Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello delivered the State of the Territory address for Puerto Rico earlier this week. He expressed determination to create jobs, lessen the flow of people from the Island to the mainland, and continue moving toward statehood with a new referendum.
Rossello also spoke about the importance of equal treatment with the rest of the United States for Puerto Rico’s growth.
“Our struggles are preceded by centuries of colonialism, which have evolved with the change of sovereignty since 1898,” he said, referring to the cession of Puerto Rico to U.S. power by Spain. “Since then, there have been political changes that have allowed us a partial development, but without achieving equal treatment with American citizens who reside in the States.”
Rossello discussed “many obstacles” facing Puerto Rico, including the PROMESA Fiscal Oversight and Management Board.
“I reiterate that I recognize the jurisdiction of the Fiscal Oversight Board over Puerto Rico, as defined by the law that created that body, which has never been granted the power to determine the policy to be followed,” said Rossello. “That corresponds to the government elected by the people. It is time for the members of that Board to understand it and, instead of hindering the provision of essential services to the people, facilitate both the financial recovery of the state and economic recovery in Puerto Rico.”
He went on to say that the FOMB is responsible to account for its use of public funds, but has not done so. “I invite the United States Congress to pass judgment on the administrative operations of the Fiscal Oversight Board,” he said.
“Another obstacle that we have encountered along the way,” the governor continued, “has been a hostile attitude on the part of some components of the Federal government towards Puerto Rico.”
Rossello claimed that this attitude has had consequences for the territory. “In no State with representation in the Congress and the Senate of the United States would there be imposed such adverse conditions to complete the disbursement of allocated funds as those that are being imposed on Puerto Rico.”
In an unusual action, the governor called out President Trump, saying, “I reiterate to President Trump that he is discriminating against three million American citizens residing in Puerto Rico, whose relatives residing in the continental States, who number almost six million, are attentive to the treatment that is being given to our islands.”
The idea of getting support from the diaspora continued in Rossello’s speech as he expressed his intention to get Puerto Rico’s claim to equal civil rights “to each of the 50 States.” He repeated earlier statements that every presidential candidate should take a clear position on statehood for Puerto Rico.
“Let it be known across the nation that over 3 million American citizens do not have equal representation in their government,” the governor said. “I call upon all presidential candidates to take a clear stance in favor of equality for all Americans, take a stance in favor of statehood for Puerto Rico, and express themselves strongly in this regard.
“This process has already begun, and I am grateful for the support that has been expressed in favor of equality for Puerto Rico by several Democratic presidential candidates: Beto O’Rourke, Andrew Yang, John Delaney, Jay Inslee, Wayne Messam, and Marianne Williamson.”
“Together with our Resident Commissioner, Jennifer Gonzalez, we will defend the interests of Puerto Rico in Congress, in the Senate and before the Federal Executive, fundamentally because we are right,” the governor continued. “The strength of our people is unstoppable in their claim to equality. To that end, we will direct the holding of a Statehood: Yes or No referendum as part of the mechanism to definitively resolve the colonial problem of Puerto Rico.”
Rossello went on to ask, “What should we strive to achieve in order to consolidate Puerto Rico as a modern, safe and progressive society?”
His answer: “There is a common denominator that limits how we can achieve these objectives with the urgency that our people claim and deserve. Let’s talk straight and clear. The current colonial condition of Puerto Rico, based on inequality as American citizens, limits our ability to have the best possible health system; the best educational system possible; and the resources to maintain an infrastructure of the highest level in the world.”
The governor called for unity among Puerto Ricans.
“Why waste time in petty controversies between political parties in the islands,” he said, “when we have the opportunity to unite and claim equality for Puerto Rico in Washington?”
“Never before has so much awareness been created among the American people about the problem of colonial discrimination in Puerto Rico. Some 75 percent of American citizens favor the admission of Puerto Rico as the 51st State. So, what do we expect by demanding our full rights?
“The future of our children and our grandchildren; the present of all Puerto Rican families is more important than political parties. Let’s confront the Federal government with the claim of a single people that demands equality. Let us raise before the world the claim of dignity of a noble and courageous people, who seek the legitimate right to be treated on equal terms with their fellow citizens of the fifty States.”
Comments from Rossello
The governor told El Nuevo Dia, “Given the president’s most recent statements, saying things that are simply not correct, things that show a lack of empathy with the people of Puerto Rico, I had to alert and call to action that this is a discrimination against the people of Puerto Rico.”
Expressing concern that Puerto Rico’s territorial status has affected disaster funding, the governor said, “Other jurisdictions have had these problems and have not had delays from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency). What I believe is that there is another reason why they treat us in this way and that is that we do not have political power.”
Opposition leaders questioned whether Rossello will be able to accomplish the plans he outlined in his speech.