March 3, 2008
Robert Friedman - San Juan Star
The Illinois senator's vow to pay "close attention" to such critical island issues as status, the economy, federal funds and health matters, if and when he becomes president, drew more or less the same pledges four years ago from Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, and retired Gen. Wesley Clark, a Democratic presidential hopeful at the time.
for the island. While Obama said he would propose a joint U.S.Puerto Rico task force to look for "specific ways" to address the island's economic woes, both Kerry and Clark came up with particular programs.
Kerry and Clark indicated they would•move to include island residents with one or two children in the child income tax refund program and low-income workers in the Earned Income ITax Credit program. Clark also proposed to extend the federal Supplemental Security Income program to the island, which could result in many millions of additional dollars to the island's needy, aged, blind and disabled.
The big difference appears to be, for the governor at least,that the Illinois senator's position on status was closer to that held by pro-commonwealth leaders than was the status stances of the 2004 candidates
Obama said in a letter to the governor that, "As president, I will actively engage Congress and the Puerto Rican people in promoting this deliberative, open and unbiased [status] process that may include a constitutional convention or a plebiscite:' He said his administration "would recognize all valid options, including commonwealth, statehood and independence:' Almost certainly, the two key points here for the governor are Obamas mentioning the constitutional convention as way to resolve status and his implying that commonwealth, with or without changes, is a valid permanent political option. Both Kerry and Clark said as president they would have worked to have Congress authorize a referendum for island voters to directly choose among '~constitutionally viable" options. They did not mention commonwealth as constitutionally viable.
Acevedo Vila could not have been disappointed that Obama left out as a status choice free association. Many autonomous commonwealthers would like to see the current relationship evolve into that option, but current Popular Democratic Party leaders oppose it. Kerry and Clark both mentioned free association as a viable status option.
Kerry and Clark made similar strong vows to move first thing to resolve status and help get the island's economy in shape
Kerry vowed "to restore full-time attention to Puerto Rico issues in the White House:'
But, when discussing status, he noted that: "Puerto Rico remains an unincorporated territory of the United States" and said he backed legislation authorizing voters "to choose whether Puerto Rico would become an independent country, a sovereign nation in free association with the United States or a state of the union:' He did not mention the current commonwealth relationship as a possible a permanent political future for the island.
Clark had vowed as president to "engage in an objective public education campaign on the constitutionally viable status options:' He mentioned those options as "national sovereignty, either fully independent from or in free association with the United States, or to join the nation as a state:' Commonwealth, as Puerto Ricans know it, was not among those constitutionally viable choices.
In a related'matter, former candidate Clark's national adviser on Hispanic and Latino issues said he was withdrawing his support for Obama in the upcoming election because of the senator's letter to Acevedo Vila.
Yosem Companys, a:Puerto Rican who was offering advice to the Obama campaign, said he could "no longer in good conscience" back Obama because of his "misguided! and factually and historically inaccurate" letter to the governor. He said that neither Congress nor the United Nations has accepted the current territorial status as a permanent solution and that the candidate appears to be buying . into the PDP's enhanced commonwealth proposal, which would give the island government such powers as rejecting federal laws and making trade pacts with other nations.
Companys said that not one member of the House or Senate has ever supported the Acevedo Vila adininistration's plan for an enhanced commonwealth.
Acevedo Vila's boast that Obama . incorporated into his recent letter to the governor "almost everything" they discussed during the latter's fund-raising visit to Puerto Rico, including the senator's "strict neutrality" regarding territorial commonwealth, raises questions regarding Obama's capacity to ,make serious legal judgments, according to a Puerto Rican Independence Party official.
The PIP chimed in once more on the letter, charging that by supporting commonwealth "on equal footing" with the other status options, Obama showed "a lack of knowledge regarding U.S. constitutional and international law, or his willingness to ignore the law for the sake of political expediency:'