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Nuevo Mundo: Obama's Love Letter

Where other stateside politicians, including Massachusetts Congressman John Olver, seem tone deaf toward Puerto Rico, Barack Obama appears to be pitch-perfect.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008
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Barack Obama challenges Hillary Clinton for Puerto Rico's Democratic delegates.

In Puerto Rico, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton had most of the island's 63 delegates on her side for weeks.

Then, on Feb. 12, Barack Obama wrote a Valentine's Day letter to the territory's governor that was filled with promises unheard of since the establishment in 1952 of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

Democrats in Puerto Rico will hold a primary on June 7 and with his letter, Obama has a much better chance of gaining a big share of the delegates, which could be a decisive factor in the campaign for convention delegates.

Until recently, this primary was an obligatory afterthought in an island that was ceded to the U.S. after the 1898 Spanish American War. Puerto Rico has a representative in Congress, but with no vote outside committees. Island Puerto Ricans can't vote for president, although, as delegates, they can support party nominees for president. The island's borders and foreign affairs are dictated by the U.S. These are among the myriad reasons that the political status of Puerto Rico has been debated on the island for decades.

But now, with the surprisingly close Democratic primary nearing the finish line, Puerto Rico has emerged as a player.

Obama had already been to Puerto Rico in January for a controversial fundraiser in which a handful of the island's wealthy raised over $100,000. His hit-and-run visit offended many, and no amount of exalting the island's beauty would do to repair the damage. It did not help that Puerto Rican officials had to remind Obama's handlers that proper protocol trumps ambition, convincing them that the candidate had to at least stop by and say "hola" to Gov. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá.

Today, the national delegate count is so close that both Clinton and Obama can rightly claim to represent a large swath of the electorate.

With victory in the balance, both campaigns have had to retool their strategies. It may be that the current that had been carrying Clinton in Puerto Rico has been diverted toward Obama.

Clinton has long enjoyed support from the Democratic Party in Puerto Rico. As a senator for New York, where most of the 4 million stateside Puerto Ricans reside, Clinton has successfully engaged Puerto Ricans with her pro-working class and education policies as well as her call for the U.S. to cease military bombing exercises on Puerto Rico's island of Vieques.

Most stateside Puerto Ricans are in constant contact with their islander relatives and friends, so that whatever politicians say here resonates there. No politician can speak out of both sides of his mouth without the contradictions being heard everywhere.

When U.S. Rep. John Olver, D-Amherst, signed on to a congressional proposal that would have islanders repeatedly vote between statehood and independence until one won over the other, he was roundly criticized for ignoring the third option—the island's longstanding status as a commonwealth. U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, on the other hand, was clearly better informed and backed another bill in which islanders could decide among the commonwealth, independence and statehood options.

Now comes Obama with his letter that makes those proposals almost irrelevant.

His letter is informed, detailed, and astounding in its commitment to Puerto Rico. Puerto Ricans have waited a long time to hear that kind of respect for the island's democratic processes. Other politicians have manipulated previous status referendums on the island.

Obama's letter is poetic, pragmatic and committed, and it promises that money won't sway his White House.

In the 1990s, then-Gov. Pedro Rosselló mired the island in corruption unseen in its democratic history. He oversaw an administration that stole hundreds of millions of dollars from federal housing, AIDS and education programs. About 40 of his administration's thieves are in federal and state prisons today.

But because Rosselló funneled untold millions of dollars into the Democratic Party, then-President Bill Clinton danced to Rossello's pro-statehood drum beat and appointed a pro-statehood mannequin to lead a task force on the island's status. Rosselló even joined the parade of Clinton supporters who slept in the Lincoln bedroom.

While Obama clearly needs Puerto Rican Democrats on his side, his letter doesn't have a ring of false flattery to it.

"Puerto Rico's status must be based on the principle of self-determination," he wrote. "As President I will work closely with the Puerto Rican government, its civil society and with Congress to create a genuinely transparent process for self-determination that will be true to the best traditions of democracy. As President I will actively engage Congress and the Puerto Rican people in promoting this deliberative, open and unbiased process, that may include a constitutional convention, or a plebiscite, and my Administration will adhere to a policy of strict neutrality on Puerto Rican status matters. My Administration will recognize all valid options to resolve the question of Puerto Rico's status, including commonwealth, statehood, and independence."

The letter could seal his victory in the delegate count.

Comments (20)
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Wow, funny you should mention Rossello's "corruption" but didn't say a word about Anibal Acevedo Vila being investigated by the FBI for corruption and other crimes as I write this. How convenient. Rossello never stole anything. They tried very hard to pin him down and found NOTHING. Now Acevedo, just you wait.
Posted by Paulina on 2.20.08 at 13:49
Regarding Mr. Obama's letter: I disagree with Mr. Obama in that the American citizenship granted to Puerto Ricans is "constitutionally guaranteed." First, the source of American citizenship of Puerto Ricans is statutory (the Jones-Shafroth Act of 1917) not constitutional. Second, Article IV Sec. 3, Paragraph 2 of the U.S. Constitution states: "The Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to prejudice any claims of the United States, or of any particular state." Therefore, Congress was given (and still has under the current political status which runs counter to democratic principles) the power to unilaterally create necessary legislation for American territories. It could also, if it wanted to, unilaterally "dispose of" any legislation pertaining to Puerto Rico, including legislation on citizenship. I am surprised that people do not understand a concept as simple as this. The only guarantee of constitutional citizenship is through statehood. PERIOD. Mr. Obama clearly plays politics by sending this letter to pro-commonwealth (those that live with the fantasy that U.S. citizenship cannot be revoked under the current colonial status) Governor Anibal Acevedo Vila with the hope of mobilizing the governor's constituents to vote in his favor. One last thing: Mr. Obama claims that his administration will be neutral when it comes to PR?s status. Take a closer look at the wording of the letter and try to extrapolate the status that he seems to favor?
Posted by Publius on 2.21.08 at 5:02
so Rossello is a Democrat who's pro statehood wow if thats not a transformed Democrat then I dont know what is... Looks to me that the democrats had both elections(04,08) sown'up and choose to drop the ball by not championing statehood. 4 million votes in the bag. Manifest destiny in hand and woops! Ball drops. Democrats = Losers by there own design.
Posted by sofrito on 2.21.08 at 7:31
Paulina... as Mr. Acevedo Vilá stated in the 2004 televised debate aired prior to the election, I quote: "Either he was part of it or he was an incompetent" by not knowing that more than 40 people, and that's a lot on any standard. His administration may have been the most corrupt in puertorican history. Hey may have not stolen anythind DIRECTLY, but the convictions of his people, including his General Party Secretary and his personal assitant, speak for themselves. On the other hand, regarding Acevedo Vilás Grand Jury investigation: It has produced one hung jury and another one that will probably end up on the same outcome. The evidence is more than anything circumstancial and the federal prosecutor handling the case was a well known associate of his political rivals. If anything, the investigation is as corrupt as the Bush administration backing it and her former boss, Alberto Gonzales, named her in very dubious circumstances.
Posted by Jaime on 2.25.08 at 11:19
Obama's most fierce supporter turns to be Anibal Acevedo Vila, a corrupt acussed with 19 charges. This corrupt governor is direct responsible for a HUGE increase of the cost of life in Puerto Rico and a incredible decline in the local economy. Kudos for Obama!
Posted by Velderve on 4.2.08 at 5:24
WAKE UP PUERTO RICO....OBAMA TOOK OUR MONEY IN JANUARY AND RAN...... MOSTLY FROM POWER SEEKING PHARMACEUTICALS....MOST OF HIS FOLLOWERS IN THE U.S. COULD CARE LESS ABOUT PUERTO RICO. ...IN FACT ARE VERY ANTI-HISPANICS........ PUERTO RICO'S DELEGATES......PLEASE....... YOURS IS A MONUMENTAL DECISION........................ .SHOW THE WORLD THAT AS WELL EDUCATED CITIZENS WE WILL BASE OUR DECISION ON PROVEN RECORDS INSTEAD OF TOTALLY BIASED MEDIA INFLUENCE......HILLARY AND BILL WILL BE THE BEST CHOICE FOR OUR "ISLITA DEL ENCANTO"..HILLARY JUNE 1ST...
Posted by carmen on 5.9.08 at 14:20
Please vote for Hillary Clinton. Obama is not the people's choice in the USA. We wish we could take back our votes for him. Obama has too many radical views and is the most Liberal senator in Washington. He is an elitist and is out of touch with the middle class people.
Posted by jan on 5.16.08 at 1:49
GOOD NEWS
Posted by kraloyun on 5.31.08 at 2:51
nice article
Posted by kral oyun on 5.31.08 at 2:51
Obama is a very good man
Posted by barbie oyunları on 8.14.08 at 9:23
Good article. Puerto Rico such a little island with so many problems. USA one of the most powerful countries in the world and we are full of problems. We better buckle up our belts. Hard times are comming! The sad reality is that no matter who wins these elections the next president like Anibal Acevedo Vila will be left holding the bag. Face it one is not better than the other. I can only hope that the next person does a better job than his predecessor. Are you registered to vote? Will you vote? Please educate yourself before you make your decision!
Posted by educate me please on 8.21.08 at 13:34
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