Looking at Report by Obama’s Task Force on Puerto Rico (Part 1)

Yesterday the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status report was released. It is a 122-page report that starts with a 7-point series of recommendations on how to move forward from Puerto Rico’s colonial status. It also includes a look at the island’s economic and social issues.

In this first of a multi-part look, I am going to focus on the 7 points regarding Puerto Rico’s status.

Briefly, the 7 recommendations are as follows :

1: The Task Force recommends that all relevant parties—the President, Congress, and the leadership and people of Puerto Rico—work to ensure that Puerto Ricans are able to express their will about status options and have that will acted upon by the end of 2012 or soon thereafter .

2: The Task Force recommends that the permissible status options include Statehood, Independence, Free Association, and Commonwealth.

3: Although the Task Force supports any fair method for determining the will of the people of Puerto Rico, it has a marginal preference for a system involving two plebiscites.

4: If a plebiscite is chosen, only residents of Puerto Rico should be eligible to vote.

5: The President and Congress should commit to preserving U S citizenship for Puerto Rican residents who are U S citizens at the time of any transition to Independence, if the people of Puerto Rico choose a status option that results in Puerto Rico’s Independence.

6: The President and Congress should ensure that Puerto Rico controls its own cultural and linguistic identity.

7: If efforts on the Island do not provide a clear result in the short term, the President should support, and Congress should enact, self-executing legislation that specifies in advance for the people of Puerto Rico a set of acceptable status options that the United States is politically committed to fulfilling.

Now allow me to break this all down a little

How is what is offered up by this task force any different than what has been offered up in the past? It’s not.

On Points #1 & #3 : There have been referendums before and now there will be another one. To date, the referendum process has been nothing more than a glorified (and poorly managed) opinion poll with no political weight. And really, how are the Puerto Rican people expected to trust the current commonwealth government, led by Gov. Fortuño, with his unabashed pro-Statehood stance and the economic and physical violence he has not just condoned but led against all Puerto Rican people but especially those in education on the island.

On Point #2: If the U.S. and Obama are serious about allowing Puerto Ricans to change their future than why the hell should the colonial status quo be an option? From an article I received in my inbox yesterday by social worker, professor, activist, and freelance writer based in Puerto Rico Juan Antonio Ocasio Rivera:

The Task Force goes against previous recommendations offered by the Bush White House in maintaining the Commonwealth option for the island’s political status. The Bush White House maintained that the current political status, colonial in nature, was not an option for a future and final political status and therefore should not be an option under the decolonization process. This is a perfectly sound stance (especially since international law labels colonialism as a “crime” and an impediment to world peace), but not for the lobbyists paid for by pro-Commonwealth and pro-statehood Puerto Rican politicians. Hence, Obama’s White House changes course and allows Puerto Ricans to choose colonialism during a decolonization process.

Of course, if choosing the Commonwealth is colonial due to the submission of native natural rights to the country that invaded her, then Statehood would signify an even deeper colonial condition for the island, implicating a total and final submission of the island’s rich cultural and political heritage and distinct national identity. None of these options, then, are truly options for decolonization; in fact, quite the opposite, they can be viewed as direct assaults on the deeply rooted sense of nationhood that most Puerto Ricans hold dear.

On Point #4: I call bullshit. From the report :

This issue is a difficult one But on balance, those who have committed to the Island by residing there have strong arguments that only they should vote on its future In addition, the complexities of determining who is eligible to vote among those of Puerto Rican descent and managing a vote among a population dispersed throughout the United States and elsewhere would be daunting.

This angers me not just because it excludes me and so many of my Boricua herman@s who throughout the years have been dedicated to the struggle for justice on Puerto Rico, but also this denies a voice to people like my parents, born on island who migrated to the U.S., who essentially were forced out of the island because of colonial economic policies. This point of view supports the binary of island Ricans vs. mainland Ricans and denies the ways in which colonialism seeks to separate the diaspora from it’s roots.

On Point #5: What does preserving U.S. citizenship mean for Puerto Ricans? Currently if your are a Puerto Rican on the island you cannot vote for the very President who pulled together this task force. Your delegate (not even a representative in Congress) has no vote. This point plays on the fears of losing access to the benefits of citizenship. Again I quote from Ocasio Rivera :

Over time, most islanders have been taught to depend on the United States for survival and subsistence. This, indeed, is the central problem facing the island today: a dependence based on a lack of self-confidence due to the power being concentrated in the hands of the colonial power, the U.S. , not in the hands of the people of the island. This is a psychological and sociological issue studied even by such eminent theoreticians as Frantz Fanon and others who understand that colonization and conquest have a harmful effect on the human psyche, leading the conquered to fear their own freedom.

On Point #6: Well thank you Mr. President for allowing us control over our own identity and culture for the warning about English. And really is English playing a daily role on the island now? Not in the lives of Ricans I know there, including familia and friends.

On Point #7: My question on this point, allowing Congress to enact legislation to specify in advance for the people of Puerto Rico a set of acceptable status options that the United States is politically committed to fulfilling if things don’t happen at an acceptable pace, who determines that? Puerto Rico was invaded in 1898. Surely a TRUE decolonization is a long one. Truly the U.S. needs to first acknowledge it’s role like by recognizing the presence of Puerto Rican political prisoners being held in federal prisons. Truly there should be at the very least the mention of reparations to the people of the island over the violence of U.S. colonialism that has included the destruction of land, taking away of land, contamination, and the forcible sterilization of women.

Why is there no acknowledgement that the island is a colony? Why is there no acknowledgement of recommendations made by the United Nations on this matter?

Seems like the continuation of colonial policy that has no intention of really respecting the right to self-determination.

You can read the report in it’s entirety here (Opens as PDF)

PS : I will comment on other portions of the report in coming days.

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5 comments on “Looking at Report by Obama’s Task Force on Puerto Rico (Part 1)
  1. El nacionalismo ha sido un cancer politico y social en todas las naciones del mundo. El cancer de los separatistas de PR no es excepcion. Solo se necesita conocer la historia de la humanidad desde sus origenes para darse cuenta de que el nacionalismo y racismo ha sido la destruccion de todos los pueblos del globo terraqueo.

  2. Saludos Armando y gracias por su comentario. No estoy en desacuerdo. Hemos visto en la historia que el nacionalismo si es problematico, pero es decir entonces que la comunidad de Puerto Rico no tiene derecho a el autodeterminacion?

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