AOC on Puerto Rico Status

Popular congressional representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez spoke at the recent hearing on Puerto Rico’s status. As one of the original sponsors of HR 2070, the misleadingly named “Puerto Rico Self-determination Act,” she naturally spoke in favor of that legislation.

She mentioned all three of the viable status options for Puerto Rico:

  • statehood
  • independence
  • territorial status

” True decolonization process exempts the current territorial status,” said Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. The Department of Justice continues to insist that the current territorial status should be one of the status options presented in any status vote on the Island, as they have done in the past. The chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Raul Grijalva, has agreed with her position on this, since the majority of voters in the 2012 plebiscite rejected the territorial option.

Ocasio-Cortez asked Dr. Cox Alomar whether HR 2070 was opposed to statehood or would impose independence on the Island. His answer was “no.”

“It is status agnostic,” Ocasio Cortez said, meaning that HR 2070 does not favor one status over another.

A democratic process?

Ocasio Cortez asked Cox Alomar, “Would a constitutional assembly be the most inclusive, democratic, and just process for the decolonization of Puerto Rico, in your view?” He answered that it would, in his opinion.

Professor Cox Alomar referenced the White House Puerto Rico Task Force Report of 2011, which mentioned the idea of a status convention. This is what they said:

Constitutional Convention.

Given the uncertainty about the status options and the need for a full debate on these issues on the Island, some advocates have suggested that a constitutional convention is a superior means for reaching resolution on the status question Constitutional conventions have the advantage of being able to adapt the language of the status options and to allow for a more complete consideration of a variety of subsidiary issues However, if (as discussed below) congressional legislation commits to honoring the outcome of a determination made by the people of Puerto Rico, the virtues of a constitutional convention are reduced. Any changes made by the constitutional convention to the status options outlined in the legislation could negate the commitment made by the United States, or at least require further congressional action reflecting consent to the changes made

An additional challenge of a constitutional convention is the selection of delegates for that convention The Task Force’s outreach indicated that there would be significant disagreement concerning how delegates would be selected Delegates could be elected, but it is unclear whether such a process would be an improvement on the idea of a plebiscite itself Some advocates argued that delegates should be selected from a broad swath of Puerto Rican society, with a de-emphasis on political parties

The most common form of a constitutional convention suggested was one that itself would define the status options, which would then be taken to the people for a popular vote. Under such an approach, the constitutional convention would define the status options (or choose a single option to be presented to the people), develop a process, and draft a ballot, which would then be presented to the people of Puerto Rico, who would vote in a referendum. The constitutional convention could precede a vote of Congress defining the status options or could follow it. If the convention preceded congressional action, the status options defined by the convention could take effect only with congressional approval. If Congress failed to provide such approval, the constitutional convention might need to reconvene to consider other options. If the constitutional convention followed congressional action, the convention could approve the congressionally defined status options or modify them, but any modification would then require further congressional approval.

This is a far cry from recommending a constitutional convention. They pointed out that Congress would have to approve the status options proposed by the constitutional convention. Since the Constitution only allows three options, there is little point in having a constitutional convention to come up with those three options. They have, in any case, been on the ballot for two of the plebiscites conducted this century.

Statehood has won every time.

Education

Ocasio Cortez also asked Dr. Cox Alomar whether voters on the Island were sufficiently informed about the consequences of their votes. Did they know that the Fiscal Oversight and Management Board could continue under statehood? He thought they didn’t know this.

Ocasio Cortez went on to suggest that there could be legal and tax consequences to statehood that people might not understand.

There are 50 current states. It is easy to understand what statehood means, because there are numerous examples. Under the constitution, all states are treated equally. They have the same rights and sovereignty.

Territory status is also easily understood, because Puerto Rico has been a territory for more than a century. As a territory, Puerto Rico has no sovereignty, and is under the plenary power of Congress.

Independence means that Puerto Rico would be an independent nation, with a possible Compact of Free Association.

The mysterious alternatives HR 2070 dangles as bait are the mysterious part of the status question. The Department of Justice says they don’t exist, and the supporters of HR 2070 say that they are not subject to the Department of Justice.

“Puerto Ricans deserve to have the full facts,” Ocasio Cortez said, and we agree. We don’t agree that HR 2070 provides that. “What it mandates is a fully-informed and just process that Puerto Ricans deserve,” she said, but this is questionable.

What HR 2070 mandates

What HR 2070 mandates is ignoring the democratically expressed self-determination of Puerto Rico’s voters. While it would probably just reinforce the majority preference for statehood, it mandates a delay in the process, pushing Puerto Rico back into the quagmire the territory has been in for decades.

Ask your representatives to cosponsor HR 1522.

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