U.S. Representative Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) introduced federal legislation last week calling for a new convention in Puerto Rico at which delegates would do away with the Island’s current status as a U.S. territory and recommend a new political status for Puerto Rico.
Delegates would be elected by Puerto Rican voters in an election conducted according to terms yet to be determined by the Puerto Rican legislature.
The proposal would also establish a Congressional Bilateral Negotiating Commission to provide advice to convention delegates. This new Commission would have the authority to develop recommendations for the delegates regarding the various self-determination options on constitutional issues and policies related to areas including taxes, U.S. citizenship and culture.
The new bill recognizes that the Puerto Rico legislature already has the ‘inherent authority” to call for a status convention.
The response from Rep. Velazquez’s congressional colleagues was mixed. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) joined her fellow New Yorker in supporting the bill. Other members of Congress of Puerto Rican descent and/or who represent large Puerto Rican communities were more critical.
The harshest criticism came from Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez Colon, who complained, “How is it possible that these congresswomen who do not live the problems that those of us in the colony experience day by day, who enjoy all the privileges of a first-rate American citizenship, want to impose on us a totally undemocratic process where a tiny minority of people decide over the direct vote of the majority of Puerto Ricans?”
“This is not only unacceptable to the people I represent but highly reprehensible,” she concluded.
Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY), a native Puerto Rican and longtime supporter of decolonization for Puerto Rico tweeted, “I believe that all Puerto Ricans should help determine the future of the island — not just a few. Changing Puerto Rico’s status (a career goal of mine) is too important to be left behind closed doors — all Puerto Ricans should have a say.”
Serrano, who will retire at the end of the current congressional session, added further, “I have always supported an end to the colonial commonwealth status. The horrific inequities and harms of the past few years have made clear why Puerto Rico needs either statehood or independence. But that choice shouldn’t be limited to a club of elites,” he said referring to the closed convention.
Serrano’s probable successor, Ritchie Torres, also spoke out on social media against the bill. He responded to Serrano’s tweets, saying, “Wise words from a public servant of incomparable integrity. I am honored to continue your tradition of advocating for true self-determination through direct elections. All Puerto Ricans, not simply party insiders, should have a voice and a vote!”
Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) joined the conversation with two tweets: “The people of Puerto Rico, thru their elected representatives, have chosen to hold a “yes-or-no” referendum on statehood in Nov.—the fairest & simplest way to proceed. If voters confirm they want statehood, I’ll work with both parties to pass a bill making the territory a state,” she wrote. She continued, “Statehood is the only status option that will give the American citizens who live in Puerto Rico true democracy and equality, which is what they deserve and have earned.”
Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL) echoed his colleagues, tweeting, “We have a plebiscite on the Island coming up this November. If the people of #PuertoRico choose statehood, then the next steps for Congress are pretty clear. We vote to admit them to the union. In such a scenario, there would be no need for this bill.”