As the number of members of the U.S. House of Representatives supporting a bill on statehood for Puerto Rico crossed the 100 mark, two others yesterday sent fellow House Democrats a letter opposing the legislation.
The two are Luis Gutierrez of Illinois and Nydia Velazquez of New York. They have worked closely with the territory’s ‘commonwealth’ party in the past. Velazquez grew up in the islands. Gutierrez is of Puerto Rican heritage.
The bill would authorize a vote on statehood in Puerto Rico and require the President to submit legislation to make Puerto Rico a State if Puerto Ricans vote for statehood. It would also pledge congressional approval of such legislation.
The bill’s lead sponsor is Puerto Rico’s representative to the Federal government, Pedro Pierluisi. He was the highest vote getter in the territory’s elections last year and now heads the statehood party.
Among the bill’s supporters are the two other representatives from States born in the territory, Jose Serrano (D-New York) and Raul Labrador (R-Idaho).
Supporting the bill in a letter to U.S. House members today was the League of United Latin American Citizens, the nation’s largest Hispanic rights organization.
In a plebiscite held along with the elections, Puerto Ricans rejected the islands’ current status as a territory, the option supported by the ‘commonwealth’ party, by 54%. They chose statehood among the possible alternatives by 61.2%.
Nationhood in a non-binding association with the U.S. got 33.3% and independence 5.5%.
These results were certified by Puerto Rico’s tri-partisan Elections Commission in accordance with law. But, in their letter, Gutierrez and Velazquez claimed that statehood was rejected in the plebiscite.
They echoed the argument of ‘commonwealth’ party leaders who urged votes for the losing territory option. The argument contends that election ballots without votes on the plebiscite questions should be counted in the plebiscite percentages — contrary to Puerto Rican election law and general election practice.
Gutierrez and Velazquez asserted that the plebiscite was “intentionally flawed” but did not explain how.
They also suggested that the plebiscite did not include all of Puerto Rico’s status options. In fact, there is one option that was not included: nationhood in a non-binding association with a nation other than the U.S. But no one in Puerto Rico has suggested an association with a nation other than the U.S.
The ‘commonwealth’ party insists that another option is an unprecedented “commonwealth status.” Under its proposal, Puerto Rico would be a nation but the U.S. would be bound to an arrangement with it — contrary to the U.S.’s powers as a nation.
U.S. laws would continue to apply in Puerto Rico and Federal courts would continue to have jurisdiction — except to the extent that the government of the islands disagreed. The insular government would also have the power to enter into international agreements and organizations that require national sovereignty.
Further, the U.S. would be obligated to continue to grant all current benefits to Puerto Ricans and citizenship to people born in Puerto Rico plus give the insular government a new subsidy.
The Obama, George W. Bush, and Clinton Administrations have all said that such an arrangement is impossible for constitutional and other reasons. So have the leaders of both political parties in the lead congressional committees with responsibility.
Gutierrez and Velazquez promoted two alternatives to the Pierluisi bill. One was a bill that Velazquez sponsored in 2007, which would have purportedly required Congress to act on a status proposal drafted by a convention in the territory if accepted in an insular referendum. Neither Velazquez nor Gutierrez has reintroduced the bill.
The other alternative is a proposal by President Obama for another plebiscite in the territory. The House Appropriations Committee recently approved the proposal, championed by Serrano and supported by Pierluisi.
The Obama Administration made the proposal recognizing the results of Puerto Rico’s plebiscite last November but also recognizing that opposition by the ‘commonwealth’ party could prevent congressional action on its results. A plebiscite under Federal auspices, however, would be hard for the ‘commonwealth’ party to dispute.
In their letter, Gutierrez and Velazquez wrongly asserted that the Obama plebiscite would have to include all of Puerto Rico’s status options. In fact, the options would be a proposal or proposals of the territory’s Elections Commission that would “resolve” the issue and be agreed to by the U.S. Justice Department as not being incompatible with the Constitution, laws and policies of the U.S.
The plebiscite could be on one status, such as statehood as proposed by Pierluisi, or on multiple options.
The Obama/House Appropriations Committee legislation would, though, exclude the ‘commonwealth’ party’s impossible “commonwealth status” proposal.
It would also exclude the current status because it cannot “resolve” the issue. As long as Puerto Rico remains a territory, its people — U.S. citizens by birth – have the right to petition for statehood or nationhood.