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Puerto Rican Organizations Respond to Federal Proposal to Hold a Status Convention

Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) has reintroduced legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives calling for a convention in Puerto Rico with federal involvement to evaluate the issue of the U.S. territory’s political status.  Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) is the lead sponsor of the companion bill in the U.S. Senate.

The proposal, which is silent on the Constitutional issues that have plagued various proposals presented to Puerto Rican voters over the years, is in direct competition with the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act.

The Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act recognizes the plebiscite vote held by the Puerto Rican government last November and proposes a follow-up ratification vote. This proposal has also been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate.

Fifty-one Puerto Rico organizations have responded to the pair of bills by sending a letter to the leadership of the congressional committees with jurisdiction over Puerto Rico. The letter calls on the committees to accept the Puerto Rico Statehood Admissions Act and to reject the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act.

George Laws Garcia, Executive Director of the Puerto Rico Statehood Council, said in a press release, “We are calling on Congress to listen to and respect the will of the majority of Puerto Rico’s voters by passing the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act.”

Pointing out that the statehood bill is a direct response to the November referendum in which a majority of Puerto Rico voters chose statehood, Laws went on to say, “A direct choice by voters based on a clearly defined constitutionally valid option is real ‘self-determination’ because it responds to the will of the majority of voters as expressed to date, and its results are binding and self-executing. This stands in contrast with the ‘Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act’ espoused by Representatives Velázquez and Ocasio-Cortéz that would ignore Puerto Rico’s voters and create a convoluted status convention. This would just delay action and keep Puerto Rico a colony longer against the will of the majority.

“These Members of Congress are trying to replace the results of the recent free and fair plebiscite with a drawn-out process that includes semi-permanent delegates, re-negotiation with Congress on the available status options before the approval of the Puerto Rican people, and then a plebiscite that is ultimately non-binding and would require additional action by Congress to implement the final results. That would be a huge step backward for the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico, who have made it increasingly clear in the last decade that they reject continuing under the current colonial territory status, and a majority favor full democracy and equal rights through statehood. Justice delayed is justice denied, which is why the organizations in our letter all agree that Congress should move swiftly to pass the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act.”

The letter

The letter goes into greater detail, pointing out that “[u]nder the [Velázquez] bill, Congress would be under no obligation to implement whichever status option is chosen by the convention and later voted on by the electorate. This would represent a huge setback for voters in Puerto Rico who have engaged in multiple acts of self-determination over the last decade and have shown, with increasing clarity, that Puerto Rico’s voters reject the current territory status and favor statehood above all non-territory options.”

The letter points out that polls of the American people in the contiguous states have shown that the majority also favor statehood for Puerto Rico.

“The only legislative option that respects the will of the people of Puerto Rico, and ensures a binding process of self-determination is H.R. 1522 & S. 780, the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act,” the letter continues. “By offering statehood, stipulating the terms of admission, and requiring a ratification vote, Congress would finally open the door to full equality and democracy for the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico while leaving the ultimate choice in their hands. If a majority opposes statehood at that point, then the island would remain a territory with the capacity to pursue independence or free association through the procedural mechanism of their choice, including a status convention. Congress has a moral obligation to let the people of Puerto Rico decide their own self-determination process.”

The letter concludes, “Our organizations represent the majority of voters in Puerto Rico, as well as their allies stateside. We believe it’s time to put an end to the dysfunctional, outdated, and undemocratic territory status to which Puerto Rico has been subjected. We call on Congress to open the door to full enfranchisement and equality for our fellow U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico by supporting and passing the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act. America can and must do better.”

Read the full letter to Congress 

The organizations

Most of the 51 signatory organizations are based in Puerto Rico. The organizations include both the Democratic and Republican Parties of Puerto Rico and their Youth branches, We The People, and the Borinqueneers Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony National Committee.

A number of pro-statehood organizations signed, including Estado PRUSA, Bateador Estadista, Igualdad Futuro Seguro, Young Professionals for Puerto Rico Statehood Puerto Rico Escogió Estadidad, and Puerto Rico Star Project.

Former members of the Puerto Rico Statehood Commission and the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status also signed. Organización de Veteranos Progresistas, Boricuas con Kamala, and Las Avispas Azules are on the list, along with many more organizations taking leadership on matters of civil rights.

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