For the first time since 2013, the Natural Resources Committee is holding a hearing which is broadly focused on Puerto Rico’s political status.
In 2013, the hearing concluded with a statement by the chair, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR).
“Two out of three of you seem to believe that the current status and enhanced Commonwealth are no longer options,” he said to the representatives of Puerto Rico’s major political parties. “So looking forward it seems to me that it’s especially important to see if the three of you can come to an agreement on the language of a ballot that, in effect, has two remaining options: statehood, or sovereignty as an independent air freely associated State.”
Wyden continued, “Absent an agreement of the three of you it seems that this will just go round and round some more.”
Then-governor Alexander Garcia Padilla had attempted to explain what enhanced commonwealth might actually be, but was unable to do so. He argued that leaving enhanced commonwealth off the ballot would disenfranchise half the voters of Puerto Rico, but the committee announced after the hearing that it is not a “viable option.”
The 2021 hearing will examine two bills currently in congress: HR 1522, the Puerto Rico Statehood Admissions Bill, and HR 2070, calling for a status convention.
HR 2070 could revive enhanced commonwealth
Many commonwealth supporters want to define this option as something to be negotiated after it wins. HR 2070, which is a variant of a bill Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) has introduced multiple times since 2007, will attempt to come up with at least one definition.
The current president of the Popular Democratic Party (PPD), José Luis Dalmau Santiago, wrote to Raul Grijalva, the Chair of Natural Resources, before the hearing, repeating the claim that “almost half of the electorate is being excluded from the process.” He said, as Garcia Padilla did in 2013, that any process which does not include enhanced commonwealth would be invalid.
At the same time, a letter from 47 constitutional scholars made precisely the opposite claim.
“There are two, and only two, real self-determination options for Puerto Rico: statehood and independence. Yet the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act defies constitutional reality by calling upon Puerto Ricans to define other non-territorial options. There are no other non-territorial options,” the letter states.
Steny Hoyer supports HR 1522
In a different kind of response, Steny Hoyer (D-MD) became a co-sponsor for HR 1522, The Puerto Rico Statehood Admissions bill.
This brings the number of cosponsors for the House bill to 59, including 14 Republican supporters. HR 2070 has 76 cosponsors, all of whom are Democrats.