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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Hernández Montañez to Congress: Don’t exclude commonwealth from status plebiscite

Speaker of the House of Representatives Rafael Hernández Montañez

By The Star Staff

Speaker of the House of Representatives Rafael Hernández Montañez in a letter to members of Congress warned against the exclusion of the commonwealth status in a proposed plebiscite in status legislation.

“After the announcement made in May about legislation intended to end the current political relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States, I was among a group of Puerto Rican political leaders who warned about what it would represent to democratic principles to exclude people in a political process that will have lasting effects over their future,” Hernández Montañez wrote. “Democracy demands transparency and inclusion. Furthermore, trying to silence voters through exclusion because they do not share the same viewpoint as those claiming to be the stewards of these democratic processes is even worse.”

Last week, lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a bill that would allow the island’s residents to choose in an upcoming status referendum between three status options: statehood for Puerto Rico, independence from the United States and “sovereignty in free association with the United States.”

The commonwealth status was excluded as an option even though it has won all plebiscites in the past, Hernández Montañez said.

The bill, a result of negotiations between lawmakers who supported statehood for the territory and lawmakers who wanted to hold a status convention, was formally introduced by Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.

“Any political process intended to change the current political status of Puerto Rico should bring to the table all parties,” the House speaker continued in his letter. “Furthermore, self-determination is founded upon empowering people. Therefore, even though challenges are present when adding more diversity to the process, it will ultimately guarantee a fair and more representative dynamic, as well; it will bring legitimacy to the process. Puerto Rico’s political status has had multiple stages in development over the last 500 years, and its evolution cannot be stained by the purposeful exclusion of one of the principal political forces of the island’s population.”

If the legislation being considered by the House Natural Resources Committee only includes statehood, free association and independence, Congress will deliberately attempt to go against the will of a significant group of Puerto Rico’s population, Hernández Montañez contended.

“This stands in direct contrast to U.S. policy and to positions clearly expressed by the U.S. Department of Justice which state that Puerto Ricans must be offered an inclusive and transparent process that allows them to choose from viable options including statehood, independence, free association, and Commonwealth.”

“I am not advocating against any political formula; instead, my petition is for Congress to bring all parties to the table and let Puerto Rico’s people decide our future in similar conditions,” he added. “If the advocates against the Commonwealth [status] are so convinced that it will not prevail in a plebiscite, why do they not let it compete?”

“As a matter of social justice, fairness, and in your historical duty at the Natural Resources Committee, I urge you and all members of your delegation to favor an objective democratic process for all Puerto Ricans,” Hernández Montañez wrote. “Let us work together to empower the people of Puerto Rico.”

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