By Franklin D. López
Journalist, Writer, Entrepreneur, Political Prisoner
@trueblue51 www.franklindelanolopez.com Instagram Periscope
Several decades ago, in 1973, when asked when would Cuba talk with the United States, Fidel Castro responded; “We will talk when there is an African-American President and a Latin American Pope.” The Castro words were “prophetic!” The talks began under the auspices of the first Latin American Pope and with the first African-American President.
Millions of citizens were elated and inspired through out our Nation the historical night of November 4, 2008 when tens of thousands citizens from the state of Illinois chanted “Yes we can” at the Millenium Park in Chicago with the election of Barack Obama. His election and re-election of Barack Obama generated a strong spirit of minorities in our Nation and territories, signaling that this president was going to be different. There was a strong feeling within the 3.6 millions American citizens in Puerto Rico that Obama was going to tackle and solve the then 110 years old status issue.
He sent a letter to the Governor Elect, Luis Fortuno, expressing the following: “ We also pledged during my campaign to work with Congress and all groups in Puerto Rico to enable the question of Puerto Rico’s status to be resolved during the next four years.” This commitment was repeated in subsequent letters to political leaders by the president. The first term ended. The Obama administration followed the same script of previous president by appointing a “presidential task force” to study what has been studied for decades.
A status plebiscite was done on November 6, 2012 and the people of Puerto Rico rejected the so called “commonwealth status” and in doing so withdrew the “consent of the governed” that “legitimized” the biggest political farce promoted by the United States Government before the International community. For decades the United States was exempted from submitting reports before the United Nations Decolonizing Committee because “Puerto Rico resolved its political status when they adopted the “new free associated state” or commonwealth in 1952. At the same time 61% voted in favor of political equality or statehood.
Pressed by the results of the plebiscite, Obama presented in the Budget Resolution of 2014 an allocation of $2.5 million dollars for a Federally sponsored status referendum. Congress approved the proposal. The White House instructed Attorney General Eric Holder to conduct a study to determine the status formulas that may be included in the process. It is still under study. Resident Commissioner, Pedro Pierluisi responding to the citizens group and the political base of his New Progressive Party, introduced a bill for a Federally mandated plebiscite asking the people to vote for “statehood yes or no!” The bill is at the sub-Committee of Insular Affairs in the House of Representative resting in peace!
In the meantime, many other issues were arising in the “enchanted island” of Puerto Rico. The government of Puerto Rico defaulted on its public debt and The White House, through its Press Secretary brushed off a question from the press asking what relief if any was being contemplated by the Obama administration to help the beleaguered territory where 3.6 million American citizens reside. Across the fence from the White House, Treasury Secretary, Jack Lew responded to Republican Senator Orrin Hatch that “Congress should extend the Chapter 9 provision of the federal Bankruptcy Law in order to enable Puerto Rico’s debt ridden public corporations to seek its protection. At the same time he said that his department was providing “technical assistance” to the embattled colonial government. That and nothing is almost the same. The extension of Article 9 to allow public corporations to seek protection under the Federal Bankruptcy Law is just one drop of water in the Pacific Ocean of Puerto Rico’s Economic and Social crisis, described by a senior U.S.Treasury official as a “Humanitarian catastrophe!” To add insult to injury Secretary Jacob Lew came to Puerto Rico this week to meet with the Governor and senior government officials to “inform” them that “it is up to the U.S. Congress to act on possible solutions to the crisis.” But partial parches is not the solution because this crisis requires a long term solution.
Meanwhile, the Federal Transportation Agency made public that in the first six months of 2015 the population exodus from Puerto Rico to the states of the Union jumped to 71,297.Evidently this massive population shift will impact the presidential contest of 2016 since Puerto Ricans identified with the Democratic Party vis a vis the GOP on a 65% -35% ratio.If the Obama plan of using the crisis to assist in retaining control of The White House is true then it is working to the point that the U.S. Census Bureau has projected that archipelago’s population in 2050 will be the same as in 1952 when the present colonial status was baptized “free associated state!”
But wait! There is more. The U.S. Department of Health decided to review and recently approved with Congressional endorsement allocations of Medicare funding to Puerto Rico. American citizens in Puerto Rico pay the same Social Security Taxes that are applied to the 50 states of the Union. In fact, Puerto Rico pays more Federal taxes than 6 states of the Union. Even though we pay the same taxes we are discriminated still. This despite the following commitment made by President Obama in his letter to Governor Fortuno on January 2, 2009, “During my campaign, we pledged to seek equal coverage of Puerto Rico in federal health care assistance programs”. Please see: The Economist: America’s fiscal union: The red and the black
In March 2010, I met in Washington, D.C. With Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Chairman of the Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee. On the way out from his Hart Building office he says to me, “Congress could be very capricious. For example we extended the Supplemental Social Security Income to American citizens residing in the Republic of Costa Rica.” His statement blew my mind. It was like adding insult to injury to the present segregation treatment. The White House is still evaluating with the Department of Health whether to increase the Medicaid allocation. Simply, Puerto Rico lives in a segregated society controlled by the U.S. Congress.
Recently, I was interviewed in a local radio talk show about a strong Washington rumor that the Obama administration’s lack of interest and “benign neglect” in assisting Puerto Rico was part of larger plot to promote a massive population exodus to battleground states, particularly Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia to stack the numbers in favor of the Democratic presidential nominee. The control of the Executive branch is the largest political prize in the planet! My initial reaction was not surprise! Washington works in mysterious ways, especially when there are, like Carl Sagan would say, “billions and billions” of dollars in contracts and benefits for big interest and the rich. A recent poll of Central Florida’s recently arrived Puerto Ricans showed that 53% would vote democratic and 19% Republican and the overwhelming majority supported statehood for the Island.
On the way back from the radio station my mind became a battlefield between being extremely mad at the idea of using the destiny of a people and transplanting them from their land where they rooted and fought for the right grow and be happy and making them political pawns in a struggle for power. Is that the real meaning of America the beacon of democracy and liberty? But what’s more troublesome is that President Obama who enunciated his Lexington Doctrine of “Nation Building First” to be the framework for his legacy is silent, passive and without resolve to put an end to the segregationist policies of Washington, D.C. towards American citizens in the territory of Puerto Rico.
It is evident that Obama will fail in his second term to fulfill a commitment to resolve the plight, struggle and aspiration of a territory that was conquered by an act of war. The Treaty of Paris clearly gave and stated that the U.S. Congress was going to have the primary responsibility for the well being of Puerto Rico’s citizens. In 1917 it granted American citizenship with the intention of paving the path towards political equality. But again, as presidential candidates to the nomination do, paraphrasing Seinfeld’s George Constanza, “a promise is a lie and as long as people believe it is not a lie.”
But if Obama is really working on his presidential legacy, how can the first African American president ignore the segregationist behavior of Congress and his administration regarding the future of 3.6 millions citizens? In 8 State of the Union addresses there was not one mention of the colonial & dire conditions of the American possession. I believe that resolving the political status of the territory of Puerto Rico is and must be a fundamental foundation of the Lexington Doctrine. Continuing with the political discourse of perfume words promising a moon of cheese and honey to later fall in a hollow lie to a people who sent 275,000 of their best men and women to fight for liberty and democracy in U.S. involved wars and conflicts in no longer acceptable. Is Obama doesn’t get it and decides to pass it to a future president he will not escape the judgement of history. It would be simply disgraceful. The Lexington Doctrine of nation building first only existed in the minds of those poor and timid souls who believed it. Jon Stewart in his farewell and last appearance in the “The Daily Show” said “in Washington bullshit is everywhere.”
There is still time Mr. President. Issue an executive order with time table to initiate the use of $ 2.5 million dollars in a Federal sponsored plebiscite. Ask for a vote on “statehood yes or no!” The people will respond. Then implement the results by granting political equality to the citizens of the territory and you will see huge numbers returning home! There is still time to change the course of history. The time is now!