Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello wrote a letter to President Trump last week in response to a Department of State (DOS) June submission to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) defending U.S. compliance with international law as long as Puerto Rico remains a U.S. territory. Gov. Rossello explained that DOS “based its arguments on a slew of factual errors and misrepresentations of America’s relationship with Puerto Rico, as well as its responsibilities under international law[.]”
“The importance of these [two cases pending before the IACHR] and what they say about how the federal government understands its relationship to Puerto Rico, is such that I feel compelled to respectfully address the most egregious errors in the DOS missive,” he explained.
The letter also called for statehood for Puerto Rico.
In an emotional plea, Rossello said, ““Mr. President, I call on your leadership to have your Administration uphold the values of democracy, freedom and the pursuit of happiness as enshrined in America’s Declaration of Independence and Constitution, recognizing that Puerto Rico’s territorial status is discriminatory and allows for the unequal treatment of natural born U.S. citizens. I believe that through this recognition we can work together to abolish this century old territorial-colonialism once and for all.”
“My goal,” the letter continued, “is to re-imagine, revitalize and rebuild Puerto Rico so that it can develop to its full capacity for the benefit of not only island residents but for America as a whole. To do this we must recognize and acknowledge our past mistakes and work together diligently to correct them.”
Referring to the Department of State statement sent to the American Organization of States in answer to complaints about the treatment of Puerto Rico, Rossello made half a dozen points to illustrate the “most egregious errors in the DOS missive.” He made six key points:
- “Puerto Rico is a territorial colony.” Rossello pointed out the Island’s lack of voice in the U.S. Congress, which led to the passage of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA), federal legislation that superseded “the local self-government that Congress had granted Puerto Rico in the 1950’s.” The Governor was explicit that Puerto Rico is not a “self-governing” territory, as “Congress often uses its plenary powers over the territory to impose a multitude of federal laws without the island residents having any voting representation in the U.S. Senate and only a single Resident commissioner in the U.S. House of Representatives, who cannot vote on the floor of that chamber.”.
- American citizens in Puerto Rico are banned from voting for President as long as they are island residents. Rossello notes that the State Department submission recognizes that the only way for U.S. citizens from Puerto Rico to vote and be counted is to leave Puerto Rico, and asks “[i]f that is not a ban, then what is?”
- Puerto Rico’s relationship with the United States is based on the outdated and racist decisions in the Insular Cases. These Supreme Court decisions were motivated by racist views which were common a century ago when the decisions were made. People in the island territories were described as “alien races,” for example. Rossello holds that this is not the correct foundation for a relationship in the 21st century.
- Voters in Puerto Rico have voted for statehood twice and repeatedly rejected the current territory status..The Department of State statement includes factual errors on this point. “[T]he current political status, when described in a constitutionally accurate way as a territory and not as an ambiguous “Commonwealth,” “Enhanced Commonwealth,” or “Estado Libre Asociado,” has consistently failed to gain majority support from the voters in Puerto Rico since at least 1993,” Rossello informed the president in his letter.
- The federal government has ignored the will of the people and failed to resolve the status of Puerto Rico. The federal government has not yet sponsored a status vote, event after the Puerto Rico legislature amended the format of the 2017 vote to meet the recommendations of the U.S. Department of Justice.
- The Department of State request to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) should be dismissed. The Governor argues that deference to the ongoing political process has left Puerto Rico’s territory status unresolved for 120 years. Letting this process continue, says Rosello, would be “to turn a blind eye to an inconvenient truth, that Puerto Rico remains the unfinished busiiness of American democracy.”
Finally, Rossello calls on the president to lead the way in providing equality for Puerto Rico through statehood, for the betterment of both Puerto Rico and the United States as a whole.
“Indeed, if America’s most challenged jurisdiction, Puerto Rico, can turn itself around and be transformed into a place of thriving prosperity, it can serve as a beacon of hope for all America, and a sign to the world that the best is yet to come. Statehood for Puerto Rico is not only about realizing Puerto Rico’s full potential. It is about America living up to its most noble values by creating a more perfect Union.”