Nydia Velazquez and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, two New Yorkers with Puerto Rican roots, have introduced a bill in Congress which would create a status convention. We believe that every American, with or without Puerto Rican roots, should be concerned about Puerto Rico. As Americans, we all should be upset about the colonial position of the Island.
Here’s what the two authors of the bill said: “The key is that this framework would be developed by Puerto Ricans and for Puerto Ricans, not dictated to them like so many previous policies.”
This is not an accurate statement.
In fact, this bill would initiate a semi-permanent group of elected delegates to work with a Congressional Bilateral Negotiating Commission made up of nine members of Congress and one from the Department of Justice. This agglomeration of people would report “to the House of Representatives not less than once every 12 months.” This makes it clear that the plan is intended to take years to come up with an option to be offered in a referendum.
That option would be the only choice on the ballot, just as statehood, the choice of the voters in the 2012 and 2017 referenda, is the only choice on the Yes/No vote coming up in November.
The federal government has made it clear that there are only three viable status options — statehood, territorial status, or independence with or without Free Association. Puerto Rico has made it clear that statehood is the preferred option. So this pointless commission will just delay action for more years, and keep Puerto Rico as a colony for more years, while ignoring the expressed preference of the voters of Puerto Rico.
Resident commissioner’s response
Rep. Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon said it clearly: “The bill by the two representatives of New York demonstrates a lack of respect for the people of Puerto Rico and the democratic process in the territory. What they intend with this measure in Congress is to put hurdles to turn the matter around so that our people do not achieve the equality they have claimed in the 2012 and 2017 plebiscites. The territory has voted twice to be on equal footing with the United States in plebiscites that included all available options, and now the Island’s elected representatives have convened a new plebiscite that will take place in nine weeks to ratify the option of statehood.
“Why don’t my colleagues favor a process where our people are allowed to decide statehood yes or no? The answer is evident: because they intend to continue to leave our land in the colony, without the full equality of American citizenship that they both enjoy. Enough is enough! Our people have already voted in the direction of full equality, in democratic processes where the entire electorate was able to participate.”
The New Yorkers authoring the bill did not consult with Gonzalez-Colon, even though she is the legal representative of Puerto Rico. This is a clear failure to allow Puerto Rico to determine the process. @AdmitPuertoRico pointed out in a tweet that representatives of New York would never propose a government process for Texas. Why should they think it would be acceptable to do so for Puerto Rico? Simply because Puerto Rico is under the power of Congress. As Members of Congress, AOC and Velazquez feel free to dictate to Puerto Rico.
Gonzalez-Colon also said this in her statement: “We do not need an unlikely federal-territorial negotiation to define other non-territorial status options. Non-territorial options (statehood, independence, and sovereignty with the United States that can be terminated by either party) are already defined in the U.S. Constitution and international law, as Democratic and Republican administrations and Congressional Committees have said for a quarter of a century.”
The Velazquez/AOC bill is very similar to the Velazquez bill of 2007:
Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2007 – Recognizes the inherent authority of the People of Puerto Rico to call a Constitutional Convention for the purpose of proposing a Self-Determination Option for a new or modified commonwealth status, statehood, or independence. Requires such proposal, if approved by the people of Puerto Rico in a referendum, to be presented to Congress, which shall enact a joint resolution approving it and providing for its implementation. Requires a proposal that is changed or amended by Congress to be submitted to the people of Puerto Rico for approval in a referendum before it shall become effective.
It is also roughly the same proposal that the “commonwealth” party has made many times before. By including the option of “a new or modified commonwealth status” it brings up again the myth of commonwealth and the failed prospect of “enhanced commonwealth.”
If the statehood party — the elected leadership of Puerto Rico — supports the November referendum, the AOC/Velazquez bill supports the “commonwealth” party.
Velazquez and Ocasio-Cortez are presuming to represent Puerto Rico. As a state, Puerto Rico will have two senators and approximately five Members of Congress. This would make it difficult for lawmakers of Puerto Rican heritage to claim that they speak for Puerto Rico in Congress. It has been suggested that this potential loss of power is the reason for the bill. We do not have any evidence that this is the case.
But we do agree with the Resident Commissioner that this is a disrespectful action. Trying to replace the plebiscite planned by the government of Puerto Rico with a long, drawn out process which will keep Puerto Rico in a colonial position for many more years is a slap in the face to the territory of Puerto Rico.
Make sure your legislators know what you think about this.