The issue of voting rights has been on the minds of many in Congress and across the nation this year. But voter suppression in Puerto Rico has not been discussed as much.
Yet it can be argued that any discussion over Puerto Rico’s political status that does not recognize and respect recent plebiscite votes – including the last one, in 2020 – provides an example of voter suppression.
Suppression of plebiscite votes
In 2012, 2017, and 2020, Puerto Rico voters chose statehood from among the viable options for the island’s political status. Congress has still taken no action.
Congress is legally allowed to ignore Puerto Rico’s plebiscite votes. But recent proposals take it a step further.
Reps. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and Robert Mendez (D-NJ) proposed legislation (HR 2070) not merely ignoring those democratically held votes, but also ignoring the democratically elected leaders of Puerto Rico’s territorial government, most notably the only two political figures in Puerto Rico who are elected island-wide: Governor Pedro Pierluisi (D) and Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzelz-Colon (R).
As resident commissioner of Puerto Rico, Gonzalez-Colon represents more than three million U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico. Both she and the Governor of Puerto Rico have said that they do not want to hold a constitutional convention as required by HR 2070.
Rep. Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon describes the legislative proposal contained in HR 2070 as a “colonial imposition.” As she has explained, “There is nothing more colonial in nature than imposing other’s views over us. The legislation looks to delegate Puerto Rico’s future to a select few, instead of allowing the majority to decide for themselves. Those who wish to silence the majoritarian vote and the will of the people of Puerto Rico are those that stand in the way of our future and progress. It is up to those of us who believe in Puerto Rico and our quest for equality to fight for what we deserve.”
“Both chambers of Congress now have legislation before them to act on Puerto Rico’s will, which is to admit the Island as a State. It should be up to the people, through their vote, to determine their future. This is not what the bill introduced by Velazquez and Ocasio Cortez does, which instead ignores the will already expressed by our people and intends to impose their own views upon us.”
“A rule we follow in Congress is that no member legislates on issues outside of their corresponding district, at least not without the endorsement of the person duly elected by the voters of said district,” added the Resident Commissioner.
HR 2070, also includes a number of provisions that the Department of Justice has declared unconstitutional.
“I am grateful for the interest to address and act upon the issue of the territorial status of Puerto Rico, which is why I invite, both of them and all of my colleagues from both parties, to not turn your back on our people, to not behave like the colonialism of the past, and to not ignore the fight for civil rights that we have undertaken in favor of the equality that can only be granted through statehood”, said González Colón.