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Monday, May 29, 2023
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First the Constitution

Dear Source:
Mr. J.J. Estemac makes some very good points about the process of the Constitutional Convention. I can feel his sense of urgency to get the document completed and in a way which would be favorable to all Virgin Islanders. What I disagree with is his assertion that status should come first.
The Congress of the United States, since 1976, has asked the Virgin Islands to create a Constitution. The voters of the Virgin Islands failed to pass a Constitution twice since that time. This is not to say that the document presented to the people was perfect–far from it–what it did do was show the Congress that we could not come together and agree on what the document should say. Regardless of the past attempts, ultimately, the Congress has every reason to believe that we are divided politically as a people, whether it be true or not. If that is the case, then how could we ever agree on status? I believe the Virgin Islands should first prove to the Congress that we have matured enough politically before attempting any issues of status.
And what is status anyway? What do the people want? And how do we agree on status if we can't get a Constitution completed? There are several status questions. The first and most obvious is status quo. In other words, retain the exact same relationship with the United States that we already have. We are a territory owned by the people of the United States and Congress has the Constitutional right to do whatever it pleases, as with any possession. The second is statehood. It seems unlikely that full statehood would be available to the Virgin Islands. It has taken many years for Puerto Rico to agree on whether or not it would opt for being a state. It seems to me that statehood is not an option for the Virgin Islands. Further, if Puerto Rico was considered, would the Virgin islands, being so close, also be part of the State (United States Virgin Islands?) of Puerto Rico? Would anyone want that?
Another status option is free associated state. This is a form of independence except an agreement would be made with the United States that it would provide whatever the agreement is. Usually, it means right of defensive controls and possibly continued funding for social programs. A free associated state, for the purposes of the international community, is an independent country, even though associated with the United States. The Philippines and most recently, The Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, the Marshall Islands and the Northern Marianna Islands became free associated states. This simply means that these nations are independent but willingly agreed to be associated with the United States through an agreement (status agreement) acceptable to all parties. These nations signed a Compact of Free Association. Puerto Rico has an ambiguous sort of free association but is still considered a territory of the United States subject to the whim of Congress as is the situation in the Virgin Islands, Guam and Samoa.
Do we want independence? Do we want the status quo or do we want to push for statehood? The last option is to become completely independent with no relationship to the United States at all except possibly being involved in trade agreements and the like. These are the only possible remedies to the questions of status. Again, if we can't even agree on a Constitution, how could be ever truly self-govern under the conditions mentioned?
I think the delegates themselves would like nothing more than to get this Constitution written. As a person who attempted to be part of the Constitutional process as a candidate, I had felt that the constitutional process would be different than what it has become. I had envisioned daily meetings in a suitable hall where the issues would be discussed in a parliamentarian way. I felt that perhaps guest experts would testify and citizens would be involved by simply asking to say their piece. Of course, this is not the reality of the convention as they move from island to island attempting to seek citizen input with no real home to speak of. However, I feel that the delegates have proven that they care about the process and want it to be done correctly. Correctly means input from citizens and this can only occur if the convention goes to where the people are. Unfortunately, the people have not embraced the idea of a constitution as being especially important, so public attendance at meetings remains sparse. Getting people deeply involved has been difficult because they don't understand the process or the ramifications of what a Constitution will do. To be honest, I am at a loss as to how that can be accomplished except that an all-out media blitz from now on could possibly get people involved. If citizens don't get closely involved, the delegates will write a Constitution. Hopefully, with the limited public input it does have, the document will be something we all can be proud of.
I say, Constitution first and status later. Let's prove to the United States that we can be a unified self-governing nation before we attempt any talks regarding status.

Paul Devine
St. John

Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to source@viaccess.net.

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