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A Story of Two Payments: Competing Laws on the Standing of Puerto Rico

The upcoming hearing was announced in March.

Both laws were introduced by Democrats.

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Our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico have again expressed their desire for statehood, and Congress must follow suit. Today I am proud to partner with @RepJenniffer to introduce the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act. 🇺🇸🇵🇷 # PRStatehoodhttps: //t.co/9RCc5CMj6p

– Rep Darren Soto (@RepDarrenSoto) March 2, 2021

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After over a hundred years of colonial rule, Puerto Ricans would have a mechanism to determine their own future.

This newly introduced law would represent a democratic option by allowing the Puerto Rican people to have their say in two open elections. pic.twitter.com/kJI7WjISZo

– MP Nydia Velazquez (@NydiaVelazquez) March 18, 2021

Soto’s bill currently has 58 co-sponsors, including the non-voting Republican Commissioner of Puerto Rico, Jenniffer González-Colón, and Velázquez Bill has 73.

What complicates the problem for those who are not actively involved in Puerto Rican issues is that there is no singular position on the status issue, nor is there unanimity on the island or among people of Puerto Rican heritage here on the mainland. What becomes even more confusing to outsiders is that both bills were drafted by Democrats who both claim to be “Boricuas”. Although Soto was born in New Jersey, he has Puerto Rican ancestry through his father. Velazquez was born and raised on the island and was the first Puerto Rican woman elected to the house in 1992.

Tensions are high on both sides of the problem. As soon as the Soto bill was announced, opposing groups placed an ad against it.

I agree with the editorial manager of Futuro Media, Julio Ricardo Varela. I’ll prepare for the fireworks with some popcorn.

Invited witnesses are:

HR 1522 (Rep. Soto), “Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act”

The Hon. Pedro R. Pierluisi, Governor of Puerto Rico Ms. Johanne Vélez-García, Vice-President of the Democratic Party of Puerto Rico Mr. José Fuentes, Chairman of the Statehood Council of Puerto Rico Dr. Christina D. Ponsa-Kraus, Professor of Law at Columbia Law School

HR 2070 (Rep. Velázquez), “Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2021”

The Hon. Rafael Hernández, Speaker, House of Representatives of Puerto Rico The Hon. María de Lourdes Santiago, Vice President of the Puerto Rican Independence Party The Hon. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, former Governor of the People’s Democratic Party The Hon. Manuel Natal, former representative of the Citizens Victory Movement

CBS News correspondent Lilia Luciano discusses the differences between the two bills and in this report provides an overview of the political parties in Puerto Rico and how they differ from those on the mainland.

The question of Puerto Rico’s status as a territory (reading colony) is not new. The three main political parties on the island are organized around the issue of status – statehood, the current relationship with possibly some adjustments or independence. The parties are: the New Progressive Party (Partido Nuevo Progresista PNP), the People’s Democratic Party (Partido Popular Democrático PPD) and the Puerto Rican Independence Party (Partido Independentista Puertorriqueño PIP).

Recently, following Hurricane Maria and a popular uprising on the island that forced the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rossello, two more parties were formed – the Citizens Victory Movement (Movimiento Victoria Ciudadana MVC) and the Dignity Project (Proyecto Dignidad PD).

To get a deeper understanding of how complicated the topics and departments are, I recommend reading this journalist’s opinion Andrea González-Ramírez:

The question of status is the beating heart of politics in Puerto Rico today. It’s the issue that anchors its major political parties, fills the waves of air, and causes family disputes on Mother’s Day. For Estadists like Gabriela, Puerto Rico’s union is a long overdue civil rights issue. But contrary to the status of Washington, DC, where nearly 90% of the population support statehood, there are other schools of opinion on the island.

There are those who believe in the current territorial status, who argue that Puerto Ricans are their own people – not Americans – and what should remain is a partnership that enables self-government with longstanding support from the United States. Others believe that the benefits that Puerto Rico is currently receiving can be expanded without necessarily becoming a state by making it an “enlarged commonwealth.” And then there are those who believe Puerto Rico is its own nation and should be free from the shackles of empire, which the island has not seen since 1493, when it was first claimed as a colony by the Spanish Crown. Independence, they argue, would allow Puerto Rico to finally realize its modern potential without the control of a foreign power. It could cut its own trade deals, build its own economy and preserve the island’s national identity.

Despite this profound disagreement about what is best for Puerto Rico, most Boricuas today seem to agree on one thing: the current territorial regime, which has been in place since 1952, is unsustainable. The Estado Libre Asociado (ELA), which cemented the archipelago as a US colony, appears to be a failed experiment. The problem even lies in its name, which literally means “Associated Free State,” as Puerto Rico is neither associated, nor free, nor a state.

Without understanding the story, many people here on the mainland, most of whom are non-Puerto Rican, have dragged Puerto Rico into their support for DC statehood. As we watch Democrats struggle with a Senate that they only control a hair, voices are heard supporting DC statehood, hopefully to prevent Republicans from obstructing it. I have no problem with DC statehood and have supported it for decades.

What I find problematic is that, in conjunction with calls for DC statehood, many people are demanding similar status for Puerto Rico, assuming that if Puerto Rico became one state, it would elect two Democratic senators.

From my point of view as an external observer of Puerto Rican politics, much is wrong with this position. First and foremost, Puerto Ricans should have the right to determine their own destiny, and not just become a tool in the conflict between our two political parties. It stinks of both opportunism and colonialism.

Many people who are not Puerto Ricans seem to have opinions. My problem with them is that they should be educated. I post a Puerto Rico tweet every morning. Sometimes I ask questions like these:

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Curious. Question for non-Puerto Ricans. Can you name the political parties in Puerto Rico without looking up Wikipedia? If you can do that, do you know where they are on a spectrum from left to right? It has been 1,283 days since Puerto Rico had full power after Maria.

– Denise Oliver-Velez (@ Deoliver47), March 27, 2021

The majority of those questioned didn’t know the answer. From my point of view, you can’t just jump on the statehood car without knowing Puerto Rican history.

Finally, in case you’re wondering why these two bills are being dealt with in the House Committee on Natural Resources, the website explains.

The House Committee on Natural Resources represents the interests of indigenous peoples and residents of the territories of the United States, reviews legislation and oversees federal conservation and wildlife protection programs, under the direction of Chairman Raúl M. Grijalva.

Vice-chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, an Illinois Democrat, offered to host Joshua Smyser-DeLeon on the Paseo podcast.

I hope you will tune in. I look forward to discussing the session later this week.

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