Páginas vistas

jueves, 14 de mayo de 2009

My Word: Puerto Ricans long overdue for political-status upgrade

Image and video hosting by TinyPic By Richard Figueroa - Special to the Sentinel May 14, 2009 The 2009 Summit of the Americas was President Barack Obama's first opportunity to address Latin American leaders about his administration's priorities in the hemisphere. Naturally, much attention was given to the changes he announced on U.S.-Cuba policy. These are policy changes that we in Puerto Rico welcome and support, and we believe we can play a helpful role, given our shared historical, geographical and cultural similarities with Cuba, as the process of engagement and dialogue deepens. But just as the Obama administration and Congress are reappraising U.S. strategy aimed at bringing democracy to Cuba, so, too, the time has come for the president and Congress to take a new approach in policy toward Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is home to 4 million disenfranchised fellow American citizens who continue to be stuck in an anachronistic — and increasingly dysfunctional — territorial political-status rut. And unlike the case of Cuba, in which U.S. influence is indirect at best, in the case of Puerto Rico the president and Congress clearly have the ability to take steps to address and rectify this glaring deficit of American democracy in the Caribbean. Once referred to poetically as "two wings of the same bird," Cuba and Puerto Rico have obviously taken widely divergent political paths since being liberated from Spanish rule 111 years ago. While Cuba subsequently stumbled from hard-fought political independence into dictatorship and communism some 50 years ago, Puerto Rico essentially proceeded, as a U.S. territory since 1898, on a path of uneven but increasing political, economic and social integration with the rest of the United States. Nonetheless, Puerto Rico remains an anomaly within the American family, with a "separate and unequal" status that has kept the people of the island from exercising the full responsibilities — and enjoying the full benefits — of equality in citizenship. During the presidential campaign, Obama recognized these inequalities and understood that the U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico deserve no less than equal treatment by the federal government and a resolution of the status issue in his first term. This promise and policy vision is as bold and just as the changes in U.S. policy to Cuba have been. At this historic juncture, the right thing for the president and Congress to do is to unequivocally support upcoming legislation that will allow the people of Puerto Rico to take the first step toward change and full representation. A vote should be held on whether or not to continue their current disenfranchised territorial status. Should the people of Puerto Rico decide in that vote that 111 years of territorial status is enough for a transition to a fully representative government, then they would be ready for the next step. Next would be to offer Puerto Ricans the nonterritorial political-status choices that are available and are sanctioned by the United Nations for territories: integration (statehood), independence or free association (i.e., a relationship negotiated between mutually sovereign equals). Meanwhile, as a matter of basic public policy, it is also vitally important for the president and Congress to continue the progress in treating the American citizens of Puerto Rico equitably in essential federal programs. Most specifically, at present, the national goal of health-care reform — to provide equal access to quality care for all Americans wherever they reside — can obviously not be achieved until the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico are treated equally under all federal health-care programs. Puerto Rico deserves no less than to be brought into the health-care system on an equal basis with every other American jurisdiction. At the Summit of the Americas, Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega absurdly linked Cuba and Puerto Rico as absent from the summit. No, Mr. Ortega, Puerto Rico was there, proudly and ably represented by our president and commander in chief. What we await, however, are the next steps in correcting U.S. policies affecting these two islands in the Caribbean. *Richard Figueroa is executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration in Washington.