a territory, in which they can do mostly as they please, when they please. None of that is going to change by the decision of the Supreme Court,” he said.
“If repeated and repeatedly Congress and the Executive call us and treat us as a territory, as a mere possession, it is to no avail to yell at them that we are not. I won my first goal in Puerto Rican public life fighting in 1997-98 against the Young Bill, precisely because they said we were a territory, and to mobilize my party and most of the country to vote in 1998 for None of the Above for the same reasons [the ballot said PR is a territory].”
“I say that because that’s not the battle to be fought. The battle is not to deny that reality, if we are to change it. We are not condemned, we deserve a second chance, but you have to go looking for it and fight with intelligence, cunning and strategy. With new roads, not for old and new goals but for different purposes, and for that, I ask the members of mu party and autonomists, are we ready? That is the future. I’m ready,” he said.
The good news is that the 1998 “Young Bill” Acevedo Vila refers to in his statement is the legislation in the U.S. Congress that triggered the political deconstruction of the myth that “commonwealth” was sovereign and non-territorial. The current fiscal meltdown is triggering the economic deconstruction of the myth that “commonwealth” is a form of viable long term “sustained dependency” or “subsidized autonomy” that makes statehood obsolete.
This is why PR51st’s initial response to the Sanchez Valle court case focused on the first sentence of the Governor’s brief, asserting that the case was the most important case in the “constitutional relationship” between PR and the U.S. since commonwealth was established in 1952. Translation: This is a case to seek a sovereign political status from the court what anti-statehood autonomists could not get from the political branches for the last 63 years.
It is remarkable that Acevedo Vila admits that his opposition to the Young Bill that provided for a status referendum bill, and which passed the House, was due to the bill’s definition of PR as a territory. I suppose we knew that, but it is still remarkable for him to confirm that his party adopted a strategy based on the idea that PR is not a territory, when, as he now admits, everyone knew then as they know now that it is a territory.
So they helped kill the 1998 bill in the Senate. When the status definitions in the House-passed bill were adapted for a local referendum, the party helped convince 50.1% of the voters to vote “None of the Above.” Now he freely admits this tactic denied the people a vote to secure the rights that are possible, for the sake of a story about imaginary “rights” that do not exist and are not a real choice.
Acevedo Villa testified in a House hearing in San Juan in 1998, and argued for Congress to adopt his theory that nation state borders and the U.S. model of statehood was obsolete, so that new status models for PR and other territories based on “free association” terms should be adopted.
All this traces back to the idea of sovereignty and “sustained autonomous dependency” developed by Rexford Tugwell.
What autonomists from Tugwell to Acevedo Vila tried to deny is that the real choice has always been statehood with U.S. citizenship or nationhood without U.S. citizenship. Those are the choices. Acevedo Vila now admits that Puerto Rico is a territory. This new realism may be intended only to rally a demoralized party.
The only choice for Acevedo Vila and his party is to stop opposing statehood in favor of continued territory status, and instead to start supporting nationhood — or statehood.