Federal Aid Is Not Enough | Puerto Rico 51st

A group of statehood advocacy organizations have written to President Biden insisting on action to end Puerto Rico’s colonial status.

“We, the undersigned organizations, leaders, and advocates, want to start by thanking you for your recent visit to Puerto Rico and swift action in responding to the needs of the island’s 3.1 million U.S. citizens following Hurricane Fiona,” the letter begins. “Your immediate approval of Puerto Rico’s emergency declaration and major disaster declaration, and announcement to allocate $60 million in federal funding for storm recovery demonstrates a clear commitment to aid all Americans at their time of need, regardless of whether they live in a state or a U.S. territory.”

The tone of appreciation is clear, but the letter also makes it clear that this is not enough to solve the problems Puerto Rico faces. 

“Unfortunately, federal aid and support for disaster recovery and reconstruction in Puerto Rico is simply not enough to change the persistent weakness, fragility, and trend of crisis after crisis which Puerto Rico is being subjected to by Congress and the entire federal government as a result of its unequal and undemocratic territory status,” the letter continues.

No representation

“[M]illions of Americans are currently voting in the 2022 midterm election to choose the future leadership of our country, yet the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico are still being denied participation in federal elections with full voting rights,” the authors point out. “For this reason, we are calling on your Administration to go beyond merely dealing with the symptoms of Puerto Rico’s inequality and vulnerability by finally addressing the root cause of the island’s problems, its subordinate treatment and disenfranchisement under the current territory status.”

“We implore you to officially endorse and actively call on Congress to vote on and pass the PRSA (Puerto Rico Status Act) before the end of this year,” the letter goes on. “Your active leadership and engagement on the pressing need to resolve Puerto Rico’s territory status is essential if you truly want to help Puerto Rico recover, rebuild, and grow into a resilient and prosperous jurisdiction. Anything less is just placating Puerto Ricans with dollars but denying them the dignity, equality, voting rights and democracy which you claim to want for all Americans.”

Civil Rights and Protections During the Federal Response to Hurricanes Harvey and Maria (USCCR Report). 

The letter then cites the Civil Rights and Protections During the Federal Response to Hurricanes Harvey and Maria (USCCR Report) .This report unequivocally described the responses to Hurricanes Maria and Harvey as “inequitable.”

 “The disaster relief and response efforts to the storms differed on many fronts,” said the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. “From landfall through six months after, the disaster response to Harvey in Texas was on a larger scale and faster than the response to María in Puerto Rico, and the Commission received testimony that the slow pace at which federal agencies dispersed aid to Puerto Rico significantly affected survivors’ recovery.”

The letter to the president connected the dots, saying, “The difference in treatment is directly connected to Puerto Rico being a territory while Texas is a state.” 

Citing other evidence showing the difference in disaster response in the states as opposed to the territories, this section of the letter concluded, “When a population of U.S. citizens lacks voting representation in the governing bodies that enact and administer the laws that impact their everyday life, and when their political status as residents of a territory allows unequal treatment, it is not surprising when their needs go unanswered. The lack of voting representation in Congress, and the inability to vote for President due to Puerto Rico’s current colonial status, silences the needs and opinions of those residing on the island, and subordinates them to the will of a government they don’t fully participate in.

Beyond disaster assistance

The letter went on to cite additional examples of the inequity Puerto Rico faces.

“The recent Supreme Court decision in the case of Vaello-Madero emphasized how the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico can be discriminated against merely for residing in the territory,” the authors pointed out. This was the case in which the Supreme Court ruled that it was legal for Congress to treat Puerto Rico differently from states., allowing clear discrimination against U.S. citizens living in a territory.

“While Congress and the Administration have sought to pass various pieces of legislation in recent years to treat Puerto Rico residents equally to fellow citizens living in the states under some federal laws and programs,” the letter goes on, “these fixes are sometimes temporary and ultimately offer only a piecemeal approach to the island’s systemic inequality under the territorial governance structure. Moreover, under territory status there is no guarantee that a subsequent Congress could not pass legislation to backtrack and discriminate again against Puerto Rico’s residents again. The cumulative result of this territorial inequality and disenfranchisement on Puerto Rico is persistent weakness and fragility in the island’s finances, economic prospects, infrastructure, local political institutions and the massive outmigration of residents leaving for the states.”

What should the president do?

The U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico simply cannot afford to continue hearing of White House and Congressional efforts to address the symptoms and negative effects of territorial inequality, while the fundamental need to end territorial colonialism as the root cause of the problem remains unaddressed,” the authors stated. “This is the moment for you to take action, and to show that when you say you are a steadfast champion for democracy, for voting rights and against election denial, that your efforts also include the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico.”

The letter asks for a simple yet bold action: “The most powerful way that you can do this now is by formally endorsing the PRSA through a statement of administration policy, and then actively calling on Congress to vote on and pass this bill before the end of this year.”

Please reach out to President Biden. Congress must admit new states. Congress must vote on the Puerto Rico Status Act. The president’s support could make a difference. Your support will make a difference. Please speak up for Puerto Rico and ask your friends and family to do the same. 

The letter is signed by the following organizations and individuals:

George H. Laws García Executive Director
Puerto Rico Statehood Council

Hon. José Aponte-Hernandez Executive Director
Instituto Misión Estadista

Anthony Carrillo
President
National Puerto Rican Equality Coalition

Irma R. Rodríguez
President
Puerto Rico Escogió Estadidad

Hon. Lucy Arce
Former Senator Puerto Rico Senate

Hon. José Garriga-Picó Secretary
Puerto Rico Statehood Project

Nathaniel Morel
Secretary
National Puerto Rican Equality Coalition

Elisa Muñoz
President
Young Democrats of Puerto Rico

Col. Carlos Quiñones, U.S. Army, Ret. Leader San Juan Area
Veterans for Puerto Rico Statehood Task Force

Sigfredo Pérez
Advocate
Veterans for Puerto Rico Statehood Task Force

Alfonso Pérez-Borroto
Founder
Puerto Rico Statehood Supporters DMV

Annabel Guillén
President
Igualdad, Futuro Seguro

Clyde Fasick
Treasurer
Igualdad, Futuro Seguro

Lt. Col. Dennis Freytes, U.S. Army, Ret. Chief Coordinator
Patriots for U.S. Veterans – PR Equal Rights

Raul Eduardo Rosas Executive Director LIFT A VET

Wilfredo Rivera President IMPULSO 51

Ken Oliver
Director
U.S. Council for Puerto Rico Statehood

Sgt. Hugo Guzman, U.S. Army (Ret.) President
True Freedom 51

Vanessa Martínez
President
Progressive Women of NPP

Nora Rodríguez Algarin
President, Municipality of Juana Díaz Progressive Women of NPP

José N. Vázquez President Hillsborough County Democratic Caucus

Dr. Zayira Jordan Founder
Frente Estadista

Jesús Pérez Executive Director 52 States of America

Hon. Milagros López Founder & President Votar es Poder

Javier de la Luz Founder
Boricuas con Kamala

Iris Padilla Cabrera Representative
Progressive Women of NPP

Hector Ramos
Extended Delegate (San Juan) Extended Congressional Delegation for Puerto Rico

Ivette Chardón
Extended Delegate (Ponce)
Extended Congressional Delegation for Puerto Rico

Evelyn Díaz Suarez Municipal President (Arroyo) New Progressive Party

Lt. Evelyn Ashbrook, U.S. Army Res. Extended Delegate (Virginia)
Extended Congressional Delegation for Puerto Rico

Read the full letter. 

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