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Pierluisi: Puerto Rico’s Territory Status Undignified, Unsustainable

Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner for the past eight years, delivered his final floor speech on December 7th, 2016.

Beginning with thanks to his colleagues, his staff, and his family, Pierluisi conceded that, “It is impossible to condense eight action-packed years into five minutes.  However, if there is a central theme to my tenure as Resident Commissioner, it has been ‘fighting the good fight’ on behalf of the 3.4 million American citizens in Puerto Rico, who have been treated unfairly for too long.”

Pierluisi went on to list some of the high points of his tenure:

  • ARRA, a stimulus bill for which he was able to secure “almost state-like treatment of Puerto Rico,” including almost $7 billion in badly-needed funding
  • Affordable Care Act coverage resulting in the largest increase in Medicaid funding in history
  • Progress toward resolving the disparities in Medicare funding
  • Caribbean Border Counternarcotics Strategy and other improvements in crime prevention, leading to a 50% reduction in homicide deaths in Puerto Rico between 2011 and 2015
  • Congressional Gold Medal for the Borinqueneers
  • PROMESA, the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act, of which Pierlusis said, “Nobody was pleased that such legislation was necessary, and nobody liked every provision in the bill, but I firmly believe that PROMESA—if properly implemented—provides a path to a better future for Puerto Rico.”

But Pierluisi’s speech was not all celebration. “Puerto Rico’s current territory status, which gives Congress license to treat my constituents like second-class citizens, is undignified and unsustainable,” he said. “Following a 2012 local referendum in which island residents expressed their opposition to the current status and their support for statehood, Congress enacted legislation providing funding for the first federally-sponsored referendum in Puerto Rico’s history.  The significance of this achievement has yet to be sufficiently appreciated.  Puerto Rico should use this authority to conduct a vote on whether the territory should become a state.”

The funding for the first federally-sponsored referendum has not been used, but the governor-elect of Puerto Rico has pledged to make the final plebiscite a priority. “If the people of Puerto Rico ratify their support for statehood, as I expect they will,” Pierluisi concluded, “it will be incumbent upon Congress to implement that result.  This country, which was founded on the principles of equality and justice, must live up to its creed.”

Read the full remarks.

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