Did Acevedos DC Aide Lie in Saying Fortuno "lies"?
The head of Puerto Rico Governor Anibal Acevedo Vilas offices in the States was quoted Thursday accusing the territorys representative to the federal government of lying.
Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA) Director Eduardo Bhatia said that Resident Commissioner Luis Fortuno (statehood/R) lied to his fellow members of Congress in a letter regarding Acevedos proposed process for addressing the territorys political status issue.
Bhatia was the candidate for mayor of San Juan, PR of Acevedos "commonwealth" party in the past two elections but lost both. Observers believe that he wants to seek Fortunos job in the 2008 election. He began to criticize and to try to embarrass Fortuno with days of arriving in Washington while at the same time saying that he was working closely with Puerto Ricos sole spokesman in Congress.
Bhatia reportedly asserted that there were two "lies" in Fortunos letter. One was that Acevedo had written the members of Congress in support of the status process bill he had submitted to the territorial legislature. The Acevedo aide contended that this was a lie because the governor had only written members of the congressional "leadership," not other members of Congress.
UPDATE, however, has obtained copies of faxes and e-mails that Bhatia and another PRFAA aide sent members of Congress who are not members of the congressional leadership promoting Acevedos proposal. The message on the faxes said that Acevedo wanted the senator or representative to have a copy of a letter that Acevedo wrote President Bush seeking support for his local legislative proposal.
The faxes substantiate Fortunos reference to Acevedo having written members of Congress on his proposal. Having an aide write at the Governors direction is essentially the same as the Governor writing personally.
In the faxes, Bhatia invited members of Congress to call him on the issue. He also wrote that "[o]ur Washington team will keep you up to date as the Governors proposal moves forward." He said that the proposal would "empower Puerto Ricans to have a voice and a vote in the development of the roadmap for resolving the issue of status for Puerto Rico."
Bhatias faxes made no mention of the facts that:
- The presiding officers of Puerto Ricos Legislative Assembly have said that Acevedos proposal will not pass;
- Large majorities of the members of each of the legislatures houses were elected on a platform pledging a different approach to the issue; and
- The territorial senate has already passed resolutions against a major element of Acevedos proposal and in favor of the legislative majoritys alternative approach.
Aides to three members of Congress contacted confirmed that their bosses had received the misleading fax from Bhatia.
Acevedos proposal would hold a referendum with two options. One would petition Congress for a referendum with "Commonwealth," statehood, and independence options. The other would elect a "Constitutional Assembly" to determine Puerto Ricos future status choice.
In asserting that Fortuno had lied in his letters, Bhatia also gave a false explanation of Acevedos bill. He said that it included the statehood partys proposal for a petition to Congress for a referendum.
The statehood partys proposed referendum, however, is different from the referendum proposed in Acevedos bill. The statehood party referendum would petition the Congress to identify the statuses under which Puerto Rico would no longer be unincorporated territory of the U.S. That would exclude "Commonwealth" -- the popular name for Puerto Ricos current status as unincorporated U.S. territory. It would also include the option of Puerto Rico becoming a nation in an association with the U.S. that either nation could end.
Most members of Puerto Ricos Legislative Assembly are members of the statehood party.
Bhatia reportedly also said that Fortuno had misled other members of Congress in his letter by just focusing his objections to Acevedos bill on the Governors proposed "Constitutional Assembly." He suggested that Fortuno should have explained the choice that Acevedos bill would give Puerto Ricos voters.
Fortunos letter clarified the misunderstanding that could have been created by the Bhatia and Acevedo communications regarding the status of Acevedos proposal by noting that majority of Puerto Ricos legislators oppose it.
The resident commissioner also explained that the "Constitutional Assembly" option in Acevedos bill is "insufficiently democratic" because it would enable a small group of local officials to choose Puerto Ricos proposed future status rather than the people as a whole.
Fortuno additionally criticized the assembly option because it would propose a new governing arrangement for Puerto Rico to the federal government with minimal consultation with federal officials.
Fortuno suggested that "a more democratic and productive process would be one in which the people of Puerto Rico exercise their inalienable right to self-determination by choosing the status of their preference from among federally-sanctioned and constitutionally viable options. " He noted that such a process would be consistent with the platforms of the national Democratic and Republican Parties.
The resident commissioner also reported that "the Presidents Task Force on Puerto Ricos Status established by President Clinton and continued by President Bush is expected to issue a report soon which should provide a basis for progress" on the issue.
The misleading Bhatia and Acevedo communications with members of Congress also prompted Puerto Ricos senate president to write members of Congress.
Senate President Kenneth McClintock wrote to explain why Acevedos bill "will not pass."
One reason, he said, is that the bill would enable the proposed "Constitutional Assembly" to choose Puerto Ricos status choice instead of having the choice made by the territorys voters.
Another reason is that the "assembly option would also enable Puerto Ricos choice for its future status to be made without regard to whether the choice is even a possibility."
McClintock explained that "federal agency objections to the governing arrangement that the Governor has proposed are a primary reason that he advocates the assembly option." He noted that the "proposed arrangement would supposedly empower the Commonwealth to determine what federal laws apply and to enter into international agreements as if it were a sovereign nation while the United States continues to grant citizenship and all current assistance to Puerto Ricans and appropriates a new block grant of aid."
"This Covenant," McClintock went on, "would also bind the U.S. to its terms in perpetuity effectively making the U.S. a colony of Puerto Rico."
McClintock also explained that the assembly would enable "an artificial majority" to be created for Acevedos proposed "Commonwealth" by encouraging assembly delegates who favor nationhood to support it along with commonwealthers.
McClintock also criticized the other status process option in Acevedos bill: the petition to Congress for a referendum. He objected to the inclusion of "Commonwealth" as an option because it "cannot resolve Puerto Ricos status issue." He explained that "all people have a continuing right to a democratic form of government" and "Commonwealth" . . . does not permit Puerto Ricans to have voting representation in their national government."
Key Senator Cautious About "Constitutional Assembly" Proposal
The senior Democrat on the U.S. Senate committee with lead jurisdiction over territorial affairs spoke cautiously of Governor Acevedos "Constitutional Assembly" proposal Thursday.
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Ranking Democrat Jeff Bingaman (NM) noted that Congress would have to approve a Puerto Rico status proposal when asked about Acevedos "Constitutional Assembly" approach. He also said, however, that he was not thoroughly familiar with the proposal.
Bingaman has said little about Puerto Ricos status issue since he publicly told Acevedo that his proposed "Commonwealth" seemed to be the "free beer and bar-b-que" proposal among the various proposals for the territorys future status. The criticism prompted vociferous complaints from the "commonwealth partys leading spokesman in Congress, Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL).
Bingaman also said that the Presidents Task Force on Puerto Ricos Status may issue a report required to be issued this year as early as this summer. He said that the report could lead to congressional hearings on the issue. He noted that Senate hearings would depend upon his fellow New Mexican in the Senate, Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R).
Congressman Who Defeated Cifuentes Faces Ethics Problem
Puerto Rico commonwealthers tried to block the election of former Puerto Rico Secretary of the Governorship Alvaro Cifuentes, a statehooder, as a vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) by alleging that Cifuentes was linked to Government of Puerto Rico improprieties.
No such links have ever been identified and the tactic backfired as DNC leaders condemned it. Cifuentes was, however, defeated by U.S. Representative Mike Honda (CA).
It was revealed Wednesday that Honda had taken a trip to South Korea paid for by a Korean organization registered with the House of Representatives as a "foreign agent" group. House rules prohibit House members from travel paid for by such organizations.
Honda was one of several House members and staff who accepted the travel. The most prominent was House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) but an aide to House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) also took a trip paid for by the group.