Witnesses at Congressional Hearing Argue That Puerto Rico Status Harms Island Economy

The Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs of the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing today to examine Puerto Rico’s political status and economic outlook.

All of the witnesses on each of two panels were united in the belief that Puerto Rico’s current territorial status is not acceptable, and that this unwanted status impacts the island economically.  The witnesses differed, however, as to what the best next step should be for the island territory of roughly 3.5 million U.S. citizens.

The first panel, representing each of the three major political parties of Puerto Rico, was similar to the September, 2013 Congressional hearing in the U.S. Senate at which Puerto Rican Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi (President of the New Progressive Party/statehood), Hon. Ruben Berrıos Martınez (President, the Puerto Rican Independence
Party) and Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla(President of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP)/Commonwealth) testified.   Today, however, the Governor was absent and sent as his representative, César A. Miranda Rodríguez, Attorney General of Puerto Rico, whose testimony focused heavily on the importance of enacting legislation to expand Chapter 9 of the Bankruptcy Code to include Puerto Rico and treat the territory as a State.  Related legislation (H.R. 870) is pending in the House of Representatives.

When asked about the PDP position on status,  Miranda Rodriguez explained that he would not be answering any questions related to the “Commonwealth” platform, focusing exclusively on his role in the Garcia Padilla administration. He did, however, express an opinion on status when Rep. Norma Torres (D-CA) asked  him if the island’s territorial status is the cause of Puerto Rico’s problems, and Miranda Rodriquez refused to acknowledge Puerto Rico as a “territory,” a claim made by “Commonwealth” proponents.

Delegate Gregorio Sablan (D-Northern Mariana Islands) expressed exasperation at not having a representative from the Commonwealth party at the hearing, noting that the invitation to testify was intended for an individual to represent the PDP, not the Garcia Padilla administration.  Sablan also asked about the rationale behind the administration’s opposition to statehood in light of its support of being treated as a state within the context of Chapter 9 of the Bankruptcy Code.  “How does that make sense?” he asked.

When asked for an update concerning the $2.5 million in federal funds granted to Puerto Rico to hold a federally sanctioned plebiscite, Miranda Rodriguez responded that the ballot definitions had yet to be approved by the Department of Justice.  He added that the Governor is in discussions with the Department of Justice but that no consensus had been reached, and that they are waiting for the “details of the event” to take place.

Rep. Torres asked Mr. Berrios Martinez why he believed Puerto Rico’s economy would be better as a foreign country than as a state.  She noted the mass migration of Puerto Ricans to states, and observed that there is no similar immigration to foreign countries.  Berrios Martinez explained that independence would provide new tools to grow the economy.

Several themes dominated the hearing:

  • The economy and the status of Puerto Rico are inextricably linked. Most of the witnesses touched on this point at some time during their statements or their answers to questions. Rep. Don Young, chairing the meeting, said repeatedly that the current status doesn’t work and that statehood would be the simplest solution to Puerto Rico’s economic problems.
  • The status quo is not working.  Former Governor and Resident Commissioner Aníbal Acevedo Vilá (D-Commonwealth”) expressed hope that Congress would sit down with leadership from Puerto Rico and develop “an entirely new relationship” not currently described in the U.S. Constitution. Several witnesses reminded the subcommittee that Puerto Rico had already voted for statehood in 2012.  Former Puerto Rico State Senator Miriam J. Ramirez MD testified on the negative consequences of the federal tax regime that has kept Puerto Rico labeled as a “foreign” jurisdiction.  She criticized Controlled Foreign Corporations (CFCs) operating in Puerto Rico, which, she noted, do not have to create jobs and generate real investments to benefit from favorable federal tax  treatment.  Worse,” she explained, “the U.S. Treasury does not produce reports that inform Congress whether the CFCs create jobs and real investment in Puerto Rico. Today we know they don´t.” She added that while billions of dollars in tax breaks are spent to subsidize corporations, “Puerto Rico is sinking.”
  • Congress must take action. “Whether we demand it or not,” said Former Governor Carlos Romero Barceló, “it is the Congress and the President’s duty, as the leaders of the greatest democracy on earth, to put an end to this inequality and denial [of our right] to participate in our nation’s democracy.” The Mayor of San Juan, who outlined a proposal for Free Association, similarly insistend that Congress must act.  Resident Commissioner Pierluisi noted that Congress cannot wait for perfect uniformity from Puerto Rico, citing independence movements in Texas and Alaska as proof that statehood can be and has been achieved even with pockets of dissension.

Watch the archived video of the hearing.

10 Comments

Luis Arroyo

Miranda lied to the comitee! The reason the Governing party has no status decision has nothing to do with US Dept Of Justice.
THE PPD CANNOT AGREE ON WHICH DEFINITION TO SEND TO DEPT OF JUSTICE.

Luis Arroyo

How the hell can the PPD (Miranda) say with a serious face, “we are waiting on the Dept Of Justice” ,when the PPD leadership cannot and never came to agreement on which type of “Improved Commonwealth ” to send for USDOJ approval?.

Its amazing no one caught on to that. Shame on statehood and independence advocates for letting that BS sneak in.

Zealot 51

To “hadeninteractive” and the editor of “The Puerto Rico Report”: The seventh paragraph of the above article contains three noteworthy errors.
FIRST, one does not “migrate” from Ohio to Oregon; on the contrary, one “re-locates” or simply “moves” from Ohio to Oregon. For that reason, it is grotesque to describe “the mass migration of Puerto Ricans to states”! Why? Because “migration” entails abandoning one nation in order to settle in another nation — and Puerto Ricans are just as much Americans as the residents of the 50 states. SECOND, the word “immigration” is also misused: one may “immigrate from” one nation to another, or “migrate to” one nation from another, but one cannot “immigrate to” a place (your article asserts that “there is no similar immigration to foreign countries.” THIRD, because re-locating to the states does not constitute “migration,” the word “similar” should be deleted from the cited paragraph; accurate would be the following phrasing: “there is no comparably large exodus to foreign countries.”

Mel Gonzalez

Statehood, Free Association or Independence. The Final Vote Will Go To Statehood and This Argument Is Over Once And For All. There Is No Reason To Prolong This.

Mel Gonzalez

The only reason why there hasn’t been a plebiscite on it is because the Commonwealth supporters are divided between Pro American Status Quo And Separatists. A reality they don’t want to face. They lost in 2012 and will lose again. Plain and simple, they are afraid of statehood. What the island deserves.

Luis Arroyo

Pep. PIERLUISI “crossed examined” Anibal A VILLA and trapped him in hypocrisy concerning Chapter 9 of the Fed Bankruptcy code when VILLA CLAIMED NOT FAIR PR ISN’T TREATED LIKE A STATE IN CHAPTER 9.

“TO BE CLEAR,..YOU DON’T WANT STATEHOOD,BUT YOU WANT PUERTO RICO TO BE TREATED AS A STATE???

NORTHERN MARIANA ISLAND’S DELEGATE (RS) Rep. SABLAN WAS MORE BLUNT ON CESAR MIRANDA. “WHY ARE YOU HERE?” IN RESPONSE TO MIRANDA’S DEFIANCE OF ANSWERING STATUS QUESTIONS.
MIRANDA MADE CLEAR ” IM HERE TO REPRESENT GOVERNOR PADILLA,NOT THE PPD NOR COMMENT ON STATUS.”

WHAT AN ABSURD STATEMENT!

MIRANDA IS A PPD LAWYER. PADILLA IS THE PRESIDENT OF THE PPD PARTY.

THE BS LEFT SABLAN CONFUSED AND SPEECHLESS! HE COULDN’T BELIEVE AND FOR A MOMENT BELIEVED MIRANDA HAD SNUCK IN THE “BACK DOOR”
“WHY ARE YOU HERE? WE INVITED THE GOVERNOR” [TO
REPRESENT THE COMMONWEALTH PARTY AS PIERLUISI=STATEHOOD AND BERRIOS=INDEPENDENCE]

SABLAN WASN’T AWARE THAT MIRANDA [WAS] INVITED TO FILL IN. NONETHELESS MIRANDA PISSED OF SABLAN WITH THE “IM ONLY HERE TO REPRESENT GOV.PADILLA (PRESIDENT OF PPD PARTY) BUT NOT THE PPD NOR STATUS DISCUSSION.”
PIERLUISI,FORTUÑO,MIRIAM,BARCELO REPRESENTED THE STATEHOOD (NPP/PNP)PARTY.

VILLA,YULIN,MIRANDA REPRESENTED THE PPD [AND “CONFUSION”!!!]

YULIN,a “Soberanista” -code for independence in Free Association With her impressive Anglo English skills,demonstrated the hypocrites they are at claiming Puerto Rican culture cannot exist if statehood and English exist I’m PR!

Its clear the separatists believe ONLY THEY SHOULD KNOW ENGLISH. A PRO UNION MAJORITY OF BILINGUAL PUERTO RICANS WOULD BE A DISASTER FOR PPD/PIP PARTIES SINCE PEOPLE WOULD READ ENGLISH AND REALIZE AMERICA DOES NOT HATE OR REJECT PUERTO RICANS AS THEY’VE BEEN LEAD TO BELIEVE.

Dennis Myers

I would say to make it easier. Statehood, or Independence. As a State, you become equal with the other 50 states, and fully a part of the USA. As an independent nation, you will lose citizenship in America, but you must know that the USA will always be your protector and good friend. Free association would be an option, but you would be a nation unto yourselves. I believe PR would do well with either option, but I know in my heart that the USA would be a better nation with 51 states. Adding Puerto Rican voices to Congress and the Senate will make is stronger and more inclusive. The flood of tourism the island would see, and the herds of retirees moving to warmer climates would all benefit PR.

Dennis Myers

I know a way to pump two and a half million dollars into the economy of PR really quickly… use the cash from the federal government to hold the referendum. Purchase all materials and hire all workers locally. Spend all the money available.

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