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The issue of Puerto Rican sovereignty highlights the divide between politicians, the inhabitants of Puerto Rico, and those in the Diaspora. Photo: Wikipedia
The issue of Puerto Rican sovereignty highlights the divide between politicians, the inhabitants of Puerto Rico, and those in the Diaspora. Photo: Wikipedia

Going deeper: Reps. Nydia Velázquez and Ocasio-Cortez insist Puerto Rico self determination is the only way

Over 80 progressive organizations argue it would “put an end to colonialism,” but those pushing statehood argue it is present either way with statehood as the…

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Two days after more than 80 progressive organizations sent a letter House Speaker Nancy Pelolsi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in support of the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2020, Puerto Rican Reps. Nydia Velazquez and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have again reiterated their stance on the statehood debate among the island’s inhabitants, those in the diaspora, and legislators trying to make big moves while the Senate majority is in their favor.

Originally introduced on Aug 25, 2020, The Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act, expected to be reintroduced in the House again this year, would prompt Puerto Rico’s legislature to make a Status Convention whose delegates would be elected by Puerto Rican voters. 

The elected delegates would develop a solution for Puerto Rico’s status — whether it be statehood, sovereignty, or free association. 

Two months later, Puerto Rico held a non-binding referendum, where Puerto Ricans declared their desire for statehood, in a vote where only 55% of registered voters participated in the referendum. Of those, the narrow vote resulted in 52% support and 47% against. 

“The referendum —a yes or no vote on statehood— was not binding, did not include a transition plan or an educational campaign on the consequences of the vote, and was not inclusive of other political status options,” the progressive organizations wrote in their letter to House leadership. 

The Self-Determination Act is not explicitly against statehood. Rather, it insists that its method of having Puerto Ricans vote for their own delegates to determine their future is more democratic, rather than a simple “yes or no” vote that doesn’t outline a plan, consequences of such a plan, and who would be in charge of undertaking it. 

“Understandably, many of our Democratic friends want to make the territory a state to empower it. But many Puerto Ricans view that push as the culmination of colonization,” the reps wrote on their introduction of their joint legislation. 

The act has since divided Puerto Rican members of Congress, over how to approach a vote on Puerto Rico’s status as a U.S. territory. 

Pro-statehood Puerto Rican U.S. Reps. Ritchie Torres, Darren Soto, and Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colón have in turn strengthened their efforts for statehood. 

Legislatively, they may now have an edge in House support. 

Joined by 52 co-sponsors, a bill by Rep. Soto and Gonzalez-Colón would have Congress accept the non-binding referendum’s results. If passed, the next step would be to hold a ratification vote by the people of Puerto Rico to accept admission into the United States. 

The bill has garnered mass support from members of Congress, however, González-Colón said on Tuesday that neither Schumer or Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will support a statehood bill, reports Latino Rebels. 

The White House appears to be leaning toward a sort of self-determination. 

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki responded to a reporter's questions on March 3 saying Biden “supports a referendum in Puerto Rico, for the people of Puerto Rico deciding the path forward.”

Like the Self-Determination Act, the statehood bill is not without its share of criticisms. 

“Self-determination for Puerto Rico is the only progressive and morally responsible position on the Island’s future. After over a century of colonial rule by the United States, we must let the people of Puerto Rico decide their future. @RepAOC,” Rep. Nydia Velazqauez wrote one day after the statehood bill was revealed.

“This is not political football,” she added. 

“Political football.”

Velazquez echoed the words of Philly Boricuas in an interview with AL DÍA over the summer, when the Self-Determination Act was first introduced. 

Adrian Mercado told AL DÍA that Puerto Ricans are accustomed to status and relationship to the United States being used as political football. 

“Every time there’s an election, every time there’s a governor or a new party comes into power, they use the status,” he said. “There’s a lot of nuance, because, not only do you have pro-statehood politicians that are speaking against [a congressional assembly] but because it’s AOC, you know?”

To juxtapose AOC, Mercado referenced González-Colón, who was one of the chairs of Latinos for Trump. Her party, the PNP, is based on a platform of pro-statehood, an agenda she is pushing to make true as a non-voting member of Congress. 

“We support Puerto Rico’s and Puerto Rican’s right to self determination!” Philly Boricuas wrote on March 4, in response to the more than 80 progressive groups who voiced their support. 

Despite the overt opposition by progressives, the pro-statehood coalition is still fighting to recruit the most influential Puerto Rican figure in Congress, Rep. Ocasio Cortez. 

Gov. Pierluisi recently spoke on the issue in an Axios segment, expressing his wish for the New York representative to support the effort. Yet, in a subsequent phone interview with Axios on March 4, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez essentially said no.

“The principled position — especially for the head of that colonizing power — is to say that people should have a process of self-determination and to not put your thumb on the scale of one direction or another,” she said. 

By moving forward with the non-binding statehood referendum that included just over half of the population, some argue it would work in favor of certain interest groups. 

When The Daily Beast’s Andrew Padilla asked Chuck Schumer about the tax haven the island has become for “wealthy settlers and their growing political power,” Schumer responded — rather forcefully — against the pro-U.S. statehood party (PNP) for its breaks to the wealthy, highlighting the reality within the push for statehood that people on both sides of the argument have failed to recognize. 

“Democrats need to grasp that Puerfto Rico is more than a hope for blue voters; it is an occupied nation,” Padilla writes, referencing Act 22, which attracted wealthy U.S. residents to Puerto Rico with the promise of tax breaks in exchange for residency. “Current pro-U.S. statehood Gov. Pierluisi, elected with just 33 percent of the vote in 2020, is continuing on the same path.” 

This brings up Democratic Congress, who may be overreaching in hopes to add more representatives and senators to their already present majority. 

Puerto Rico largely voted Democrat in the election, but that is not the case across the board. Perhaps the renewed push for statehood among mainland reps is for the possibility of having a new Democratic senator added to their majority. 

The problem is, that’s far too much to bank on 

As we saw in the 2020 election, there’s no such thing as the Latino vote or community. Those phrases alone negate the deeply-nuanced demographic that are Latinos, as well that is the diversity of Puerto Rico alone.

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