US Congress revives issue of Puerto Rico’s status with bipartisan measure for plebiscite; diaspora demands to refine the language, while popular announce boycott

NEW YORK – On May 19, leaders of the United States House of Representatives put aside their ideological differences to publicly present the draft bill that provides for the carrying out of a plebiscite in Puerto Rico endorsed by Congress with the non-territorial options of independence, statehood and free association.

The announcement of the presentation of the “Puerto Rico Status Law”, which revives the decades-long debate on a possible solution to the colonial problem of Puerto Rico, a US territory for more than a century, was celebrated as a supposed sign of commitment to the Puerto Rican people that transcends political protagonism.

So much so that on April 28, before the official announcement of the bipartisan measurethe Democratic representative of New York, Nydia Velázquez, shared on Twitter a statement together with the resident commissioner, Jennifer González -Republican- in which they anticipated that they had reached an agreement on the bill despite their open political differences. partisans.

“We both recognize that the issue of status is crucial for the future of Puerto Rico. Although we have kept our views separate for many years, there is no doubt that this is an issue close to our hearts. That is why we have decided to sit down at the table and negotiate a path towards the decolonization of the island. After multiple productive meetings, today we believe that we are closer than ever to reaching an agreement”, highlighted the legislators.

At the press conference to announce the so-called consensus project, Steny Hoyer, the second most powerful Democrat in the House of Representatives, confirmed what the congresswomen had previously stated, that it is time to put wills before solving the colonial problem more across party lines.

“The people of Puerto Rico do not want to be a colony,” Hoyer assured.

The people of Puerto Rico do not want to be a colony, and the United States of America does not want to be a colonial power. This legislation seeks to address this problem”, stated Hoyer, while he classified the discussion as a matter of principle.

Consensus draft is the result of the evaluation of two rival projects in the House of Representatives

The draft law created by Hoyer’s team, who supports statehood for Puerto Rico, reconciles the two projects that competed to be approved in both the House and the Senate in order to address the issue of status.

One was the HR 2070 o “Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act”, presented by Velázquez and Democrat Alexandria-Ocasio-Cortez, also a Puerto Rican from New York; and HR 1522 or “Act of Admission of Puerto Rico as a State of the Union”, authored by González and the Democratic representative of Florida, Darren Soto.

The “Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act” sought to address the discussion through a Constitutional Status Assembly, whose delegates would be elected by voters on the island. While the other project was betting on starting a process to immediately admit the Caribbean island as the 51st state of the Union.

Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States since 1952 under the formula of Commonwealth or ELA with which the Popular Democratic Party (PPD) identifies, with a majority along with the New Progressive Party (PNP), which promotes statehood.

It was through Law 600 approved in the US Congress that Puerto Rico was authorized to develop its own Constitution. However, since that date, the island remains under the plenary powers of the federal Congress in terms of the application of laws, etc.

Although its inhabitants are US citizens and can vote in the primaries of the political parties on the island, they cannot exercise that right in the general elections to vote for the president, for example, unless they are residing in the US.

The island also does not receive the same amount of federal funds compared to other states. A clear example of the above is the recent Supreme Court decision that denied some 300,000 Puerto Ricans Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI), a fund program for the disabled distributed by the Social Security Administration (SSA).

The debate last year on the two rival legislations did not go beyond hearings with supporters of both projects before the House Natural Resources Committee, led by the Arizona Democrat, Raúl Grijalva. But it generated more attention in Washington DC on the subject.

Although the draft already exists, a whole chain of additional procedures is required for it to finally be approved in Congress and, subsequently, signed by President Joe Biden to become law.

The legislation is already expected to be stalled in the Republican-majority Senate. But before reaching that body, the measure must be drafted in its entirety in the House, discussed in committee before going to plenary for a vote. A public hearing is also in sight in Washington DC

Added to this is the compressed legislative calendar due to mid-term legislative elections, which could further delay the evaluation.

Despite the above, Grijalva -who spent three days in Puerto Rico last week to meet with political leaders and lead a public forum to collect citizen input on the bill – he hoped that it will be approved in the House this month.

“It was a difficult process, and now we are back with the intention of listening, taking recommendations, seeing what can be perfected, clarified and made better in legislation, and then move before June and send it to the plenary,” Grijalva said in a statement. press conference on the island where he arrived accompanied by Velázquez, González and Ocasio-Cortez.

A plebiscite for November 5, 2023

According to the bill, Puerto Ricans will be able to choose between the options of independence, statehood or free association in a plebiscite to be held on November 5, 2023.

In the event that none of the options obtains an absolute majority (50% plus one of the votes), a second round would have to be held on March 3, 2024 between the two formulas with the most votes.

However, as more voices join the discussion, the debate, far from being simplified, becomes more complicated.

Activists from the Puerto Rican diaspora in the United States have listed a series of requirements that the legislation lacks.

Diaspora members call for more public hearings and clarification of language

Power4 Puerto Rico, a coalition that brings together more than 30 Puerto Rican organizations in the US, considers it important to expand access to public hearings on the project.

“As a handful of members of Congress head to Puerto Rico for meetings, the least that President Grijalva can do to guarantee a minimum of transparency is to hold formal public hearings and make them available in our native Spanish language,” said Érica González, executive director of Power 4 Puerto Rico.

Not only that, but in the opinion of the members of the coalition, who continue to highlight the benefits of the HR 2070it is imperative that the language of the document be clarified in several lines that range from language to citizenship.

“Important details that are fundamental to the right of Puerto Ricans to fairly chart their future are absent from the draft, including what would be the official language in Puerto Rico in the annexation scenario, the taxes and phase in the chronology, the implications for national identity, as well as other changes that Puerto Ricans could face in real life,” said Melissa Mark-Viverito, former president of the NYC Council and director of policy at the Puerto Rican Cultural Center in Chicago.

The group also rejected the provision in the law that eliminates the counting of blank ballots.

“There are people on the island who do not necessarily support the three decolonizing options on the ballot for this legislation, but that they have the right to be heard. This is the reason why we had called for a Constitutional Assembly at the forefront of a serious and inclusive process of self-determination that included all voices,” said the senior adviser of Power 4 Puerto Rico, Federico de Jesús.

The activists also mentioned other angles that are not touched on in the legislation such as Diaspora participation in the election and the treatment that will be given to Puerto Rico’s debt, whose restructuring process is progressing as a result of the adjustment plan of the central government of the island (PAD) to which Judge Laura Taylor Swain gave way at the beginning of this year.

PPD and PIP dissatisfied with draft for binding plebiscite

Power 4 Puerto Rico’s claims are not the only ones. On the island, dissatisfaction is already felt on the part of some sectors, and on the part of others, total rejection.

In the case of the Popular Democratic Party (PPD), its leadership openly questioned that it was not taken into account when developing the draft of the federal legislation.

For this draft, the Popular Party was not counted on. We were excluded from this process and we are excluded from being able to vote”, declared the president of the Party, José Luis Dalmau Santiago. “Any process that excludes the ELA (Free Associated State) we are going to fight it here and in Washington, there is no doubt about that,” he assured.

The president of the island’s House of Representatives, Rafael “Tatito” Hernández, expressed himself in the same vein in an interview with the Válgame PR podcast.

According to Hernández, the plebiscite is irremediably tilted towards statehood.

“Nobody here is going to vote for something to lose what they have… People don’t move from Puerto Rico to Venezuela or go to Europe, they go to the US. There are six million Puerto Ricans in the US. They are not living elsewhere. So if they remove the ELA, which is the only thing that maintains Puerto Rican status, autonomy, with its lights and shadows, if they remove it from the ballot, the people are going to vote overwhelmingly for statehood, ”said the EstadoLibrista.

Hernández, who did not participate in the PDD leadership meeting with Grijalva and the other federal politicians, anticipated that his party could fight the measure in court, citing an opinion from the federal Department of Justice in 2021.

The US Department of Justice had recommended amendments to Bill 2070 to include the territorial ELA as an alternative.

Given the resistance of the popular, Velázquez took advantage of the visit to the island to summon the members of the community to explain to the members of Congress the non-territorial and colonial Commonwealth that they propose.

“I invite the Popular Party or some within the Popular Party, because you know that within the Popular Party there is also division. We have been clear that this is a process to decolonize Puerto Rico. And obviously, the current status is a territorial, colonial status,” Velázquez said at a press conference.

“We welcome those who favor the ‘enhancement’ (expansion) of the Commonwealth that is non-territorial and non-colonial to present us with that option. We are here to listen to you tell us what the option of a non-territorial and non-colonial Commonwealth is,” he added.

The other party with reservations with the consensus project is the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP).

Rubén Berríos, president of the PIP; Juan Dalmau, general secretary; Senator María de Lourdes Santiago, Vice President, and Professor Carlos Iván Gorrín Peralta.

“The people of Puerto Rico have the inalienable right to self-determination and independence, and the United States has the obligation to discharge its decolonizing responsibility. It must be an urgent task for both countries to put an end to the colonial regime, as the draft of the project rightly recognizes”, they affirmed in a joint declaration after the meeting with the congressmen.

The problem, in the opinion of the independentistas, is that according to the language of the measure, the statehood option is self-executing. “It is the proverbial poison pill,” they considered. According to the community, Congress will not approve a project that provides, as the draft does, that if statehood obtains half plus one of the votes, the president must proclaim the admission of Puerto Rico as a State within the year of the vote.

In the public forum held on Saturday at the Miramar Convention Center, some 30 people deposed, most of them politicians linked to the main parties or former government officials.

In general, they supported that the project be one with the endorsement of Congress.

Nevertheless, again Doubts were raised about the language of the legislation and the need to delve into the scope of each of the decolonizing options.

For example, the former governor of the PPD, Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, referred directly to the free association formula.

“The final proposal must include language that makes it clear that the United States is willing to recognize the right to claim US citizenship for those born in Puerto Rico to US citizens,” he stated.

At the meeting, there was a moment of tension when the former independent candidate for governor of Puerto Rico, Eliezer Molina, interrupted the work with a group of supporters to complain to Grijalva about the alleged inaction of his committee regarding the issue of the beaches and other natural resources in check by development projects on the coasts.

“It is unusual for me that Puerto Rico is experiencing unprecedented destruction, that our beaches, our forests are being stolen from us, and the time has come that if they represent natural resources, they do not worry about that, because the people are going to do it,” Molina stated. leaving the center.

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