In an article in El Nuevo Dia, Puerto Rico’s most popular newspaper, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) was quoted as saying “we do not have the votes” to pass legislation that would grant Puerto Rico the fifty first star in the U.S. flag. The interviewer had asked whether Rubio planned to propose a bill for Puerto Rico statehood.
A number of U.S. news sources responded to the interview with claims that Rubio was backing off from his support for statehood.
That does not appear to be the case.
“It’s not that I do not want to do it,” Rubio continued in the interview. He explained that his colleagues in the federal government are not all clear on the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States. “Even after the hurricane I have colleagues who do not understand,” Rubio explained. “It is not that they think that Puerto Rico is not part of the US, but in some cases until recently did not understand that the Puerto Ricans are citizens of the United States. That’s unbelievable, but it is like that. I would never want an unnecessary defeat.”
Rubio also said that dealing with this confusion in Congress means that it isn’t possible for him to speak with colleagues about the need for disaster assistance in Puerto Rico and also about Puerto Rico statehood. Rubio wants to wait until after disaster assistance has been pledged to bring up the subject of statehood.
However, leaders in Puerto Rico disagree about waiting for a more auspicious moment to propose statehood.
Jose Fernando Aponte Hernández, former Speaker of the House of Representatives of Puerto Rico, wrote to Senator Rubio asking him to continue to support statehood.
“We understand the legislative process in Congress,” he wrote, “and that it’s a slow and sometimes cumbersome process. When drafting a bill, it’s imperative to take into consideration several factors, including what is to be gained from said legislation. The gain from Puerto Rico statehood greatly outweighs the assumed negatives.”
Reminding Rubio of his previous statements in favor of statehood, Aponte Hernández goes on to say, “The time has come to join fores once again for the betterment of the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico.”
Rubio quickly responded with a letter emphasizing his continued support for statehood. “My commitment to Puerto Rico is not just policy,” he wrote. “It is personal.”
“I can think of nothing more damaging to the cause of statehood than an unnecessary and premature legislative defeat,” he continued. “As you know, once a legislator takes a position on an issue, circumstances can force them to harden those views before they have the benefit of hearing from both sides. Today, many of my colleagues do not support statehood because they do not fully understand the proposition. Our task is to change that.”
Acknowledging the difficulties of continued territorial status, Rubio concluded with, “I believe we have never been closer that we are today to giving the people of the island the opportunity to vote for admission to the union.”
Read the letters: