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If passed, the legislation would “empower” Puerto Ricans to determine their own political future, out of the hands of Congress aside from the initial vote on the Act. Photo: Getty Images
If passed, the legislation would “empower” Puerto Ricans to determine their own political future, out of the hands of Congress aside from the initial vote on the Act. Photo: Getty Images

Reps. Velázquez and Ocasio Cortez reintroduce Puerto Rico Self Determination Act with Sen. Menendez

The Puerto Rico Self Determination efforts are facing increased opposition by Statehood advocates. 

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“In 1787, the founders of this country met to form a constitutional convention to decide how America ought to be governed. Now, 123 years after the U.S. government invaded Puerto Rico, we must ask the people of the Island the same question.”

That was Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), who, on March 18, reintroduced the 2021 Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act with Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY) along with Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ). 

If passed, the legislation would “empower” Puerto Ricans to determine their own political future, out of the hands of Congress aside from the initial vote on the Act. 

Rep. Velázquez first introduced the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act in the U.S. House of Representatives back in 2007, and it was most recently reintroduced on Aug. 25, 2020 in the House by both her and Rep Ocasio-Cortez. The bill would prompt Puerto Rico’s legislature to make a Status Convention whose delegates would be elected by Puerto Rican voters. 

“After over one hundred years of colonial rule, Puerto Ricans would have a mechanism to determine their own future. This bill introduced just now would provide a democratic option by giving the Puerto Rican people a chance to make their voices heard in two open elections,” Rep Velázquez wrote on Twitter.

“And I am proud that we are introducing it with over 70 co-sponsors, and I am confident that even more Members of Congress will join in in the coming weeks,” she continued. 
 

Velázquez act was presented to the House with 75 House cosponsors and growing. 

So far, this is substantially more than the Statehood effort earlier this March with 57. That effort is led by Reps. Darren Soto (D-FL) and Jenniffer Rivera, Puerto Rico’s non-voting Republican representative in Congress. 

What’s more is the Self-Determination has garnered powerful support from House leadership. Both the current Chair of the Hispanic Caucus, Rep. Raul Ruiz, and former Chair Rep. Joaquin Castro have cosigned. So has Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Progressive Caucus, and Gregory Meeks, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, among others. 

In just hours, the bill has alo achieved support from key Senators. Senator Menendez introduced the bill alongside Reps. Velázquez and Ocasio-Cortez. Among the bill’s seven other cosponsors in the Senate are four former Presidential hopefuls.

“For too long, the people of Puerto Rico have faced inadequate assistance and colonial exploitation in the wake of natural disasters, crippling economic crises, and unjust human suffering,” Sen. Sanders wrote in a statement. “The people of Puerto Rico deserve the right to decide their own future. They deserve the right to have their voices be equally heard in governance and elections.” 

With the new bill’s introduction, the case for Statehood now lacks its legislative majority support, but remains strong. The support coming from both sides has divided the Puerto Rican members of Congress on how to vote regarding the island’s future with or without the U.S.

Two months after the Self Determination Act was introduced in 2020, 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. 

But Velázquez position is that 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. 

“They voted for that but what’s going to happen next?” She asked during Thursday’s press conference, urging for a bilateral commission between Puerto Rico and Congress. 

Under her bill’s outline, a delegation elected by Puerto Ricans would develop a long-term solution for the people of Puerto Rico, not Congress. 

Whatever the outcome, cosigners believe it would move away from the current “territorial arrangement.”

U.S. Congress has authority over the affairs of Puerto Rico. In that respect, she said there needs to be a formula outside of the territorial aspect. That is, for a status convention to discuss among the delegates. 

“When people go to the polls, they need to know what it means, no matter what their stance is,” Velázquez said. She mentioned her sister, who is pro statehood, but the Congresswoman argues that a simple yes or no question as was on the most recent plebiscite is not sufficient information to make an informed decision. 

“A colony is incompatible with democracy,” Rep. Ocasio Cortez said at the end of the press conference. “Self determination is how we can accomplish that, she finished.”

On March 3, the White House, however, appeared to be leaning toward self-determination, suggesting an additional referendum in Puerto Rico, according to White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki one day after the statehood bill was introduced. 

“The president supports a referendum in Puerto Rico, for the people of Puerto Rico deciding the path forward,” she said. 

The Puerto Rico Self-Determination Outline is as follows. Find the full bill here

Creation of Status Convention: The bill proposes creating a “status convention” made up of delegates elected by Puerto Rican voters who would come up with a long-term solution for the island’s territorial status — whether that be statehood, independence, a free association or any option other than the current territorial arrangement.

Delegate election: Once the number of delegates is determined, voters will decide who will serve on the delegation. The delegate election will be publicly financed. In order to keep dark money out of this election, a Puerto Rico Status Convention Public Matching Fund will be established, and it will be subject to the Federal Election Commission.

Delegate collaboration with a Bilateral Negotiating Commission: A Bilateral Negotiating Commission composed of several members of Congress and the administration will be created to provide advice and consultation to delegates regarding the different status options.

Referendum vote: A referendum vote, where the status options will be presented by the delegates to the people of Puerto Rico, will then be held following the collaboration between the delegates and the Bilateral Negotiating Commission. An allocation of $2.5 million dollars to the Puerto Rico State Commission on Elections will be appropriated to execute said referendum. Additionally, delegates shall carry out an education campaign through traditional paid media related to the referendum under this section. An appropriation of $5 million dollars is authorized to carry out said campaign.

Congressional Recognition: If the referendum under the Act is approved by the people of Puerto Rico, Congress shall approve a joint resolution to ratify self-determination option as approved in the referendum vote.

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