As Super Tuesday drew near, the interest in the role of
the Latino vote became intense, and the results of that day
moved some to call it "Hispanic Super Tuesday." As the media
and political analysts continue to ponder the role that this
segment of voters will play in the remaining half of the
primary season, there are some millions of Latinos who have
The United States is in possession of a number of
territories (some refer to them as "colonies") with five
million U.S. citizens in residence in Puerto Rico, the U.S.
Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana
Islands, and a number of smaller islands. The overwhelming
number of these U.S. citizens is Puerto Rican with a
significant Dominican presence as well, totaling about 4
These colonial (or territorial or "foreign") U.S.
citizens cannot vote for the president of the United States,
but each do elect a nonvoting representative to the U.S.
House of Representatives. However, although not able to vote
for president, they do participate in the primaries of the
American political parties, and send delegations to the
national party conventions. Apparently, not many Americans
are aware of this.
The day after Super Tuesday, political analyst Michael
Barone put the spotlight on this aspect of the primary
process in a piece on the U.S. News & World Report
website when he speculated that Puerto Rico could play a
major role in determining who the final Democratic candidate
for president would be. He pointed out that Puerto Rico is
scheduled to hold its caucus. and convention in early June,
making it the last contest in the primary season. He also
reported that Puerto Rico will be sending 63 voting
delegates to the Democratic Convention this summer, a
delegation larger than those of 24 states! Yet, according to
the Democratic Party's website, Puerto Rico has 67
delegates, of which 9 are alternates.
To further complicate matters, in a move which took many
by surprise, the Governor of Puerto Rico, Aníbal Acevedo,
endorsed Barack Obama on February 13th, despite most people
in the know having already ceded Puerto Rico to Hillary
Clinton. To understand this, you'd have to enter the bizarre
world of the politics of Puerto Rico and the debate over its
future political status.
In Puerto Rico, the two leading political parties are
both affiliated with the Democratic Party. The Popular
Democratic Party (PPD, acronym in Spanish) supports the
current Commonwealth status. and is the party of the current
governor. And the New Progressive Party (PNP, acronym in
Spanish) supports statehood and controls both houses of the
legislature. The Democratic Party of Puerto Rico is chaired
by Roberto L. Prats, a former Puerto Rico senator who is
affiliated with the PPD. And on the party's executive
committee also sits, among others, current Puerto Rico
Senate President Kenneth McClintock of the PNP (who is also
co-chair of the Clinton presidential campaign's National
Hispanic Leadership Council). They, along with the governor,
make up the seven super delegates that Puerto Rico will be
sending to the Democratic Convention.
The governor and his party have been in a pitch battle
with the Bush White House over plans to propose to the U.S.
Congress a plebiscite process on the future status of Puerto
Rico that they feel would exclude their Commonwealth option.
The resident commissioner that Puerto Rico sends to the
Congress, Luis Fortuño, is a Republican and supports the
Bush plan. The three voting members of Congress who are
elected by the Puerto Ricans living stateside are divided on
this, with Representative José Serrano (D-NY) supporting the
Bush plan and Representatives Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) and
Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL) opposing it. By the way, Gutiérrez is
one of the top Hispanic supporters of Obama, while Velázquez
supports Clinton. Serrano I don't think has endorsed anyone
Obama won over Governor Acevedo with a written promise
from him to support the full inclusion of the Commonwealth
option in any plans to determine the future political status
of Puerto Rico. He also pledged to work to include Puerto
Rico in all federal programs on a par with the states,
something which Puerto Rico has to continually fight for on
a case-by-case basis. However, because the third major party
in Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP),
is in cahoots with the statehood party in supporting the
Bush plan (I can't even get into this at this moment), they
have attacked the governor for this endorsement and are
leading a campaign questioning whether holding a Democratic
party caucus and convention is worth the costs and trouble.
Got a headache yet? Well, imagine those poor people in
Puerto Rico who have to follow all this!
The bottom line is whether or not Puerto Rico will be
sending a delegation to the Democratic Convention this
summer that will be backing one of the candidates or that
will be split. The importance of this will be determined by
how tight the delegate count will be by the end of May. If
this colonial delegation winds up determining the outcome,
then this raises serious. questions about the importance of
holding the first primaries (the fight in 2012 might be
which state will hold the last primary!) and the delicious
irony of a people who cannot vote for U.S. president
possibly determining who that person will be! Ah, the
contradictions of colonialism . . . only in America!
Angelo Falcón is President and Founder of the
National Institute for Latino Policy (NiLP) in New York
City. He is a political scientist and teaches at Columbia
University's School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA).
He is the author of the Atlas of Stateside Puerto Ricans and
co-editor of the book, Boricuas in Gotham: Puerto Ricans in
the Making of Modern New York City.