2008 Presidential Election, Race and Racism
Professor Vernellia Randall
Speaking Truth to Power!

Colonial Delegates?


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Angelo Falcón



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 been ignored.

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 million.

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 yet.

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.


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