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Members of Congress Express Commitment to Equality for Puerto Ricans

Last week’s rally in Washington, D.C., brought out some strong statements in favor of self-determination for Puerto Rico.

Rep. Raul Labrador’s speech consisted of a reading of Ronald Reagan’s 1982 letter calling for self-determination for the island. “When I announced my candidacy for this office more than 2 years ago,” Reagan said in that letter, “I pledged to support statehood for the commonwealth of Puerto Rico, should the people of that island choose it in a free and democratic election. Today, I reaffirm that support, still confident in my belief that statehood would benefit both the people of Puerto Rico and their fellow American citizens in 50 states”.

Labrador commented, “I believe that it’s the right thing for the American people to be behind. It’s something that Reagan believed in, it’s something that Bush believed in and it’s something that I think Conservatives and Republicans should believe in: the right of self-determination.”

Senator Martin Heinrich’s remarks reflected on his experience as senator of a largely Spanish speaking state. He pointed out that Spanish and English both are spoken freely in New Mexico, and that the ballots and other government documents are printed in both languages, as they might be in a state of Puerto Rico. “And,” he said, ” I can tell you that New Mexicans are no less American for it.”

“Fifty-four percent of Puerto Ricans rejected their current form of government,” Heinrich reminded listeners. “We cannot govern Puerto Rico without its consent. In my home state of New Mexico, we spent 66 years as a territory – longer than any state in the nation today. But as all of you know, Puerto Rico has spent 123 years as an American territory. That’s long enough.”

Congressman Jose Serrano’s statement was both personal and forthright. “Five hundred and twenty years of colonialism is an insult to human dignity,” he said. “When the people who are colonized say that they no longer want the colony it is the duty of those who have…colonized the people to then make a move to end that colonial status.”

He continued, “It hurts us as a democratic nation to go around the World saying that we promote democracy” while maintaining an unequal relationship with people of a territory. “It is not right that simply because I moved to New York, I can be a Congressman and if you stay on the Island you can’t be a full voting Congressman. It is not right that because I moved to New York, or was moved to New York when I was a child that I can vote for President and yet people who have fought in Wars who are in wheelchairs … cannot vote for their Commander-in-Chief.”

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s remarks  reiterated the theme of equality and self-determination for Puerto Rico: “I was a co-sponsor of legislation to provide for a federally sanctioned self-determination process as well as legislation to make Puerto Rico a state of the Union.  As all of us know, during the November 6 plebiscite, the majority of American citizens in Puerto Rico spoke loudly, and they spoke clearly.  They will no longer accept its territorial status.  Es hora que Washington escuche.  Pore so estamos aqui.  Both the President and the Congress should respond appropriately to the plebiscite results.  The status quo is simply not acceptable.  It deprives the people of Puerto Rico of the right to choose their leaders who make our laws, an imperative right in any democracy.”

Ros-Lehtinen went on to speak in favor of statehood:  “You have expressed a clear desire to end the territorial status and become a state, something that cannot be done by maintaining the same undemocratic status that you have endured since 1898.  This is an issue that transcends political labels.  It is about fairness.  It is about human rights. It is about equality. Statehood promotes our American values and shows the world that we are a serious and determined country. There is no room for second-class citizenship in the United States of America.  This is the right thing to do for Puerto Rico. This is the right thing to do for our nation.”

Rep. Pedro Pierluisi’s speech also favored statehood. “I’m proud to represent men and women who carry the Puerto Rican flag in one hand and the American flag in the other, and who know that their love for Puerto Rico and their love for the United States complement rather than contradict one another,” he said. “We seek the same rights and responsibilities as our fellow citizens in the fifty states: nothing more and nothing less.” His words echoed those of Ros-Lehtinen when he went on to say, “Statehood has never been, and it will never become, a Democratic movement or a Republican movement. It is about right vs. wrong. It is about justice vs. injustice. It is about equality vs. inequality.”

The rally’s bipartisan support for the concept of self-determination for Puerto Rico, and for respecting the vote of 2012, makes it clear that the issue is not a matter of party politics.

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