Monday, October 29, 2007

U.S. Virgin Islands set to begin 5th Constitutional Convention: Puerto Rico should pay attention

[Latino Insurgent Analysis by Michael A. Deliz]
Today, Monday, October 29, 2007 at 10am the elected delegates to the US Virgin Islands Constitutional convention will begin meetings to draft the territory's constitution. The convention now in its fifth incarnation is required to conclude a completed draft by October 2008, which ultimately leads to a popular plebiscite to be approved by the people of the Virgin Islands. But first it must pass through the imperial filters.

The Constitutional Process

Once the delegates, which have already been selected by popular vote, draft a constitution the document is sent to the territory's governor. The governor then has ten days to deliver it to President Bush. The President will then add his own comments and suggestions (because we all know he is an expert on the needs of the people of the Virgin Islands), and then he forwards it to the US Congress (another bunch of experts!). Once Congress receives it, they have 60 days to review, modify, and approve the constitution which will then be sent back to the Virgin Islands for the constitutional plebiscite.

Essentially the people of the Virgin Islands are going to vote on whether or not to adopt the constitution the US Congress feels is best for them. This is what passes for Democracy in the colonized Caribbean.

Impact on Puerto Rico
For Puerto Rico, this is a process that should be carefully watched as the newly redrafted HR900, or "Proyecto 900" as it is known in the island, begins its process in the halls of Congress. Unlike previous status bills, this one calls for a similar process requiring a Constitutional Assembly to chart the island's future, or possibly find itself decades later still trying to come up with a constitution that pleases both the people and the US Congress like it has happened in the Virgin Islands since the 1960s.

Back in the 1980s, the last time the Virgin Islands went through this process, when the constitution came up for a vote, many voted it down due to differences in opinion regarding what a Virgin Islander is and is not as defined by the document, many simply boycotted the process and failed to vote altogether.

The "Proyecto 900" is different as it begins with a plebiscite to first decide whether the people want a change in status or not. The immediate consequence of that will be the sidelining of the island's Partido Popular Democratico which has traditionally called to maintain the status quo. The PPD, however as of late has been pushing for greater sovereignty as an Associated States, the same basic status as the Northern Mariana Islands. If the PPD sticks to this then that first plebiscite will result in the affirmative to change the island's status.

After that no one really knows what may happen. The statehood party is confident that under those circumstances the people will elect delegates that will opt for statehood. But the Partido Nuevo Progresista, seems to have forgotten one minor detail in their run for power. No one has asked the United States if they want Puerto Rico as the 51st state of the union.

That seemingly preliminary step is one the PNP hopes to deal with once they get a consensus, by whatever means, that Puerto Rico wants to be a state. The plan seems to be that if the people of Puerto Rico choose statehood they can then turn the issue into a Civil Rights fight against disenfranchisement of a minority group. Under those terms it might be easier to appeal to American sensibilities.

In the mean time the United States gets to proclaim that it is doing everything necessary to help the people of Puerto Rico in this process. In truth the US Congress is betting that the Constitutional Assembly will get bogged down into the political quagmire that is Puerto Rico, and leave the island's status as is, while being able to point to the incompetence of the Puerto Rican elite and masses at determining their own future, which is how they see the Virgin Islands.

In other words the Constitutional Assembly prescribed in HR 900 will be nothing more than a black hole of political wrangling. There are really only two alternatives to ending this impasse; either the United States unilaterally declares that it will give Puerto Rico its independence or begin the statehood process, or the island's governor unilaterally declares independence. Anything short of that will only result in a decades long fight that will be relived by every generation to come until either Puerto Rico sinks into the ocean, or the American empire crumbles. If anyone doubts that, go talk to a Virgin Islander.

No comments: