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A Government of seven Presidents

By Enrique Vázquez Quintana, MD In 1889, encouraged by a group of Harvard intellectuals, the US Supreme Court coined the concept of “non-incorporated territory” – euphemism for “colony,” paving the way for the famous Insular Cases: 23 judicial controversies regarding the rights of territories under the US flag settled by the Supreme Court between 1899 and 1922.  In 1917, Congress extended American citizenship to those born in Puerto Rico; however, in our country, the flag is raised but the Constitution does not “follow the flag.” We are second-class citizens mostly as a consequence of a geographic schizophrenia. Emigres to...

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Status is still elephant in the room

By Howard Hills, PR51st In negotiations on measures that will constitute a federal response to Puerto Rico’s fiscal meltdown, U.S. Senate and House committee leaders and staff insist the territory’s political status is “virtually irrelevant” to the task at hand.  Meanwhile elected leaders and government financial advisers from the territory insist federal measures to restore stability in the local economy must respect the political dignity of Puerto Rico’s citizens and the territorial government. Both Congress and Puerto Rico’s leaders are working hard to produce effective short term measures to jump start recovery from the financial crisis.  Of course, long term...

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Pierluisi disappoints in UN Decolonization hearing

Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi has started one of the most important weeks in his career with what could be called a boring political statement that we have heard many times. The Resident Commissioner testified today in front of the United Nation’s decolonization committee and his testimony was a repetition of what he has been saying for the past two years. Pierluisi started by reminding everyone of our colonial status, a pretty obvious fact when you are presenting your case in front of the UN’s decolonization committee. He continued by presenting a summary of the 2012 plebiscite results, and the work he has done in Congress in order to hold another plebiscite that would determine if Puerto Rico becomes a state of the union. He ended his speech by asking the UN to include in its next resolution that Puerto Rico has the “inalienable right to self-determination and independence or integration as a state of the United States”. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that above all else this is politics, especially when we are talking about Puerto Rico, but didn’t you expect more from the Resident Commissioner? He spent more than half his speech outlining what he has done as the Resident Commissioner during the past three years, and in one particular moment of bravado, what he would do once he is the Governor of Puerto Rico. Again, this...

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U.S. Virgin Islands struggles to manage territorial deficit and debt in the face of Fitch downgrade

In the fall of 2013, the Virgin Islands Daily News reported that Fitch Ratings downgraded “…its ratings of V.I. Matching Fund Bonds issued by the V.I. Public Finance Authority.” Senior line revenue bonds were downgraded from BBB+ to BBB, while subordinate line revenue bonds were downgraded from BBB to BBB-. While the rating of the latter, in particular, puts those securities in the ‘lowest tier of investment grade,’ the ratings are nonetheless stable and of investment grade. To simplify, a Bond is a type of security in which an investor loans money to a corporate or governmental entity for a definite time period at a fixed interest rate. Municipal Bonds are merely those bonds issued by governmental entities as a means of financing their capital expenditures. Empowered by an Act of the Legislature of the Virgin Islands in 1988, the Virgin Islands Public Finance Authority is an extra-governmental public corporation whose objective is to aid the territorial government in meeting its fiscal obligations by borrowing money and issuing bonds. The V.I. Matching Fund Bonds, which cover the territory’s debt service, are backed by the cover-over revenue (rum tax rebate) received by the territory from Congress. The projected rum tax rebate for fiscal year 2013 was decreased from $271.6 million to $235.9 million because the run produced in the territory and sold in the United States has been found to...

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The United States Virgin Islands struggles to set a proper blueprint for self-governance

The United States Virgin Islands (“USVI”) has convened constitutional conventions in 1964, 1971, 1977, 1980, and most recently, in 2004. None of these conventions yielded a Constitution for the territory. The USVI is currently governed by the regulations set forth by The Revised Organic Act of 1954 (Public Law 83-517, 68 Stat. 497), which replaced the Organic Act of 1936. The 1954 Act provides for the enactment of a constitution for the territory drafted by constitutional convention, approved by the United States Congress, and then voted into action by the electorate of the territory. Once enacted, a territorial constitution would essentially nullify the 1954 Act, giving Virgin Islanders increased influence over the form and function of territorial governance. The Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife of the Committee on Natural Resources of the United States House of Representatives convened an oversight hearing on Wednesday, March 17, 2010, to review the provisions of the proposed constitution. Amongst the hearing’s attendees were deJongh and Gerard James II, the President of the 5th Convention. The hearing focused primarily on the findings of the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) as laid forth in a memorandum to the Office of Management and Budget. The hearing resulted in Congress enacting Public Law 111-194, 124 Stat. 1309, urging the 5th Convention to reconvene to review and revise those provisions of the proposed constitution. A...

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