Governor Ricardo Rossello spoke to the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on February 26th in a hearing on the state of the territories. “The actions we take today will either open the doors to equality, progress and success for Puerto Rico,” he began his prepared statement, “or continue to yield social and economic stagnation that will further exacerbate existing demographic trends of mass outmigration and possibly lead to the further degradation and collapse of our island’s society as we know it.”
Rossello detailed the differences in the federal response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico compared with federal actions following disasters in the States. He pointed out the unequal treatment of Puerto Rico in federal programs. He listed accomplishments and successes of his administration and mentioned plans for the future.
Rossello’s list of priorities included three items:
- Puerto Rico’s ongoing fiscal and debt restructuring efforts
- The process of economic and disaster recovery and reconstruction, including the reconstruction of the entire energy sector
- The need for equality under federal laws and programs, and the need for new tools to spur economic development and competitiveness
“None will be sufficient,” he stressed, “unless Congress works with us to end the current unequal and undemocratic territory status and place Puerto Rico on the definitive path to full equality through statehood.”
Rossello spoke about his plan to focus on the use of renewable energy and responded to questions on climate change and the Fiscal Oversight and Management Board.
Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) asked about the White House’s characterization of additional nutrition assistance for Puerto Rico as “excessive and unnecessary.”
“We completely reject the notion that it’s ‘unnecessary and excessive’,” said Rossello, reminding the committee that 85% of the people on the Island are food insecure and that Puerto Rico imports most of its food. “[It] clearly denotes a lack of understanding of the inequalities of Puerto Rico… the overarching root cause of the problem. Puerto Rico, being a colonial territory, has severe limitations in empowerment, in decision making.”
Rossello faced questions about Puerto Rico’s debt as well.
“We have to get the fiscal house in order,” Rossello agreed, but he also emphasized the inequality faced by Puerto Rico in funding. “We have a plan, we have a strategy, we need clarity for the resources.”
“Statehood is the best path forward,” Rossello said, one of several mentions of the Island’s status. In his written testimony, he went into greater detail:
Another factor that negatively impacts the island’s economy is the significant levels of political and policy uncertainty and risk created by the territorial status at both the local and federal levels. For businesses making investment decisions this political and policy risk decreases the desirability of making investments on the island and it also increases the borrowing cost for the government and private businesses on the island.
The current reform process happening in Puerto Rico under PROMESA, and the post-disaster recovery and reconstruction, present an ideal opportunity to finally define the ultimate political future of Puerto Rico, and to begin a transition toward that end. Congress must act definitively to resolve Puerto Rico’s future political status, because extending the failed 121-year-old territory status will only further delay the island’s full economic, fiscal and demographic recovery as well as its reconstruction. Congress must resolve Puerto Rico’s status to unleash its full potential and should implement the democratically expressed will of voters who have expressed twice in the last six years a clear desire to end the current territory status and to achieve statehood for Puerto Rico. Indeed, for America and Puerto Rico both, statehood is the best possible answer and the best path forward out of this century old issue and into a new century of economic growth and prosperity.
The governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Albert Bryan, spoke up for statehood as well. “Between us we only represent 300,000 people and we are treated like Puerto Rico, which has three million people. If you want to do something big, make it a state,” he said.
“Know that in this committee, we don’t forget you,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) in closing the hearing.