Puerto Rico’s Delegate in Congress Challenges Territorial Leaders to Let People Vote

In a statement to the U.S. House of Representatives on January 13, Rep. Pedro Pierluisi (D-PR) called for a federal law sponsoring a vote in Puerto Rico on statehood for the territory to be implemented without further delay.  Congress has provided the Puerto Rico Elections Commission with funding for a federally sponsored vote to confirm the results of the historic 2012 locally sponsored vote, in which a strong majority chose statehood over the current territorial status. As in other territories that became states, local special interest politics have prevented the federally recognized vote from being conducted in a timely manner.

Given rejection of territorial status by voters in 2012, Pierluisi is supporting proposals by the pro-statehood delegations in both the upper and lower houses of the Legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico for a vote on statehood without further delay.  But the current Governor and his allies in the local legislature have blocked any vote, even on a three way ballot with status options accepted as valid by Washington.

The Governor and his party clearly are afraid the Congress will recognize the results of a federally sponsored vote that confirms the 2012 vote for statehood.

That will mean the Governor’s local political party, which is tied to the territorial status quo, will be forced to embrace statehood as the choice of the people, or answer to the voters for opposing the will of the people after a majority confirms the 2012 vote for statehood.

Pierluisi pointed out to Congress in his statement that Alaska and Hawaii had up or down votes sponsored by Congress after locally sponsored votes had shown majority support for statehood.   Although not legally required, and many U.S. territories became states without votes, Pierluisi noted that in the modern era federally sponsored votes can be politically important because “That’s the way Washington works.”

He is calling on Congress to treat the 3.6 million U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico in the same manner as U.S. citizens in Alaska, Hawaii, and 30 other territories that became states, even though most were less integrated into the union than Puerto Rico is today.

Denial of treatment equal to all other U.S. citizen populated territories in effect treats our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico like the foreign citizens of the Philippines while it was a U.S. territory on the path to independence.

Now a clear majority of U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico rejected the status quo, and chosen statehood over territory status. This establishes that the governed in Puerto Rico no longer consent to be governed under policies treating U.S. citizens in the territory less favorably under federal laws than citizens in the states.

This requires Congress to restore the Northwest Ordinance model of territorial governance of U.S. citizen populated territories and eliminate federal laws and policies that treat U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico differently than citizens in the states based on the island’s territorial status.

Read the speech.

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