Royal: Attention, une indépendance peut en cacher bien d’autres (Ségolène goes to Harvard… and calls for Puerto Rico’s independence!)

UN map of non self-governing territories
L’Internationale Socialiste réitère son appui à la libre détermination et à l’indépendance de Puerto Rico et soutient les efforts du Parti Indépendantiste Portoricain accompagnés aujourd’hui par le Comité latino-américain de Solidarité avec la libre détermination pour Puerto Rico, du SICLAC, destiné à promouvoir la décolonisation de Puerto Rico et la convocation d’une assemblée constitutionnelle statutaire, par l’intermédiaire de laquelle ce peuple pourrait dépasser sa condition de subordination politique qui prévaut. L’Internationale Socialiste (résolution du 22ème congrès, octobre 2003)
L’expérience enseigne qu’il est tout à fait inapproprié pour un leader étranger de se mêler des affaires démocratiques d’un autre pays. Stephen Harper (Premier ministre canadien)
On ne s’ingère pas dans les affaires d’un pays ami, on ne souhaite pas le démantèlement d’un pays ami. Le Canada ne souhaite pas le démantèlement de la France; la France certainement ne souhaite pas le démantèlement du Canada. Stéphane Dion (chef du parti libéral)

Imaginez Hillary Clinton se prononçant, lors d’un débat à Sciences-Po, favorable à l’indépendance de la Nouvelle-Calédonie ou de la Polynésie …

Eh bien, c’est à peu près ce qu’est allée faire, à l’occasion de sa visite à Harvard le mois dernier et un an presque jour pour jour après sa propre retentissante version du “Vive le Québec libre” gaullien, notre Bécassine nationale.

Interrogée par un étudiant portoricain indépendantiste, la Présidente du Poitou-Charente et ex-candidate malheureuse à l’élection présidentielle a en effet déclaré s’aligner sur la ligne de l’Internationale socialiste qui prône l’indépendance de la prétendue “dernière colonie du monde”.

Sauf que lesdits indépendantistes ne dépassent pas les 2%, la population de l’ile étant à peu près également répartie entre les tenants du statu quo et ceux de l’étatisation.

Mais surtout que, si l’on en croit les Nations-Unies, la France elle-même est sur la liste des Etats détenteurs de Territoires non autonomes pour la Nouvelle-Calédonie, tout comme, certes, les Etats-Unis (mais pas pour Porto-Rico) ou la Grande-Bretagne.

Sans compter que le Pays (auto-proclamé) des droits de l’homme ne manque pas non plus de (petits) mouvements indépendantistes, que ce soit dans ses DOM-TOM (comme à la Guadeloupe ou en Polynésie).

Ou même en “métropole” même avec les Corses, Bretons ou autres Basques pour lesquels la France est d’ailleurs régulièrement condamnée par le Conseil de l’Europe pour non-respect des directives européennes sur les langues régionales.

Mouvements indépendantistes sur lesquels notre championne nationale et internationale des “principes de souveraineté et de liberté” semble, comme l’Internationale socialiste dont est membre son parti, bien moins pressée de donner son avis …
The World’s Last Colony Has a Quebec-Style Problem
Jim Creskey
Embassy
January 16th, 2008

GUAYNABO CITY, PUERTO RICO–One would expect someone named Mildred to speak English, but Mildred López of Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, is, like most Puerto Ricans, only marginally bilingual.

Spanish, the predominant language, shares official language status with English in this U.S. territory with a population the size of British Columbia on an island only about a third larger than Prince Edward Island. But Ms. López did understand enough English to get the drift of something the postmaster in the town of Cupey told her last week when she tried to get service in Spanish.

« We Americans are here and Puerto Rico is a possession for more than 100 years. You have to speak English, » the postmaster told her. Ms. López wrote a letter to a local newspaper, El Vocero, complaining about her treatment. But that’s as far as it went. The official status of Spanish, like the « Commonwealth » political status of this island, is a bit of a grey area.

Before we indulge in too many pre-Quiet Revolution Quebec déjà vu metaphors, it’s worth mentioning that things in Puerto Rico are not always what they seem.

Puerto Ricans on this beautiful island nation of argumentative political status, where the licence plate slogan is « isla del encanto »–the enchanted island–live more in a world of paradox than one of enchantment.

Politicians who are advocating independence (a small minority) have something in common with politicians who are working for statehood. They both like to call Puerto Rico « the world’s last colony. » On the other hand, politicians who want the status quo don’t use the colony word, but still complain loudly to Washington about the U.S government’s interpretation of the existing status.

Puerto Rico’s status is, in a nutshell, uncertain, while paradox reigns in politics and day-to-day life.

Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain are front page news here as much as they are in New York or California, but Puerto Ricans–who are all automatic U.S. citizens–are not allowed to vote for the U.S. president. Only if a Puerto Rican chooses to move to the mainland U.S., does he or she has the same voting rights as any other American. (As a matter of fact, about three million Puerto Ricans live on the mainland.) Admirably skillful but wildly and often dangerously unpredictable, Puerto Rican drivers measure the distance on their island highways in kilometers while the speed limits are in miles per hour. There are federal death penalty cases in Puerto Rico, but local laws ban capital punishment.

English is used in federal courts; Spanish in all others. In 1991, Spanish became the sole official language of the island. Two years later, the ruling was reversed by a pro-statehood government that restored equal status to Spanish and English. Puerto Ricans don’t pay U.S taxes, but they do receive the kind of federal transfers that would pique the interest of any Canadian provincial premier. In 2006, the U.S. government appropriation to Puerto Rico was $18 billion. On the other hand, it was the U.S. Congress, and not Puerto Ricans, who largely decided what to do with that money.

On the issue of political status, Puerto Ricans fall into three categories: those who want independence; those who want the status quo; and those who want statehood.

The independence group is a small minority, perhaps less than two per cent, fueled by the dreams of some of the old warriors from the 1960s, suffering from sort of a Jacques Parizeau syndrome.

But, currently, the island is split more or less evenly between status quo and statehood supporters. And the two main political parties represent those options. The governor–gobernador–Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, happens to be a status quo politician. His election in November 2004 was only a squeaker of a victory with a 3,000-vote lead, contested but ultimately decided by a court decision that halted a recount.

The Harvard-educated governor, incidentally, has a little problem of an FBI investigation into his affairs and a possible indictment for election financing abuses. Paradoxically, this may do him more political good than harm. The U.S. justice system doesn’t enjoy a lot of popularity when it focuses its attention on island politicians. Mr. Acevedo says he is being persecuted because he has been critical of the FBI and that federal prosecutors are cozy with the opposition.

What the governor does count on is a strong Washington lobby that does a good job convincing Congress that status quo is the way to go.

Everybody recognizes the creative fiction that politicians and activists from the large statehood faction and the smaller independence group use when they call their island « the world’s last colony. »

There are lots of remaining colonies left in the world. France’s St. Pierre and Miquelon, 25 kilometres off the south shore of Newfoundland, first comes to mind.

The United Nations’ contentious little list of Non-Self-Governing Territories contains almost 20 colonies. But it’s still a matter of debate whether Puerto Rico is on or off the list. It is officially off at the moment, but the reasons for its removal are vague and it remains a source of argument between the U.S., Puerto Rico and the UN.

Many Puerto Ricans expect that a referendum on statehood (there could also be one on independence, but it’s a guaranteed loser) will be on the table this year.

The very idea angers some mainland Americans. One group is the closed-minded but open-mouthed English-first organization that wants to see every U.S. state declared an official language sanctuary for English. Puerto Rico entering the union as a Spanish speaking 51st state is one of their little nightmares. They argue and lobby against Puerto Rican statehood by reminding Congress that its declared official language–Spanish–will cost the U.S. a fortune in translation fees. In its online « Facts about Puerto Rico Statehood, » it says the U.S. would have to pay $2 to 3 billion each year in language translation costs alone « based on the costs Quebec imposes on Canada. »

But the big obstacle for the commonwealth’s waltz into statehood is not the self-appointed English language police, but Congress itself. U.S. lawmakers will first have to approve a bill allowing a statehood referendum. Sounds odd to a Canadian, eh?

Although a congressional bill calling for a referendum before 2009, sponsored by New York Puerto Rican Congressman José Serrano, has been approved in committee, it faces strong opposition in both the House and Senate. Not many U.S. politicians want to enter the political minefield that spreads out around a statehood plebiscite.

Robert Friedman, who writes from Washington for the San Juan Star, says that anti-statehood Gov. Acevedo has strong allies in the U.S. Senate, including Teddy Kennedy, who will do their best to smother the referendum bill.

It would be nice if Mildred López didn’t have such an Anglo-braggart as a postmaster, but the U.S. mail does arrive reliably and on time in Puerto Rico. The same thing can’t be said for health care and education.

Puerto Rico has a higher standard of living than any other Caribbean nation, but if ranked as a state, it would be the poorest in the union.

Its privatized health care is badly stressed and its public education is in crisis. The public high school drop out rate is frozen at more than 50 per cent, while no more than one per cent of public school graduates go on to college or university.

Puerto Rico’s most pressing problems–just like its big American brother–are poverty, an absence of universal health care and poor public education. Until those problems are addressed, the question of statehood looks vaguely abstract.

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