OBAMA REITERATES THAT THE COLONIAL CASE OF PUERTO RICO WILL BE RESOLVED

The following article written by Puerto Rican reporter, Jesús Dávila addreses some interesting issues concerning the status question in Puerto Rico and Obama. Read and pass on….

By Jesús Dávila

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, January 2, 2009 (NCM) – President-elect of the United States Barack Obama reiterated that he will try to resolve the colonial case of Puerto Rico during his first term and explained that self-determination is a “basic right” of Puerto Ricans, for which reason he will undertake responsibility for seeing that Puerto Ricans have “a voice” in the
solution.

“We will not sit back and wait for someone else to do something,” said Obama in a message he sent for governor Luis G. Fortuño’s swearing in ceremony. Fortuño, who heads the annexionist New Progressive Party, swept the elections last November and thus ended eight years of autonomist government.

The message from the president-elect of the U.S. was made public in the presence of Monsignor Josef Wesoloski, the Vatican ’s papal nuncio to the Dominican Republic and apostolic delegate to Puerto Rico. Rome ’s diplomatic representative took part in a solemn mass which began the protocol for the swearing in of Fortuño, a conservative and practicing Catholic.

The announcement of an imminent solution to the case of this Caribbean nation subjected to a colonial condition by the U.S. since 1898 came in the context of an overwhelming economic crisis that has left the State with a deficit the equivalent of 39 percent of its previous budget. The situation is such that the former autonomist governors Sila María Calderón and Rafael Hernández Colón asked the country to give an opportunity to the annexationist governor and to unify in order that the country could move forward economically and socially.

The message was not immediately taken very seriously by some of the national print media, and opinions were heard that he hadn’t proposed anything out of the ordinary from what U.S. presidents do every four years. The problem is that the generalized belief in Puerto Rico is that Washington has never had major interest in attending to the case, and that the economic situation is so serious and urgent that the topic of the political condition will remain untouched for another four years.

That notion seemed to shatter in the face of the impressive message sent by Obama.

Determination also comes from initiating a year when intense diplomatic consultations in Latin America are supposed to develop, to determine whether the case of Puerto Rico will be discussed as a separate topic by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2010. The small but influential Puerto Rican Independence Party has been working intensely in these efforts.

The National Independentista Hostosiano Movement has also made efforts to promote the discussion of the case at the General Assembly of the U.N., principally through the Non-Aligned Movement.

In the now governing NPP, the topic ignites passions and hope— although some internal sectors would rather it be postponed— but it is the cause of deep divisions in the autonomist Popular Democratic Party. In that party formation, those who promote an associated republic have been cornered by the official line of maintaining the current autonomic regime known as Commonwealth, established in 1952.

Present at the ceremony was the executive director of the United States Commission for the Preservation of American Historical Heritage Abroad, Jeffrey Farrow, who commented that the message of the president-elect is clear on the topic of the status of Puerto Rico . Although Farrow, who was responsible for the matter during the Clinton administration, indicated that the current post in the agency under the U.S. Department of State is more “honorary,” he stated that he will be available to help the designated Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with the case of Puerto Rico .

In his inaugural address, Fortuño affirmed that “the change” sought by the electorate includes that the route be of “a people who value and defend our American citizenship and struggle to protect and perfect our permanent union with the rest of the United States .”

But if Obama’s message clearly noted that one of the criteria of the case’s public policy is to value the military contribution that the colony has made to the U.S. during more than a century, it was not definitive about converting Puerto Rico into a state of the union. To the contrary, he explained that he will work with all the ideological sectors to guarantee that Puerto Rico has a voice to discuss the topic in Washington .

Another difficulty is that the topic of the economic and moral crisis— in particular, corruption— is so urgent that Fortuño’s message was almost completely focused on it. The new governor insisted that if sacrifices for the entire population can be anticipated, he reiterated that he will hold to the basic principles of his campaign promises which include putting more money into people’s pockets and lowering government expenses.

A source with access to high level information in the NPP said that as recently as the eve of the inauguration, Fortuño told a circle of close collaborators that he will take the necessary steps even it if means he cannot run again in 2012.

It is not yet known what these steps are, but press reports indicating that they could include more taxes, privatizations, or layoffs of government workers put the unions and political opposition on the alert, especially the independentistas and the left. As of the moment, Fortuño has not made any commitment, except to acknowledge receiving the recommendation of major participation of the private sector in the possibility of joint ventures.

Fortuño has also demonstrated he favors public education— which is currently one of the main budget items— though in a manner controlled by the parents of the students. Among the options which has been discussed in recent years is negotiating with private groups to operate the schools.