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The Act unveiled on Aug. 25, quickly saw backlash from pro-statehood advocates, and those who oppose AOC. Photo from Left: Adrian Rivera Reyes, Puchi De Jesus, Adrian Mercado. Credit: Michelle Myers, AL DÍA News.
The Act unveiled on Aug. 25, quickly saw backlash from pro-statehood advocates, and those who oppose AOC. Photo from Left: Adrian Rivera Reyes, Puchi De Jesus, Adrian Mercado. Credit: Michelle Myers, AL DÍA News.

Philly Boricuas on AOC's Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act

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

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On Aug. 25, representatives Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY) and Nydia Velazquez (D-NY)  introduced the Puerto Rico Self Determination Act of 2020, again raising the issue of Puerto Rico’s colonization, sovereignty, and statehood in relation to the U.S.

“Today I’ve introduced legislation with Rep. AOC that would empower the Island to design their own future through a constitutional convention mechanism,” wrote Velazuez.

Soon after, the bill was met by a mix of support and overt criticism, for a myriad of reasons, surrounding the nuances on the topic of Puerto Rico’s self determination.

Philly Boricuas is a nonpartisan grassroots organization in Philadelphia advocating for the local Puerto Rican community.

Of late, the group has been advocating for the Puerto Rican vote, especially those in diaspora, on the premise that a vote in the diaspora is a vote for Puerto Rico.

AL DÍA had the opportunity to speak to Puchi de Jesus and Adrian Mercado, co-founders of Philly Boricuas on Puerto Rico’s status and the potential effects of the Self Determination Act should it be passed.

Political Football

Mercado said 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?

Mercado is referring to the stigma surrounding the congresswoman, on the labeling of her positions as radical, or too far left. 

To juxtapose AOC, Mercado referenced Jenniffer González, a Puerto Rican politician currently serving as the 20th Resident commissioner of Puerto Rico. 

She’s also one of the chairs of Latinos for Trump, Mercado mentioned, and has been vocal against ideas such as AOC’s because she’s affiliated with Trump’s agenda, and she’s pro-statehood.

“So because she’s involved in DC politics, and because she’s the face of the Island’s politics, she has to make all that noise,” said Mercado. “She has to be like, ‘This is not what we want, this is anti-democratic, They’re going to take away your private property.’”

She’s also a member of the Puerto Rican New Progressive party, noted De Jesus, which is based on a platform of pro-statehood.

Essentially, any sort of plan that goes against ideas for statehood, without first running the idea by the Puerto Rican People, is going to see opposition from legislators such as González because statehood is the ultimate goal for her party.

"A Sham"

Historically, this stance has seen a majority, but it’s not overwhelming, Mercado mentioned. 

“The last vote for statehood wasn’t a majority. Not only was it a majority, but people boycotted it too, so it was a total sham,” he said.

“It is a sham,” added De Jesus. “And a lot of the congressmen and lawmakers here in the U.S. are criticizing AOC’s bill using the upcoming referendum in November for status on the island as a counter narrative.”

But what it does is show there is a disconnect from what’s going on in the Island, to what’s happening in Washington. 

The last Plebiscite, De Jesus noted, was criticized for its confusing wording and options. This year, it only has one question: Do you want Puerto Rico to become a state?

“And so right now, there’s a massive campaign all over social media,” De Jesus said, on the premise that “Sobran las razones para votar no.”

But no one in Washington is talking about that. 

“What happened after Hurricane Maria brought Puerto Rico a lot of sympathy. And understandably, it opened up the eyes to this grey zone that we’re in as an island. We are not part of the United States, but we belong to the United States. And that was decided by the Supreme Court.” Mercado said.

This is the nuance he was referring to. 

There is a lot of current advocacy saying Puerto Rico should become a state. 

With good intentions, Mercado noted, but not fully educated. It’s viewed as “the good thing to do,” but it doesn’t consider what the people want. 

It does not consider a decision that, as AOC says, is made by and for Puerto Ricans. 

“So [Puerto Rico] needs to come up with its own legal framework to define what it wants. I don’t think it’s good to just leave it up to the federal government to define what the will of the Puerto Rican people is, because that’s undemocratic,” said Mercado.

Not only that, but it perpetuates the colonial relationship already in place. 

“It’s possible a lot of them are doing it because they don’t want to have to admit that Puerto Rico is a colony, you know? And obviously, to admit to that, then you’re admitting that the United States is the colonial power and it has imperialist tendencies,” De Jesus said.

This is especially true now, as lawmakers grapple and try to dictate the future of an island that is overwhelmed. Hurricanes, devastating earthquakes, a pandemic and political turmoil. 

The Disconnect

“In the midst of the AOC bill, the biggest topic on the island wasn’t the bill, if you go to the news networks,” De Jesus added. 

It was instead on how the Puerto Rican government is trying to criminally charge and prosecute five college students for participating in a 2017 student strike.

The day that AOC presented her bill, Puerto Rican Twitter wasn’t even paying attention, because all eyes were on the aforementioned government prosecution of a group of students.

“There won’t be a perfect bill for the status of Puerto Rico,” Marcado conceded. “Because ultimately, whether it’s Jennifer Gonzales’ bill or AOC’s bill, or whether it’s a non-binding referendum on the island, ultimately it is Congress’ decision of what to do with us. Even if the AOC bill doesn’t actually change that.”

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