Congress Has a Responsibility to the People of Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico has had more attention in Congress recently than it has had for years, but an opinion piece in The Hill newspaper by  Jose Aponte-Hernández, former speaker of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives, suggests that it’s all talk and no action — and that Congress has a responsibility to take action now.

Aponte-Hernández reminds readers of the financial problems plaguing Puerto Rico and of the large numbers of people who have moved from Puerto Rico to the U.S. mainland in recent years. He points to the political status of Puerto Rico, which observers within and outside of the Congress have identified as the primary source of the problems the Island faces.

“We need the Congress to step up and solve [the question of status] once and for all,” Aponte-Hernández says. “We need this Congress to act on the will of the people of the Island who voted in 2012 in favor of statehood for the territory.”

Aponte-Hernández goes on to report that consumer spending is down, housing starts are down, and the government of Puerto Rico has defaulted on some of its obligations. The responsibility, he says, is shared between the local government in Puerto Rico and the Congress, which has primary responsibility for the territory of Puerto Rico under the U.S. Constitution’s Territory Clause:

The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States….

Article IV, Section 3, Clause 2

While there are a number of points of view on the history of Puerto Rico’s debt crisis and how the Congress or the local government might have been involved in the events leading up to it, there is no question but that Congress is responsible for Puerto Rico as for all territories under the U.S. Constitution.

“There are simply no magic solutions to solve the matter,” the author continues. “There’s only one road to take: equality.”

Aponte-Hernandez calls for support in Congress for HR727, the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act, in response to the 2012 vote, which the White House accepted as a “clear” statement of the will of the people of Puerto Rico.

“For the past few years we have called for Congress to act and nothing tangible [has] occurred. This needs to change,” Aponte-Hernandez concludes. “This has to be the year that both the House of Representatives and the Senate act to bring a lifeline to Puerto Rico. This needs to be the year that Congress will grant the Island a path towards statehood; anything less will be unacceptable.”

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