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Upcoming LULAC elections could spell a Puerto Rican takeover

The nation’s oldest Latino civil rights organization, founded by Mexican-Americans, could see a major change in leadership.

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The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), which was founded in 1929 by Mexican-Americans in Corpus Christi, Texas, is set to hold its elections this Summer in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

This will be its first conference since 2019, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The leadership of the nation’s oldest Latino civil rights organization has always been Mexican-American, but this year the tides may be shifting in favor of Puerto Rican leadership, and Puerto Rican members are quickly growing their ranks.

Juan Carlos Lizardi, president of a LULAC council in New York City will be challenging the organization’s current president, Domingo García.

Lizardi is the song of one of LULAC’s board members, Elsei Valdés, who is Puerto Rican and a statehood activist. 

This competition is pushing the organization deeper into the fight over Puerto Rico’s status. 

In an article published earlier this month by The Hill, Sindy Benavides, LULAC’s CEO made an affirmative statement on the issue, marking a shift in thee historical trend in which the status question was considered out-of-bounds for groups outside of the island. 

“We see continuously how our Puerto Rican community is treated as second-class citizens — the fact that there are over 235,000 men and women who have served honorably in the military, who have lost their lives, and yet they cannot vote for the president of the United States, it’s a double standard,” Benavides said. 

This, however, is a cause of concern for some members who feel that if Lizardi is victorious, that the statehood issue will take priority over other issues that LULAC advocates for. 

Because Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, all Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, but those who reside on the island are not permitted to vote in U.S. congressional or presidential elections. 

The resident commissioner, who represents the territory in Congress,  also cannot vote on legislation on the floor. 

Puerto Ricans themselves are divided on this issue. A smaller percentage of island residents want statehood and prefer the current territorial status. 

Although Benavides recently said LULAC is taking a stand to support statehood, its president says otherwise. 

García told NBC News that he supports Puerto Ricans’ right to self-determination and a fair election, but that LULAC is not a one-issue group. 

“We’re dealing with immigration and education and funding for that. I just met with the chief of police in Los Angeles regarding criminal justice reform,” he said. 

Some LULAC members are choosing not to attend this year’s conference due to financial concerns, which gives Lizardi an advantage, as the organization’s constitution only allows members to vote in-person. 

In the meantime, members on the island are swiftly increasing the number of LULAC’S local entities — in Puerto Rico and New York. Most of them have been formed over the past three months. 

In 2021, Puerto Rico had 54 councils, and as of March 2022, it has 170. One hundred and sixteen of them were created in the last two months. 

Hilda Duarte, president of a Dallas LULAC council, told NBC News that she is concerned about the sudden growth surge of councils in Puerto Rico and how it could rearrange the organization’s priorities. 

“The Puerto Ricans want statehood. That’s something they have to decide. They are the ones who have to vote and get excited and once and for all settle their future. We’ll support whatever they do,” Duarte said.

Currently, there are two bipartisan bills that address Puerto Rico’s statehood competing in Congress, both sponsored by Puerto Rican Congress members. One is pushing for statehood and the other seeks to create a process to decide Puerto Rico’s status. 

 

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