Jean Guerrero wrote an opinion piece in the L.A. Times which has been widely syndicated across the web. In this essay, she points out that the current territory status is bad for Puerto Rico, and describes the two status bills currently being considered in Congress.
“The bills are the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act and the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act,” Guerrero writes. “Only the latter, co-sponsored by New York Reps. Nydia Velázquez and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is truly democratic.”
This is not the case.
“The self-determination bill would create a ‘status convention’ consisting of delegates elected by Puerto Ricans. The delegates would debate and define the implications of various status options — such as statehood, independence and free association (where a sovereign Puerto Rico would retain U.S. economic assistance and transfer agreed-upon authorities to the U.S., such as military defense),” she writes, “in consultation with a congressional negotiating commission. The bill would fund strong education efforts on this issue and Puerto Ricans would then vote on the options in a referendum. The results would be binding on Congress. Ocasio-Cortez says the bill is ‘status agnostic.’”
This may sound like self determination. However, the status convention would debate statehood and independence, including independence with free association. Both of these options have been being debated in Puerto Rico for decades. Unfortunately, the status convention also hopes to debate other options, including the old “enhanced commonwealth” dressed up with the new term “free association.”
Free association is a treaty between two sovereign nations, not a bold new option allowing the unconstitutional “enhanced commonwealth” to rise from its funeral pyre. The U.S. Constitution allows a territory to become a state or an independent nation. No other status is possible under the Constitution.
Gerrero also claims that the result of the status convention would be “binding on Congress.” This is not the case. The Department of Justice has already clearly said so.
HR 1522, the Puerto Rico Statehood Admissions Bill, calls on Congress to offer statehood to Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico can then accept the offer or refuse it. If Puerto Rico once again chooses statehood, the bill would be self executing.
However, HR 2070 cannot require Congress to accept whatever the status convention comes up with.
Guerrero claims that the statehood bill “aims to impose a status based on a nonbinding referendum from November 2020, when about 53% of Puerto Rican voters answered ‘yes’ to the question: ‘Should Puerto Rico be immediately admitted into the Union as a state?’”
It is true that HR 1522 respects the November 2020 vote. A referendum is, by its nature, nonbinding. There is nothing sketchy about a nonbinding referendum. It was a democratically held vote under the auspices of the democratically elected government of Puerto Rico, and the majority of voters chose statehood.
The word “impose” has no business in any discussion of this option.
Guerrero references the other referenda that have taken place in Puerto Rico, but describes them as “flawed and inconclusive.” She expresses concern about voter turnout. In fact, in a democracy, the majority of voters make the decisions.
The anti-statehood factions have done their best to sow doubt and confusion about the plebiscites, but you can’t just keep holding votes until you get the results you want. In 2012, 2017, and 2020, Puerto Rico voters chose statehood. They will have another chance to vote under HR 1522, and in that case, they will be voting on the offer presented by Congress. That is self-determination.