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jueves, 5 de febrero de 2009

The time is ripe

Image and video hosting by TinyPic CARIBBEAN BUSINESS CARLOS ROMERO BARCELÓ Never before in our history has the moment been more propitious for achieving statehood than now. Every obstacle, real or imaginary, and every taboo raised by opponents of statehood has been overcome or proven false. Ever since the majority of statehood opponents realized the vast majority of Puerto Ricans cherished their U.S. citizenship and refused to give it up under any circumstances, they searched for a way to offer us an option other than statehood. Under the leadership of Luis Muñoz Marín, they came up with the idea of changing the reality of Puerto Rico’s unacceptable territorial status, by changing the name of “territory” to “Commonwealth” and adopting our own constitution, to be approved by Congress. Aware that there was no meaningful change in the political and legal relationship with the 50 states of the Union, Muñoz Marín and his fellow leaders began making claims unsupported by reality. Muñoz and his cohorts knew the name in Spanish, literally translated into English as “Free Associated State” was unacceptable to Congress, because Puerto Rico was neither a state nor were we a free nation. Furthermore, no written treaty or pact deprived the U.S. Congress of its authority over Puerto Rico as a U.S. territory. Through continuous repetition of the lie that a “bilateral pact” existed between Puerto Rico and the U.S. Congress, many Puerto Ricans and others in the 50 states and in foreign countries came to believe a bilateral pact really existed. As a result, those who believed in the lie also believed that any and all existing laws and U.S. government policies couldn’t be changed unilaterally. Building upon the false premise of a binding bilateral pact, obstacles to statehood were elaborated and presented to the people, to wit: * Puerto Rico allegedly had full autonomy in fiscal matters and Congress couldn’t impose taxes on U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico. This alleged so-called “fiscal autonomy” was used by the “Commonwealth” government to guarantee investors that they couldn’t be taxed by Congress in Puerto Rico. To identify the so-called “fiscal autonomy,” a barrier to statehood, Muñoz Marín convinced many Puerto Ricans that the island was so unattractive to investors that unless they were given 100% tax exemption, they wouldn’t invest in Puerto Rico. * That federal minimum wages weren’t applicable to Puerto Rico because of our “Commonwealth” status. If they were made applicable, Puerto Rico’s unemployment levels would become ruinous for the island. * That only as a “Commonwealth” could we keep our Spanish language and protect our Spanish cultural heritage. “Commonwealth” leaders and independence advocates have always alleged that if we became a state, we would be forced to speak English and would stop speaking Spanish. * That because Puerto Ricans are white, brown and black, Spanish-speaking and a majority are Catholics, even if a majority of Puerto Ricans voted for statehood, the U.S. Congress and the president would never accept us, because the nation was highly prejudiced. From 1952, when our official name as the Territory of Puerto Rico was changed to “The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico” in English, and to “El Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico” in Spanish, until the mid-seventies, the four obstacles raised against statehood were reinforced by constant repetition and an intense public-relations campaign in the media. In 1969, when I was sworn-in as mayor of San Juan, I started to campaign in Puerto Rico and Congress to have Puerto Rico included in the Federal Minimum Wage Law. My main argument was that as part of the nation’s economy, our cost of living was as high, or higher, than the average cost in the 50 states, but our workers were paid substantially less than workers in the States. In some industries, our workers were paid less than one-third what workers in the States with the lowest salaries were paid. Obviously, our workers weren’t paid enough to cover their basic necessities. Finally, on or about 1973, I managed to convince U.S. Sen. Harrison Williams (D-N.J.)—then-chairman of the Labor Committee—that Puerto Rico needed to be included in the Federal Minimum Wage Law. Williams proceeded to draft and file an amendment to the Minimum Wage Law to phase-in Puerto Rico over several years. Toward the end of the ’70s, Puerto Rico’s federal minimum wage was the same as the rest of the nation. The application of the federal minimum wage in Puerto Rico has been one of the most meaningful economic benefits enacted for workers’ welfare. Salaries were substantially increased and their standard of living was substantially improved as a result. The threats of massive unemployment, which Muñoz Marín and his cohorts continuously insisted would occur, didn’t happen. As a matter of fact, the additional amount of money spent by workers in Puerto Rico from the wage increases had a very positive effect on the island’s economy. The first obstacle to statehood mentioned above—the 100% tax exemption and so-called fiscal autonomy—also was shown to be false. It has been clearly demonstrated that: The U.S. Congress has full authority and power over Puerto Rico in fiscal matters. The “936” companies that had been 100% exempt from federal income taxes were brought under the federal income-tax laws and are now subject to federal income taxes. All U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico are also subject to Social Security taxes, as are all corporations, partnerships and individual employees. Not a single fully tax-exempt company under Internal Revenue Service Section 936 has closed and left Puerto Rico because of the elimination of 936. Despite false claims in the press, the reasons some companies closed and left Puerto Rico have been: frustration with government policies; persecution by local government agencies; considerably cheaper labor and energy in other countries, among others. Finally, the remaining two taboos against statehood were language, culture and religion; and racial/ethnic prejudice. The argument Puerto Rico would never be admitted as a state because of religion was dispelled when John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, was elected president in 1960. The argument against statehood based on a so-called “different” culture has never been taken seriously by intelligent people who realize the U.S. is a multicultural society. Puerto Ricans and Floridians have much more in common than Texans and U.S. citizens in Massachusetts. The language argument has been disappearing by leaps and bounds. Every year, we have more and more people in the states of the Union who speak more Spanish than English. In some cities, such as Miami and Orlando, Fla.; El Paso and San Antonio, Texas; East Los Angeles; New York; and most southwest towns bordering with Mexico, you can get around speaking only Spanish, as well as or better than by speaking English. Finally, the racial/ethnic argument used against statehood has been that the U.S. is a nation full of racial prejudice, which would never accept Puerto Rico as a state because too many of our people are brown and black. That argument has been definitely, fully and completely demolished by Barack Obama’s election as president. It is precisely because Obama has been elected president that our struggles and crusades for our right to vote, equal representation and equality as American citizens becomes more relevant than ever. Our president understands what unequal treatment is all about. Much better even than Bill Clinton, President Obama realizes what it would mean for him, historically, if he were president when the first Spanish-speaking territory was admitted as a state. Obama must realize how important it would be for all Hispanic/Latino U.S. citizens and all of Latin America to have Puerto Rico admitted as the 51st state of the Union. There is nothing else Obama could do that would ignite and unite all Hispanics/Latinos in the U.S. and Latin America more than admitting Puerto Rico as the next state. Yes, the time has never been riper!

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