Representative Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL) has introduced a bill calling for a status vote in Puerto Rico offering two choices: independence with free association and independence without free association. “Let the Puerto Rican people decide if now is the time for our Declaration of Independence,” he said in a jaunty press release which is no longer online.
This bill comes just days after the government of Puerto Rico passed a bill calling for a status vote including the options of independence and free association and also statehood.
Gutiérrez, who was born in the States and lives in the States, appears to be ignoring the fact that there is already a bill for the upcoming federally-sponsored referendum, written by and approved by the elected government of Puerto Rico. He is ignoring the fact that the Independence Party in Puerto Rico is supporting that bill. He is also ignoring the fact that independence has never managed to gain even 6% of the vote in any of Puerto Rico’s status referenda.
Gutierrez speaks against statehood in his press release, but also says, “This bill is about making the determination of Puerto Rico’s future status subject to a full, fair and honest debate with all of the remedies for Puerto Rico’s current colonial subjugation put before voters.”
A bill that excludes statehood from the options available to Puerto Rico’s voters cannot reasonably be said to have “all of the remedies for Puerto Rico’s current colonial subjugation put before voters.” A choice between independence with free association and independence without free association is a vote between two forms of independence.
In the last plebiscite, 61% of voters chose statehood. Removing statehood from the ballot is a rejection of Puerto Rico. It looks like an attempt to force independence on the people of Puerto Rico.
What does Gutierrez dislike about statehood? In his own words, “Puerto Rico gives up its nationhood, its culture, its Olympic teams, its language and the ability to determine its own future without a master.”
Let’s look at that:
- Puerto Rico currently is a territory of the United States. It has no nationhood to give up.
- Puerto Rico might represent the U.S. rather than Puerto Rico at the Olympics, though that is not certain.
- Puerto Rico has no need to give up its language. 47% of the residents of New Mexico speak Spanish at home. The U.S. as a nation is second only to Mexico in its number of Spanish speaking residents.
- As for the ability to determine its future without a master, Puerto Rico does not currently have this. It is certainly arguable that the State of Puerto Rico would have more power over its future than the nation of Puerto Rico could.
Puerto Rico as a State would gain rights and sovereignty, full citizenship, and full participation in the U.S. democratic process. Gutierrez already has these things. He has benefited from living in a State all his life, and doesn’t seem to want to give up those benefits. Why should he want to withhold them from the people of Puerto Rico?
Gutierrez is rejecting the current status of Puerto Rico, the status of an unincorporated territory. The voters of Puerto Rico rejected this status in 2012 when 54% voted “no” on maintaining the status quo. This is a step forward.
But removing the option of statehood is a big step backwards. Contact your legislators and tell them that you want Congress to support and to take action on the referendum scheduled for June 2017.