Hispanic Leadership Fund Calls for Congressional Action

Mario H. Lopez of the Hispanic Leadership Fund wrote an opinion piece for Economic Standard, calling for Congress to get a vote on Puerto Rico’s status onto their calendar.

“As we see the country turn the corner toward economic recovery, it would certainly be helpful for elected officials to address issues that have long been on the back burner—discussed at length but on which [they’ve] never really moved,”  Lopez says. “One such move, lingering for decades, would be for Congress to finally resolve Puerto Rico’s status and allow a process for statehood. Doing so would be bold and perhaps unexpected, but it also is easier than it may sound, as it is solidly popular with Americans.”

Resolution of Puerto Rico’s status is an excellent example of an important issue waiting for Congressional action. Lopez points out that the Government Accountability Office already said that Puerto Rico’s status interferes with business and investments on the Island.

“Contrast that to the current reality,” he goes on, “where Puerto Rico’s territorial status means that the economic troubles it faces, including economic stagnation and massive debt, are ultimately a Congressional responsibility, an ongoing headache for lawmakers.”

Anti-statehood factions like to suggest that Puerto Rico just has to get its act together before discussing statehood. Recover from Hurricane Maria, wait till we’re through discussing the earthquakes, hold off during the quarantine — each problem is something to delay action on statehood. And each problem can almost be defined as a delaying factor, because Congress has to run to put out the fires.

As a state, Puerto Rico would have the same rights and responsibilities as all the other states. The Island would receive the support that Congress gives to all the other states.

A popular move

Lopez points out that admitting Puerto Rico as a state should be an easy move because it is a popular move.

In 2012 and again in 2017, Puerto Rico voters chose statehood. Polls since 2017 show that the residents of Puerto Rico continue to favor statehood.

People living in the states also prefer statehood for Puerto Rico. A Gallup poll last year found that two thirds of respondents in the states favored statehood for Puerto Rico.

Those who benefit from the current territorial status and do not want equality through statehood for Puerto Rico make the claim that the people of Puerto Rico are evenly divided on the status options. In fact, Independence is the choice of fewer than 5% of the people. It is less popular than Green Party presidential candidates and has, realistically, no chance of winning the votes of a majority in a plebiscite in Puerto Rico.

As for enhanced commonwealth, the United States has rejected the idea many, many times — including after the plebiscite in which it won. Puerto Rico voters might want it, but they cannot have it. A vote for “commonwealth” is a vote to continue as a territory. It is unquestionable that being a territory is not the best option for Puerto Rico. If it were, Puerto Rico would be in a strong position right now, as a territory.

Independence and commonwealth parties teamed up to boycott the 2017 plebiscite. Nobody boycotts a vote they think they can win.

Time for statehood

Puerto Rico has been a territory of the United States for more than a century. It’s time to admit Puerto Rico as a state. Lopez takes the sensible position that Congress, having managed to take bipartisan action on the coronavirus pandemic, could just keep that momentum going with a vote on the status of Puerto Rico.

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