Congressional leaders of both political parties and conservative activists joined forces at the U.S. Capitol on November 19th to urge equality for Puerto Rico. Speakers across the ideological spectrum emphasized the disadvantages of Puerto Rico’s current territorial relationship with the United States, a status characterized by many of them as colonial.
Referring to last year’s status plebiscite in the territory, sometimes misleadingly called “Commonwealth” after the name of the insular government, Puerto Rico’s elected representative to the Federal government, Resident Commissioner and statehood party president Pedro Pierluisi (D), noted that Puerto Rico’s current status had been rejected by Puerto Ricans, who at the same time petitioned for statehood.
Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) agreed that Congress “cannot govern Puerto Rico without its consent” and “has a responsibility to respond” to the November 2012 plebiscite. Recognizing the prevelance of Spanish spoken in Puerto Rico, he noted that many New Mexicans also speak Spanish and that they are “no less American for it.” The senator urged the debate over Puerto Rico status to be settled “once and for all so that its people can focus on their prosperity.” He emphasized that “it is time for Puerto Rico to have a democratically legitimate form of government.”
Puerto Rican native Congressman Raul Labrador (R-ID) noted that he “come(s) from a State that has .25% Puerto Ricans, but they have embraced the people of Puerto Rico, they embraced a young man who was born in Puerto Rico.” He expressed his belief that “[i]n statehood, the language and culture of the island, rich in history and tradition, would be respected for the United States.” Quoting President Ronald Reagan, the congressman explained that “statehood would benefit both the people of Puerto Rico and their fellow American citizens in 50 States.” With respect to statehood, Labrador, explained that “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.”
Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY), the longest-serving Puerto Rican born member of Congress, pointed out that “it hurts us as a democratic nation to go around the world saying that we promote democracy” while depriving Puerto Rico of equal rights at home.
Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) promoted statehood for Puerto Rico in her remarks, explaining that “[i]t would bring to Puerto Ricans the voting rights they deserve as free people and as American citizens, along with full equality under the law.”
In addition to elected officials, speakers at the rally also included Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, and Niger Innis of the Congress of Racial Equality.
The rally was organized and sponsored by Igualdad PR, The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, the Puerto Rican Students Statehood Association, Misión Estadista (Statehood Mission), the Puerto Rico Statehood Council, the Puerto Rico Statehood Democrats, and the Puerto Rico Republican Party.
Individuals came from as far away as Texas, California, and Wisconsin to express their support.