The Puerto Rico Democratic Party has come out in opposition to legislation introduced in the U.S. Congress by two Democrats of Puerto Rican heritage who represent areas of New York.
Representatives Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) introduced a self-determination bill for Puerto Rico. In response, they received a letter from the Democratic Party leadership in Puerto Rico.
The letter began with an appreciation for Congresswomen Velazquez and Ocasio-Cortez’s leadership, stating “[w]e commend the fact that you have taken steps to pursue a resolution to Puerto Rico’s centuries-old colonial problem by introducing legislation that addresses this issue. We agree with you that Puerto Rico’s current unequal and undemocratic status is simply unsustainable.”
However, it immediately went on to point out problems with the bill:
- “Self-determination is a democratic process by which the people determine their own future political status. The proposed legislation allows a group of delegates to decide and impose an option. In a democracy, we should trust the people to make their own decisions rather than rely on a selected few to decide for the people.”
- “The proposed bill ignores the most recent electoral events of self-determination, held in Puerto Rico in 2012 and 2017, whose legal and constitutional legitimacy have never been challenged in court.”
- “In the end, the proposed bill creates a convoluted process which would ultimately delay a status resolution, as Congress would not have any commitment to act on the results, thus perpetuating current unincorporated territorial status.”
- “The proposed legislation fails to establish clear timelines for approval of a status option by the Delegates to the Convention, a subsequent referendum for the people to vote on that option, or even for Congress to act upon those results.” In fact, the bill calls for annual reports, a clear indication that it is expected and intended to usher in a lengthy process.
- “Many on the island fear that this vehicle would allow those who, knowing that their preferred option would not have majority support in a referendum or those who want to offer an option that is not constitutionally possible, to use the Status Convention as an instrument to further delay Puerto Ricans’ right to self-determine their future political status.”
- This bill has no chance of being approved in the current congressional session. Furthermore, Adam Sarvana, spokesperson for the House Committee on Natural Resources, explained to a local newspaper on the island that the upcoming hearing will be used simply as: “…an opportunity to receive expert recommendations on how Puerto Rico’s decolonization process should move forward and how Congress can address this issue.” The implication here is that the bill is presented insincerely, in an effort to avoid the expected YES vote on statehood.
This last point is supported by another piece of news included in the letter: “Last week, former Congressman Luis Gutiérrez appeared in a local television show and spoke of a recent conversation had with Rep. Velázquez that raised some eyebrows regarding the alleged real purpose behind filing this bill: “… I spoke to Nydia today… I think they (Rep. Velázquez and Ocasio-Cortez) also did it right now to counter and tell people to vote no on November 3, 2020.”
The vote in question is the planned plebiscite, a yes/no vote on statehood scheduled on election day similar to the votes taken in Alaska and Hawaii before they were admitted as states.
The authors of the letter encouraged Velazquez and Ocasio-Cotrez to support the plebiscite already planned in Puerto Rico. “The one and only mechanism that would allow Puerto Rico to achieve equal treatment under U.S. laws and to enjoy full voting rights is statehood,” they wrote. “Let us be clear, statehood is not a culmination of colonization, but rather a LIBERATION from its century-old chains. Statehood is recognized as a means for a territory to reach full measure of self-government and equality, as provided by the U.S. Constitution and by the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 1541 (XV) of 1960.”
They continued, “We urge you to encourage voter participation in the upcoming referendum called by the elected officials on the island who ran on a platform that guaranteed the people their right to vote to determine their future political status. The upcoming referendum will provide a voice to our people and constitutes a valid form of self-determination.”
Signers of the letter included Charles A. Rodríguez, the Chair of the Democratic Party of Puerto Rico; María “Mayita” Meléndez-Altieri, the National Committeewoman Puerto Rico Democratic National Committee; Johanne Vélez-García, the Vice Chair of the Democratic Party of Puerto Rico, Luis Davila-Pernas, the National Committeeman for Puerto Rico of the Democratic National Committee.
Updated on September 14, 2020