Monday, February 13, 2012

Negative Comments on Puerto Ricans by Congressman Doc Hastings



I am not sure specifically about what the current Puerto Rico administration did, or did not do (or is or is not doing), but I am sure about one thing:  It did something right as it managed to pass a self-determination bill through the House – a very difficult feat indeed.

I had the privilege to lead the fight for self determination in 1998 as Executive Director of PRFAA for Governor Pedro Rossello -- during the first-ever effort to pass a Republican-controlled House of Representatives (and by one vote at that).  Suffice it to say that under the apparent Jonathan Swift-like sarcastic veneer of rationality and equanimity, the Congressman's
presentation is nothing but the same old tired xenophobic rhetoric used heretofore against many other immigrant or migrant groups (now used regularly against Hispanic-Americans) by some members of Congress (as of late primarily, but by no means exclusively, by Republicans).  Such rhetoric has been used in the past and peddled to ignorant people in order to scare them from granting basic equality to 4 million US citizens in Puerto Rico, one of the oldest colonies in the world.

As part of our efforts in 1998, I can say that every single member of Congress was provided with both executive summaries and detailed explanations of what statehood, continued commonwealth or independence meant for Puerto Rico, together with clear and specific definitions.  I know this because I personally met with each member of the House and each member of the Senate at least once (and in over 80% of the cases more than once) and personally handed these summaries and written explanations to them, and discussed and answered questions raised by them and their staffs.

Congress, including the kind Congressman, are well informed on the so-called "issues," and any claim to the contrary is false.  The real question is whether, as Americans, members of Congress have the character and conviction to do the right thing: end colonialism and grant statehood (or independence) to Puerto Rico if the Island requests it.  If Congress does not, we have what we
currently have, a US Territory.  We can name it or call it whatever we want, but that is what it is and we deserve more.  We deserve whatever we specifically choose –good or bad – so long as we have full knowledge of what our choices are.

If Congress has the courage it must state through a bill signed by the President and unequivocally, that it will consider the Island's request by passing a Congressionally sanctioned plebiscite, as a first step towards admission (or independence), when and if both the US Territory of Puerto Rico and Congress both jointly so decide. The same bill fairly should expressly allow continued territorial status, if that is what Islander's desire, but should also provide for routine (perhaps every 10 or 15 years) further consultations enabling the Island to register again its status preference until there is an ultimate decision that provides for a non-territorial status (statehood or independence). 

A few observations settle beyond dispute that this video is, at best, misguided and, at worse, xenophobic (again, under a not so veiled Swift-like mantle of reasonableness).  Or, perhaps it is an exercise in willful ignorance.  But I give the benefit of the doubt to those who, like the Congressman, are not or have chosen not to be informed on an issue that has been repeatedly
discussed for close to 114 years.

First, the Congressman states that HR 2499 could potentially set up a vote for statehood within a year.  This purported alarm of being rushed ignores the fact that it will still be Congress that makes the final determination.  If a territory votes for full incorporation as a state, Congress may – or may not – consider statehood at any time, that is, statehood can be granted in a day, over year or decades, or in 50 years, or never.  That is because votes by territories on their political status are mere local straw poll referenda with no legal effect on Congress, which has the final authority by majority vote to grant statehood. (It bears mentioning, though, that Congress has always granted statehood, no matter how long or short it has taken to do so).  The
Congressman's own words are a dead give-away of self evident and contradictory fear-mongering, as the operative word used by him is that Congress may POTENTIALLY vote to grant statehood.  No kidding.  It may also vote to not grant statehood (and icur the political wrath of denial) or, like it has occurred for close to 114 years never fully debate and vote in both houses.

Second, the Congressman makes use of assumed ignorance to scare the uneducated by referencing the "process" used for Alaska and Hawaii's admission into the Union.  The Congressman is counting on the fact that most people don’t know what that "process" was, and that even more don’t realize that 36 territories in total have undergone varied so-called "processes" of different types and durations, but all with the same outcomes: all became
states.  The only thing that can be said about "process" is that it is whatever Congress determined at the time it was considering, debating or taking action on a  petition for admission and/or an admissions bill.  HR 2499 is far from an admission bill.  So the Congressman's reference to a
"process" is at best inaccurate and probably a mark of lack of historical knowledge on his part.

Third, the Congressman alarmingly states that 4 million US citizens would have the same (not more or less, but the same) rights as all other US citizens.  Last time I checked, that is called for under the Uniformity and Equal Protection Clauses of our beloved US Constitution. Has he read it?  And what is so alarming about seeing all US citizens enjoying the same rights?  Or does he believe that the Constitution applies only to some US Citizens in some states and not to others as held in Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson (pertaining to African-Americans), and the Insular Cases (pertaining to US citizens in the territories)?  How might he react if residents of his state were treated differently from those of other states, as for example not being afforded the same federal benefits as residents of the other states?

Fourth, the Congressman takes out the old beaten scarecrow of states "losing" representation from PR's admission into the Union.  Nonsense.  The Congressman knows full well that Congress can -- and has in the past -- increased the number of members of Congress to account for new admissions into the Union.  Not a single state need lose any representatives from PR's
admission into the Union, as 435 is a number easily increased to reflect the 6 (or more) representatives PR would be entitled to as a state (political representation of a kind apparently unimportant to our brethren estado-libristas, but not lost on our state-side community who otherwise yearn and realize the importance of 6+ Representatives and 2 Senators).  The kind Congressman reminds me of Congressman Gutierrez who was recently compared to Martin Luther King, something that would surely make MLK turn in his grave as he would never have
countenanced anything or anyone peddling anything but full political representation.  This is the same Congressman Gutierrez who peddles the importance of his election and Congressional representation for those he chooses to represent on the mainland while affirmatively denying such representation to the Island. 

Fifth, the Congressman appears to conjure up the ultimate boogeyman:  Language.  He believes this one is a sure winner, for he assumes no true-blooded American (who would that be? A German American?  A naturalized Croatian?  An African American, or Italian American? A Native American?  A Puerto Rican American? A Chinese American?) would forgo the use of the English language.  The Congressman plays on the common belief that English is the official language of our Nation.  Our Nation has no official language; when Congressional efforts to establish an official language were last made, German lost by a very close vote.  He also probably knows (but chooses not to disclose) that there is an irrational fear in the colonies of loosing language and culture (as if both language and culture were static).

Close ... but no cigar.  Language has been considered before in the admission of states to the Union and has never been the impediment it purports to be.  Witness the case of New Mexico where the matter was discussed and debated extensively.  After admission, New Mexico continued to recognize both English and Spanish as main languages without any consequences.  After all, no one seriously argues that English should not be the main language of the US – the benefits of one language in any country are too numerous to outline here.  All that people desire – and is available constitutionally – is that while English remain the main language, it need not be the only language – so that we can all benefit from the myriad financial, political and social (not to mention academic and personal) advantages of knowing more than one language.

But wait.  The Congressman says that English Only was considered before with regards to self determination bills for Puerto Rico, and that it may not be this for next time.  Again, nonsense.  English only, backed not so quietly by some of the most ardent opponents of statehood in Puerto Rico and not just stateside (although by ever so clever and indirect means) is the one poison
pill that Congress itself has repeatedly rejected to swallow both in the context of legislation that could one day result in Congressional consideration of PR's admission into the Union and as a stand-alone proposition for our Nation as a whole.  Witness 1998.  English Only was roundly defeated – even with a Republican majority in Congress.  It is a boogeyman, so much I grant, but a harmless one that disappears as soon as the light of truth shines on it.

Sixth, the coup de grace:  Admission of PR to the Union with less than a 50% majority vote.  Now, there is an argument!  How could those evil Puerto Ricans, laments the Congressman sub silentio, so nefariously lie to Congress (a veritable conundrum since Congress has the sole and absolute power to grant statehood or independence to Puerto Rico) and pretend admission with
less than 50%?  How can 50% be interpreted as a vote for statehood?  Well, for starters because it would mean that statehood received the most votes. Capice?  But the Congressman again either misses the point or, more likely, obscures it on purpose.  He would do well to refresh his knowledge of Oklahoma's path to statehood, which included a plurality for statehood among
other votes that eventually led to its admission.  The point here is that there is nothing nefarious or magical about pluralities, it is merely the first step in a varied process towards statehood, which only Congress can grant.

Finally, I am surprised that the kind Congressman did not bring out the nuclear bomb:  Where are we going to place 51 stars in our beloved American flag?  Setting aside job creation associated with having to design, weave, print, and produce new flags, I always keep a computer generated copy of a flag with 51 stars and it looks .... wait for it … pretty good.   Seriously, you
cannot tell the difference, and if you can, does it matter?  Has it ever mattered?  After all, we had varying numbers until 1959 and no one ever complained.  But here I am willing to offer a fair, equal and, frankly, welcome concession:  Admit Guam as the 52nd State and we will have an even numbered flag.  In fact, let's go for full equality and bring it also to our brothers and sisters in the Virgin Islands and in Saipan/ CNMI, if they so select.

Let's move on from baseless invective posing as rational discourse and continue with, as Governor Rossello has stated, "The Unfinished Business of American Democracy."

Xavier Romeu
Former Executive Director, PRFAA
Former Executive Director, PRIDCO
Former Secretary of Economic Development and Commerce