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Congressional hearing on PROMESA reforms raises statehood issue

On Tuesday, October 22, the Natural Resources Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives held a hearing on a proposal by the Committee Chairman, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), to amend the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA).

While the focus of the hearing was on the possible changes to the controversial 2016 law, which created the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico (FOMB), during the discussion multiple witnesses and members of Congress raised the issue of statehood for Puerto Rico.

In her opening statement for the hearing Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner, Rep. Jennifer Gonzalez-Colón, called on her fellow members of Congress to, “…recognize that solving Puerto Rico’s fiscal and economic problems requires that we ultimately address the root of these problems unequal territorial status. Only through statehood will we be able to acquire the necessary tools to grow our economy and ensure the island’s 3.2 million Americans are being treated equally.”

“The only real and permanent solution”

Testifying on behalf of Puerto Rico Senate President Thomás Rivera-Schatz, the Puerto Rico Senate Majority Leader, Hon. Carmelo Ríos, called on Congress “not to amend a failed law, but to pass legislation that would do away with our second class status as a colony and admit Puerto Rico as a state of the Union.” Sen. Rios argued that, “[t]he only real and permanent solution to the fiscal problems of Puerto Rico before this Committee today is statehood. Only statehood can bring the political and economic stability it needs to sustain the quality of life its 3.1 million American citizens deserve.”

Likewise the Speaker of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives Johnny Mendez, communicating through Hon. Antonio “Tony” Soto-Torres, Chairman of the Treasury, Budget and PROMESA Committee, testified that, “The best way to provide justice to the Islands is not by amending PROMESA, but by providing the necessary tools to fully incorporate Puerto Rico as a state of the Union.”

Soto-Torres’ testimony pointed out that the text of PROMSA itself established the right of Puerto Rico to determine its future political status in Section 2192 which states that, “[n]othing in this chapter shall be interpreted to restrict Puerto Rico’s right to determine its future political status…”

Three goals

Appearing near the middle of the hearing the Ranking Member of the Natural Resources Committee,Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), stated that, “for me [PROMESA] is a pathway to statehood…without [the FOMB], without the structure that we have in hand, those three goals, the economic success, the government stability, as well as the path to statehood, are going to be significantly retarded if not eliminated.”

Bishop went on to strongly criticize the draft legislation being considered calling it, “nothing short of political pandering to special interest groups,” and saying that “the idea that [the proposed amendments] would be passed in the Senate or signed by the President is delusional at best.”

The Committee scheduled a follow up hearing on the PROMESA discussion draft for October 30. 

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