Maurice Ferré: The solution for Cuba and Puerto Rico: plebiscites.
From El Nuevo Herald, August 15, 2015
Although both were the booty of war, the results for Cuba and Puerto Rico were different in the Treaty of Paris (1898) at the end of the Spanish-American War.
The Republic of Cuba was established in 1903. As a republic, Cuba prospered for 37 years. With the Constitution of 1940, eliminating the despicable Platt Amendment, Cuba advanced. But by 1959 Cuba was already a corrupt country. After 55 years of Castro-communism, Cuba went from being one of the most prosperous countries in Latin America to place itself, currently, among the poorest.
Puerto Rico did better. Washington cultivated Puerto Rico as a military base, guarding the Panama Canal. In 1917, the U.S. Congress unilaterally gave U.S. citizenship to Puerto Ricans. In 1922 the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, William Howard Taft (before being President of the U.S.), presented the majority opinion in the last Insular Case (about the relationship between the U.S. and Puerto Rico), Balzac v. Porto Rico, concluding that although Puerto Ricans were U.S. citizens, they didn’t have all the guarantees of the U.S. Constitution. Puerto Rico would continue “belonging to the United States but not being part of the United States.”* This infamy of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1922 is still alive in 2015.
In 1952, the North American Congress conceded autonomy to Puerto Rico in local matters, creating the Associated Free State (AFS). In 62 years of self-governing with bad judgments by its governors and responsible financial counselors and with lucrative contracts for friends of the government in attendance, Puerto Rico had an external debt of $73 billion, more than the annual GDP of the island. On August 1, the island, for the first time, failed to comply with a Wall Street bank debt. As a result of the precarious financial situation, Wall Street Hedge Funds and vulture investors bought up Puerto Rico’s junk bonds. Puerto Rico fell into the hands of the “savage capitalists” that Pope Francis has criticized so much.
The President of the United States, Barack Obama, who insists on the opening with Cuba, ignores Puerto Rico’s fatal condition. The North American Congress, presently in the hands of the Republicans, insists that the Cuban political system be modified to one that establishes the consent of the governed, but ignores that in an internal plebiscite in 2012, Puerto Rico, with 78 per cent participation, voted 54 percent to not consent to the system of government presently alive on the island, the AFS.
Among Cuba’s dissidents, Rosa María Payá, daughter of the fallen martyr, Oswaldo Payá-Sardiñas, has created a new opposition entity called “Cuba Decides,” which has numerous followers on the island. Payá, with her group, attended an important meeting of Cuban dissidence in San Juan: First National Cuban Meeting, which met on August 11, 12 and 13.
Cuba Decides presented, in Puerto Rico, a continuation of Oswaldo Payá’s patriotic vision: a plebiscite for Cuba. The questions, although not finalized, ironically are similar to the active questions in Puerto Rico: consent of the governed and the preferred form of government on the island.
Cuba is a sovereign nation where its citizens, internally, don’t have individual liberties.
For its part, Puerto Rico doesn’t enjoy sovereignty, since it’s an unincorporated territory of the United States, whose citizens are governed under the plenary powers of the U.S. Congress under its territorial clause. But Puerto Ricans who reside on the island do enjoy individual liberty.
In order to resolve these incongruencies with the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and the U.S. Constitution, in the case of Puerto Rico separate plebiscites should be performed. Both plebiscites should entail compliance with conditions, previously agreed upon by the respective governments.
In the case of Puerto Rico, President Obama has recommended and the U.S. Congress has accepted an appropriation of $2.5 million to “educate” voters on the alternative conditions of the plebiscite. Because of the results of the 2012 island plebiscite, in which 61 percent chose federated statehood as a political status, the question of the new plebiscite would simply be: Statehood, yes or no?
The questions for the Cuban process are very complex because they require acceptance by the Government of a future plebiscite in Cuba, without the presence of the Castros.
Cuban exiles and dissidents on the island, some of whom reunited this week in San Juan, should carefully study Rosa María Payá’s presentation and persistently demand of the Cuban Government a plebiscite that determines the consent of the Cuban people. Then Cuban citizens will decide if they want a socialist government or a democratic, pluralist republic and a free market.
Declaration of San Juan
The text of the declaration can be found in English here, along with the list of signatories.
*Puerto Rico was not incorporated into the Union.
Translated by Regina Anavy