- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Puerto Rico’s future

Before Congress turns Puerto Rico into a “national enterprise zone,” as Lawrence Hunter suggests (“Puerto Rico plight,” Commentary, Aug. 2), I would like to say something for the record.

The constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico was drafted during the zeitgeist that gave us the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the United Nations. From the point of view of Puerto Rico, it was a tremendous achievement. After Puerto Rico had been ruled for almost 450 years by the king of Spain (through military governors) and by the president of the United States (through civilian governors), it and Congress drafted a constitution that established a republican form of government whereby the people of Puerto Rico would choose their own governor. The economic consequences of this political step forward were soon evident. The economy grew at an average rate of 9 percent for the next two decades, making Puerto Rico the shining star of the Caribbean.

The star, however, began to dim shortly after the breakdown of the Bretton Woods system. In 1975, the unemployment rate was 17 percent, and for the next three decades, the economy would not be able to recover fully, in spite of the expansion of the U.S. economy after President Reagan and the tenfold increase in the stock market. Before the breakdown of the Bretton Woods system, the Puerto Rican economy was converging toward U.S. income levels. But afterwards, the island’s economy began to slow to the point where its per capita income is half that of Mississippi and Arkansas.

Like the Bretton Woods system, the political model of colonialism by consent (as long as the colonial elite are exempt from federal taxes) has broken down.

The Clinton and Bush administrations both recognized the situation, and the commission that the former appointed and the latter continued has recommended a plebiscite to let the people of Puerto Rico choose whether they want to remain a colony or move to some form of nonterritorial form of government.

As in 1952, Puerto Rico’s political status needs to be updated to meet the challenges of the global economy. After 30 years of deteriorating conditions in relation to the mainland, Puerto Rico needs to leave the straitjacket of 1952 and become a state or an independent nation.

Two bills in Congress address this issue. Sen. Mel Martinez’s bill would let the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico make a choice. The other, sponsored by Sen. Ted Kennedy, would let the tax-exempt elite decide or block any decision.

The problem with Puerto Rico is not, as Larry Hunter might suggest, the economy — it is the colony. As it is, the situation is critical. Congress needs to act. In it resides the whole power, the whole responsibility, and the final word.



Peace Corps a diversity success story

In the article “Peace Corps director moves on” (World, Monday), there are a number of points with regard to the recruitment of Peace Corps volunteers and funding that merit clarification.

The article states that since 2002, the number of minority volunteers has increased by only 1 percent, when in fact, from 2002 to 2005, the number of ethnically diverse volunteers rose from 997 to 1,235, a 24 percent increase at a time when the overall number of volunteers increased by 17 percent. As a result of our increased efforts in minority recruitment, the Peace Corps is at a historic high in the number of ethnically diverse volunteers in service.

The Peace Corps’ enhanced visibility within this target market is evidenced by the fact that applications also continue to rise. In fact, the number of minority applicants already has surpassed last year’s applicant numbers at the comparable time, and it appears that this trend will continue.

The article states that “congressional appropriations, although higher, have not gone up enough to support more volunteers,” but it omits the fact that the Peace Corps’ funding has increased 16 percent under the current administration and has been higher in the past four fiscal years than in any other time in the agency’s 45-year history. Each budget has allowed for uninterrupted growth and enhanced programming, which is essential to achieving sustainable results in developing nations and has allowed the Peace Corps to reach a 30-year high in the number of volunteers in the field.

Above all else, I measure the success of the Peace Corps according to the experience of each of the 7,810 volunteers and the impact they have in the 75 countries around the world in which they serve. Countries continue to request Peace Corps programs and volunteers. Americans continue to demonstrate a willingness and spirited desire to engage in volunteer service in some of the most difficult places on earth.

Our mission of promoting peace, friendship and understanding has never been more important than it is today, and the Peace Corps is enjoying some of the most fruitful times in its 45-year history. Diversity is one of the great strengths of America and the Peace Corps. As Peace Corps volunteers represent the face of America overseas, our country can be proud knowing that our volunteers today reflect more accurately the rich diversity of our nation.



Peace Corps


The District is not a state

Moderate Republicans often leave conservatives wondering why we bother to vote for them. H.R. 5388, the District of Columbia Fair and Equal House Voting Rights Act of 2006, sponsored by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia, exemplifies this dilemma.

The purpose of H.R. 5388, allowing the people of the District to vote for a member of Congress, is not inherently objectionable. The problem is that Mr. Davis proposes to make the city a congressional district, and the Constitution only allows the residents of states to vote for members of Congress.

D.C. is not a state. In fact, because of fears that such a state would exercise undue influence, the Constitution specifically authorized the creation of the District of Columbia so the nation’s capital would not be within the borders of any state.

The Constitution is specific about the creation of states and how members of Congress are to be chosen. The Constitution does not empower Congress to arbitrarily create congressional districts.

To accomplish this purpose so expediently, we have to stretch and evolve the clear language of the Constitution. That alone has many conservative Republicans grumbling in dismay.

H.R. 5388 sets a precedent that all Republicans should find objectionable. If the Constitution is observed strictly, the only way Washington would be able to get two senators would be to become a state. That would give Washington its own governor, legislature, courts and jurisdiction over the encompassing land.

Even a majority Democratic-controlled Congress would find that politically awkward. If H.R. 5388 becomes law, however, a Democratic-controlled Congress could follow this bill’s precedent and simply give Washington — a relatively small piece of land carved from Maryland — two senators.

Republicans should encourage Mr. Davis to drop H.R. 5388 and go back to the drawing board. Mr. Davis is right in wanting the people of our nation’s capital to have congressional representation, but undermining the authority of the Constitution is not the way to fix the problem.

To protect ourselves from the abuses of authority, we need a strong Constitution. We need a Constitution that our nation’s leaders must properly observe and respect.



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