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New Budget Throws Out Previous Vote?

In its report on a $2.5 million White House appropriation for a new plebiscite vote in Puerto Rico, the Huffington Post concluded that the funding “indicates the Obama administration has rejected the argument that Puerto Ricans voted to become the 51st state in a two-part referendum held in November.”   We disagree.

The Huffington Post supports its characterization of an Obama rejection of the vote by explaining that “Luis Miranda, the White House’s Hispanic Affairs spokesman, told Puerto Rican daily El Nuevo Día in December that the referendum amounted to a mandate for statehood, just hours after White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the vote result was unclear.”

It is true that Jay Carney made a confusing statement to the press, ad libbing until he could find the official White House statement.  Yet once he found the statement, Mr. Carney’s statement on behalf of the White House was unambiguous.  He said, “the people of Puerto Rico have made it clear that they want a resolution to the issue of the Island’s political status.  Consistent with the recommendations of the Task Force report, Congress should now study the results closely and provide the people of Puerto Rico with a clear path forward that lays out the means by which Puerto Ricans themselves can determine their own their own status.”  The funding in the President’s budget is the natural next step to this statement.

The Huffington Post’s mistake was in characterizing the White House statements by Luis Miranda and Jay Carney as contradictory.  A careful reading of the text indicates that was not the case. The statements complemented eachother.  The initial Carney statement highlighted the need for self determination, and the concluding Miranda remarks explicitly recognized that, when asked, the people of Puerto Rico chose statehood.

It would be more accurate to say that when questioned about an unclear statement from the White House, Miranda clarified the position of the White House.

The actual statement read by Miranda:

To clarify, the results were clear, the people of Puerto Rico want the issue of status resolved, and a majority chose statehood in the second question. Now it is time for Congress to act and the Administration will work with them on that effort, so that the people of Puerto Rico can determine their own future.

It’s clear that the people of Puerto Rico do not want to continue as a territory. However, opponents of statehood continue to claim that the results on the second question were unclear. We don’t agree, and have provided extensive support for that claim:

The educational funding in the new budget implies that there is a feeling that the people of Puerto Rico might have been confused. This is possible. For decades, politicians have promoted the “fantasy island” option of a special relationship, neither territory not state, which would have many of the privileges of statehood but few of the responsibilities.

The United States has repeatedly made it clear that this option will not be considered. The current funding includes the caveat that the options to be voted upon in a second plebiscite must be in accord with the U.S. Constitution. Enhanced commonwealth, or the current version of the idea, will not be on that ballot.

It appears clear that what the White House is saying in its budget proposal is not that statehood failed, but that the confusion surrounding the vote — including the questionable idea that blank ballots constitute a vote for a status that would be unconstitutional — requires a new vote to make certain that there is no question about the options available to Puerto Rico.

Congressman Raúl Labrador made a statement that captures the issue well:

Last November, Puerto Ricans, who have been U.S. citizens for decades, voted against territory status.

The budget for the Justice Department includes a small amount of funds to resolve the question about what status the people of Puerto Rico want. This next step should be done in a timely and even handed manner, to ensure the future that is best for Puerto Rico.

We hope that Congressman Labrador’s recommendation is taken seriously.

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