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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Puerto Rico Status Act filed in US Senate with 21 co-sponsors

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) (Erin Schaff/The New York Times)

By The Star Staff

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia and Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA) Executive Director Luis Dávila announced on Wednesday the filing of the Puerto Rico Status Act 2023 (Senate Bill 3231) in the U.S. Senate, which proposes a plebiscite with options for non-territorial, or non-colonial, status for the island.

“This is the upper chamber bill to resolve the problem of the status of Puerto Rico with the largest number of original co-sponsors in our history, with 21 senators, and that bodes well for our fight for equality,” Pierluisi said in a written statement.

The legislation, introduced by Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Catherine Cortez Mastos (D-Nev.), and with 21 co-sponsors, seeks to offer Puerto Rico a path to self-determination.

Pierluisi thanked the legislators and collaborators who support the bill, which he said is aligned with the United States Constitution.

“There is no better time than now to honor the contributions and sacrifices that the American citizens of Puerto Rico have made for our Nation,” he said in the statement. “There is no better time than now to set an example and ensure that we are united in defense of the principles of equality and democracy for which the Founding Fathers of this Nation passionately fought. There is no better time than now to respect the will of our people.”

“Puerto Rico’s current status is unworthy of America,” Pierluisi added. “Having disenfranchised American citizens goes against everything the United States stands for.”

The bill proposes a binding plebiscite for the island’s residents to decide between statehood, full independence and independence by free association, with the goal of resolving Puerto Rico’s colonial status.

The governor pointed out that since 2012, when he was the island’s resident commissioner in Congress, a clear majority of Puerto Ricans have rejected the current status and three times have chosen statehood as their preferred status option.

Dávila said the Puerto Rico Status Act “paves the way for Puerto Rico to chart its path, free from the status quo which has caused the fiscal cliff and less participation in power decision-making.”

“We are grateful for the collaboration of federal lawmakers, and we are eager to see the democratic process unfold as Puerto Ricans decide their political future,” he said.

Meanwhile, New Progressive Party (NPP) Rep. José Aponte Hernández, along with Sen. Keren Riquelme Cabrera and Reps. José “Che” Pérez Cordero and Ángel Morey Noble described the bill as “historic.”

The lawmakers, who were also in Washington, D.C. this week seeking support for the bill, asked Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, to hold a public hearing on the measure filed by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) as a matter of “urgency.”

“Today, the fight for equal rights for U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico takes a new direction with the filing of Bill 3231 in the U.S. Senate,” Aponte said. “This measure … does justice to our people, who have demanded the admission of Puerto Rico as a state of the union. The time to act is now and we are pushing for the approval of this bill during the current Congress, which ends its functions at the beginning of January 2025.”

The bill is companion legislation to House Bill 2757, a measure co-authored by Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón that also seeks to hold a congressionally endorsed consultation on the status options of statehood, direct independence and independence through free association.

“I call on Senator Manchin to hold a public hearing on this bill,” said Riquelme, who was in the U.S. capital with a group of veterans. “His personal views on the issue of statehood for Puerto Rico should not obscure the reality that the 3.2 million U.S. citizens living in the territory of Puerto Rico deserve a just, non-colonial solution to the problem of political status. We are the oldest colony in the world and that must stop now.”

Pérez added that “[u]nlike other bills that the Popular Democratic Party [PDP] has brought to the Senate, [the latest of] which only has one signatory, this one has gained the support of 21 senators in less than 24 hours and I tell them that we are going to continue adding [co-sponsors] because that is why we are here, to knock on doors and convince.”

Morey asserted that “members of Congress are already realizing that they have to do something about the oldest colony in the world.”

“The fact that in a year that the presidential race is being outlined, we already have two status bills in Congress, House and Senate, is a clear sign that the issue of Puerto Rico is taken seriously in the federal capital and that, unlike what the PDP says, this is a priority issue,” he said.

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