Tuesday, April 28, 2009

On Alliances and Pro Independence Congresses

The idea of convening a Third Pro Independence Congress has been gaining strength among independence supporters. According to Carlos Gallisá, one of its principal proponents (Noel Colón Martínez and Juan Mari Brás are also among those who support the idea), one of the main objectives of the Third Congress should be to “work out alliances with sectors that go beyond the independence movement, like the sovereigntists inside the PPD [Partido Popular Democrático], community, environmental, and other organizations that make possible a joint action plan that serves as a foundation to the so needed opposition in a broad front for decolonization and social justice” (my translation, see here).

Presented as an historical sequel to the 1943 and 1944 Pro Independence Congresses, it is undeniable that this initiative has at least the potential to create a great deal of enthusiasm among independence supporters. We would like to briefly consider here the idea of political alliances, in particular the proposed alliance with the “sovereigntists inside the PPD” (or, what is the same thing, free association supporters), which occupies a privileged position in most proposals in favor of the Third Congress. We should make clear from the beginning that we are not against political alliances. On the contrary, we believe that alliances have always played an important role in the consolidation of left-wing movements, as has been demonstrated in Latin America's recent history. Nevertheless, we understand that in order for a political agreement to be characterized as an alliance, it must have, at the very least, two main characteristics.

First, for all practical effects, an alliance should result in the creation of an entity that is distinct to the political movements that comprise it. In Uruguay, for example, the Broad Front (Frente Amplio) is composed by more than ten political parties and groups. In the election of 1932 in Puerto Rico, the Partido Socialista and the Partido Unión Republicana achieved a legislative majority through an alliance known as The Coalition (which, of course, was not a particularly progressive alliance). More recently, the Nuevo Movimiento Independentista and the Congreso Nacional Hostosiano formed the MINH (Nuevo Movimiento Nacional Hostosiano). But at least until now, all 'negotiations' between independentists and PPD sovereigntists have ended with the former voting in favor of the PPD in the general election. That was the case, for example, of the 2008 electoral process. What took place in 2008, of course, was not an “alliance”, but an example of how a political party can be effective in getting votes from electors not affiliated to it. A genuine alliance between independence supporters and PPD sovereigntists (we will consider below if this would be in fact a good idea), would require the latter to be willing either to abandon the PPD and to create -together with independence supporters- a new political group, or to subordinate the PPD to the decisions of a new entity (that would also be directed by independentists). Both possibilities are extremely improbable: if something is clear about the so called “sovereigntists” of the PPD is their profound loyalty to their party (they have come so far as to imagine that the PPD has been a “sovereigntist” party since the 50s, see here).

The second characteristic that a political agreement should have in order to count as an alliance is that it must advance the interests of each of the organizations that conform it. The main interest of the PPD sovereigntists is that Puerto Rico and the United States sign a treaty of free association, and the main interest of independence supporters is that the island achieves independence (or at least that it moves closer towards it). At first glance, there seems to be an important similarity between the interests of these two groups that would justify every attempt at an alliance: after all, both groups want Puerto Rico to become a sovereign country. However, as we have argued before, the “sovereignty” of free association supporters does not even satisfy the basic criteria of sovereignty in a juridical sense, and much less comes close to the goals of what we have identified as true sovereignty (soberanía plena, see here and here). Moreover, although it appears as if free association would move us closer to independence, there are important indications to the contrary. In particular, sovereignty under free association would legitimize the relation of political subordination of Puerto Rico to the United States. In other words, the exercise of power of the United States in Puerto Rico (the so called “competences” that would be delegated to the United States through a free association treaty) would no longer be considered an imperial practice, but the juridical manifestation of the Puerto Rican people's exercise of self-determination according to international law. When one considers this in light of the economic project shared by free association supporters (that is, that Puerto Rico becomes a 'player' in the international capitalist market through the power of entering into international trade agreements, and as a result creating new employments through the establishment of new multinational corporations in the island) any possibility of true sovereignty vanishes.

While the Third Pro Independence Congress is an interesting initiative, one of its principal objectives should not be to enter into an alliance with the “sovereigntists inside the PPD”. The Third Congress should instead attempt to strenghten community based action, opening new possibilities for independence support to emerge from below. In that sense, promoting alliances with community and environmental organizations is a step in the right direction. As independentists, we cannot have as our goal that the leaders of the PPD (which as a political party has a solid political base) support free association, but to develop the conditions for people to see in independence the real possibility of solving their problems.

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