Veterans Speak Up for Puerto Rico Status Act | Puerto Rico 51st

A group of veterans wrote to Congressional leaders on Veterans Day, urging action on the Puerto Rico Status Act. The letter was sent to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“Now that the mid-term elections have passed and as America celebrates Veteran’s Day, we bring your attention to the urgent need for Congress to vote on and pass H.R. 8393, Puerto Rico Status Act (PRSA) before the end of this calendar year,” the letter began. “America’s global national security landscape is quickly shifting, and it would be negligent for Congress to ignore the need to definitively resolve the political status of the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico in the face of rising Russian and Chinese efforts in the Caribbean and Latin America that are reaching ever closer to the U.S.”

The focus of the letter remained on strategic defense, with the authors pointing out, “Definitively resolving the more than century old issue of Puerto Rico’s ultimate political status is essential to America’s national security interests because recent actions by America’s two biggest great power rivals, Russia and China, demonstrate a pattern of efforts to strengthen their military capabilities as well as political and economic influence in a number of countries that are in close strategic proximity to the U.S.”

War games

The letter cited the “War Olympics” held in August in Venezuela. Russia and China have held annual military war games since 2015. This year’s competition, organized by the Russian Ministry of Defense, was the first event held in Latin America. “The games were used to increase military ties, grow networks, and normalize an increasingly visible and active military role for Russia and China in the Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) region,” the letter explained. “These military games build on continued efforts by Russia, China, and Iran to project power into the LAC region.”

“It is past time for Congress to recognize these escalating patterns and take meaningful action to strengthen America’s position in Latin America and the Caribbean,” the letter continued. “The U.S. territory of Puerto Rico is by far America’s most important asset in the region, which is why America has relied on Puerto Rico for over a century to effectively project economic, political, and military power beyond the continental U.S. Puerto Rico’s capacity for near shore advanced manufacturing, cutting edge scientific research, aerospace industry, signals intelligence and its current and former military installations, demonstrates the island’s geopolitical importance for the U.S. within the LAC region.”

Action required 

“Congress’ failure, up to now, to provide the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico with a definitive choice on the island’s political status, combined with the cumulative effects of territorial inequality and disenfranchisement, has severely weakened Puerto Rico and by extension America’s presence in the LAC region,” the authors went on.  “Territory status has become a failed governance and economic structure in Puerto Rico, a reality that America’s great power rivals have noticed and are seeking to exploit.”

At this point, the letter brought up the fundamental inequality and lack of democracy in territory status.  

“Under the current territory status U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico, including more than 90,000 veterans, are denied voting representation in Congress as well as the right to vote for their Commander in Chief. This in spite of the fact that since World War I Puerto Ricans have served and defended the U.S. in all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces,” the authors wrote. “From the honorable service of the Army’s 65th Infantry Regiment ‘Borinqueneers,’ to the tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans currently on active-duty, in the National Guard and in the reserves, Puerto Rico has continued to safeguard America’s freedom despite its residents being denied full voting rights and equality. The current territory status effectively silences the needs, voices, votes and aspirations of U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico and disregards the sacrifices of Puerto Rican veterans, service members and their families.” 

” Congress cannot keep Puerto Rico in this persistent state of weakness, fragility and operating from crisis to crisis which has decimated the local economy and finances, undermined its security, and destabilized its political structure due in large part to the systemic failure of the island’s current territory status,” the letter continues. “Preying on and promoting the natural discontent these conditions cause among island residents, Russia, Venezuela, Cuba and other nations opposed to U.S. interests, utilize forums like the U.N. Committee on Decolonization to push for Puerto Rico’s independence and also actively support small but very vocal anti-American pro-independence advocates and populist parties on the island. Meanwhile, China and its supporters wait in the wings crafting plans for a potential future where they hope a Puerto Rico outside the U.S. sphere of influence can unlock their desired access to transoceanic commerce through the Panama Canal.”

“At this juncture, Congress has a stark choice,” the letter concludes. “On one hand you can vote on and pass the PRSA to validate America’s core principles of freedom, equality, justice, and government by the consent of the governed; and create the opportunity to fully strengthen Puerto Rico and with-it America’s national security. On the other hand, you can continue to keep Puerto Rico under an outdated and failed territory status, dishonoring the sacrifices of our veterans, our current service members, and America’s founding values; and continue allowing space for our great power competitors to inch closer and closer to the U.S.” 

The letter closed with a request that Congress vote on and pass the Puerto Rico Status Act.

Signatures

Signatories included the following individuals:

  • LMG Antonio Vicens, U.S. Army National Guard, Ret.
  • BG Juan Rosado-Ortiz, U.S. Army National Guard, Ret.
  • COL Arnaldo Claudio, U.S. Army, Ret. 
  • COL Adolfo Menendez, U.S. Air Force, Ret. 
  • COL Luis Berrios-Amadeo, U.S. Army Reserves, Ret. 
  • MAJ Sigfredo Pérez, U.S. Army, Ret. 
  • CSM, René Berlingeri Otero, U.S. Army, Ret.
  • CW Carlos Quiñones-Pagán, U.S. Army National Guard, Ret. 
  • SFC Wilfredo Rivers, U.S. Army, Ret. , Gold Star Father
  • SFC Jose O. Rivera, U.S. Army National Guard, Ret.
  • SSG Eugenio Matias, U.S. Army National Guard
  • SSgt Justin Vélez-Hagan, U.S. Air Force, Ret. 
  • SGT Samuel Rodríguez, U.S. Army, Ret.
  • BG Victor Pérez, U.S. Army National Guard, Ret.
  • CAPT Elmer Román, U.S. Navy Reserve & DOD SES, Former Lt. Governor of Puerto Rico
  • COL Carlos Quiñones, U.S. Air Force National Guard, Ret. 
  • COL Victor Ortiz, U.S. Army, Ret. 
  • LTC Dennis Freytes, U.S. Army, Ret.
  • CAPT Anthony Carrillo, U.S. Army Reserve
  • CSM, Victor Franco, U.S. Army, Ret.
  • SFC Angel Aponte, U.S. Army, Ret.
  • SFC Nixon Rosado Vélez, U.S. Army, Ret. 
  • SSG Hector Ramos, U.S. Army, Ret.
  • SSgt Guillermo Alcover-Chalerman, U.S. Air Force, Ret. 
  • SGT José Cabreras, U.S. Army, Ret.
  • PO2 Gerardo Ramirez Vélez, U.S. Navy, Ret.

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