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If Puerto Ricans Want Full And Equal Economic And Political Empowerment, They Can Have It

Herbert W. Brown III,

President Citizens’ Educational Foundation

LULAC National Convention

July, 2000

Copyright © 2000 Citizens’ Educational Foundation. All Rights Reserved.

The clearest lesson after more than a century is that Puerto Rico's full potential for economic, social and political development will never be realized through measures adopted to make tolerable a colonial condition based on permanent disenfranchisement and less than full and equal empowerment. This is why the Citizens Educational Foundation is committed to the full political and economic equality of peoples born and living in Puerto Rico.

The jump-start given by federal incentives to the local economy several decades ago is no substitute for equal economic empowerment today. We are no longer a basket case economy, so we no longer need economic gimmicks. We need a seat at the table.

Rather than returning to federally based development strategies, we need to recognize the telltale signs of under performance in the new economy. Compared to the mainland, U.S. citizens here in Puerto Rico have five times less internet access capacity, three times less computer access, twelve times less web site capacity, ten times less R&D investment, and thirty times less patent registrations. These tools of opportunity are not in the hands of our people because Puerto Rico's politicians are still bickering over the most esoteric ideological abstractions about whether we can be a nation and remain U.S. at the same time. It is a tedious and anachronistic debate.

We know what the answer is to this dilemma. We know that political rights and economic opportunities equal to those enjoyed by the rest of the nation can be accomplished under the U.S. constitutional system through the historical process for admission to statehood. We also know equal citizenship and a non-discriminatory status can be achieved through the constitutional system of a sovereign republic, consistent independence. The choices are clear and the path to full and equal empowerment through one of those options is open to Puerto Rico.

The foundation supports an informed self-determination process that leads to full citizenship and decolonization based on a non-territorial status through either statehood or separate sovereign nationhood.

This is because any measures Congress may adopt by statute at the request of Puerto Rico to improve political or economic conditions under commonwealth will not end territorial status. Any such statutory measures are discretionary and subject to change at the pleasure of a Congress in which Puerto Rico has no voting representation.

In addition, there is no certainty that the terms for continued commonwealth will remain as favorable to Puerto Rico or businesses invested there, or even that U.S. sovereignty, nationality and citizenship for Puerto Rico will continue indefinitely. This constitutes a political risk for businesses in Puerto Rico that does not affect investments in the mainland.

Without a permanent status and true integration in the national economy the power of the U.S. and international private sector can not be harnessed for the benefit of Puerto Rico. Prosperity is not a right, it is a product of rights. The most basic political rights that make prosperity possible in the U.S. have not been secured for Puerto Rico.

Thus, unemployment rates in Puerto Rico are dramatically higher than in the mainland. Only those people born in Puerto Rico who go to live in the mainland for more than one generation enjoy a level of prosperity equal to the states. This again demonstrates that economic opportunity and political rights are linked. Remember, 20% of the U.S. GNP is federal expenditures. Instead of being a state and having a larger delegation in Congress than twenty five of the present 50 states, Puerto Rico must go in like a homeless person, rattle our tin cup and beg, instead of competing in a fair fight for our share of that federal pie.

As a commonwealth, both economically and politically, the citizens of Puerto Rico remain squatters at the doorstep of the United States. By our own failure to demand full and equal empowerment, we live in a house that is not yet fully our home.

Still, some continue to insist there is a third path to empowerment that combines elements of statehood and separate sovereign nationhood. We still hear the old argument that a separate form of citizenship with a special set of rights and responsibilities can make us whole and provide a separate but equal status that is tolerable. According to the devotees of commonwealth, this is the best Puerto Rico can do.

This notion runs counter to the legacy of the U.S. constitutional system; the heritage of the U.S. is that equality and liberty under the law is the only lasting form of empowerment.

At CEF we believe the citizenry in Puerto Rico wants what LULAC has helped people achieve all over America. Whether through statehood or separate nationhood, we want equal empowerment and opportunity. We want to preserve our heritage and promote the vitality of our culture, including our Spanish language. We want dignity.

Like LULAC members have done nation-wide, the citizens in Puerto Rico need to stand up and demand it.

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