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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Resident commissioner urges Congress to ‘assume its responsibility toward Puerto Rico’

By The Star Staff

Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón spoke before the Natural Resources Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday at the beginning of a voting hearing on House Resolution (HR) 8393, the Puerto Rico Status Law.

“Today’s voting hearing represents a step forward in Congress to assume its responsibility toward Puerto Rico,” the resident commissioner said in a written statement. “Over the years, this Committee has held countless hearings on the subject of Puerto Rico’s status with the United States, as well as the unequal treatment of the island under federal laws and programs as a result of its current relationship. The territorial status of the Commonwealth is the main reason why Puerto Rico faces social, fiscal and economic challenges. The measure, the Puerto Rico Status Law, reflects the commitment that Mrs. [Rep. Nydia] Velázquez [D-N.Y.] and this public servant made to identify a common cause and establish a process of self-determination that would lead to the resolution of the issue of the status of Puerto Rico once and for all.”

“As with any compromise, neither of us got everything she wanted,” González Colón added. “I would have much preferred to be voting today for HR 1522, legislation that Mr. [Rep. Darren] Soto [D-Fla.] and I introduced, establishing the process for the admission of Puerto Rico as a state of the union. But I also understand the value of working together with Ms. Velázquez in an effort to come up with a compromise bill that will ultimately accomplish the same goal. Therefore, while I understand in principle the reasoning behind some of the concerns and arguments that may be raised today, I will remain committed to the agreement that we have crafted over the course of several months of arduous negotiations and will vote against any amendments that may be proposed.”

The resident commissioner went on to thank Soto “for always being with us in favor of the decolonization of Puerto Rico,” and paid tribute to the deceased Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), who she said “lived through and understood the inequalities under territorial status and the opportunities that statehood brought to Alaska, and would bring to Puerto Rico.”

“That is why he became the greatest champion of statehood for Puerto Rico and of the need to resolve our political status,” she added of Young, who in the late 1990s shepherded to passage a bill in the House to grant statehood for the island.

Through HR 8393, Congress would authorize a binding plebiscite under federal auspices among the constitutionally viable non-territorial status options: statehood, independence, and sovereignty in free association. A bill introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) on Wednesday, although it uses HR 8393 as a point of reference, includes the commonwealth as one of the status options (see story on page 3).

Under the House bill, the people of Puerto Rico would vote on their future in a democratic and transparent process that would include “a well-defined, non-partisan voter education campaign” that lays out “the consequences of each of the choices before them,” González Colón said.

“Finally, the measure establishes a mechanism that implements the option that reflects the mandate of the people of Puerto Rico,” she said.

The resident commissioner pointed out that “[w]e have been debating our political relationship with the United States for 124 years and this bill gives us a definitive solution.”

“Having a binding measure, where Congress clearly states what it is willing to offer, is very important,” she said. “Remaining in a subordinate or inferior condition for political or financial convenience is NOT a valid option. Over recent decades, the status quo has been repeatedly rejected by voters. Congress must commit, through actual action, to ending Puerto Rico’s territorial status.”

“For the past 105 years we have been proud American citizens of whom thousands have given the ultimate sacrifice to guarantee our freedoms, while being denied equal participation in federal decision-making,” González Colón added.

After noting that in three plebiscites held on the island in the past decade “a clear majority of voters has chosen statehood on all occasions,” the resident commissioner expressed confidence “that with the implementation of this legislation, voters will confirm their desire to join the Union.”

“However, for those who believe that Puerto Rico should become a sovereign nation, this bill also gives them that option,” she said.

“Colleagues, we have had to make very difficult decisions and trade-offs to get to where we are today,” González Colón said, “but I am convinced that this bill represents a historic and serious effort to finally decolonize Puerto Rico. It is not a perfect measure. No measure we have passed in Congress is.”

“My vote in favor will reflect the will of a large majority of the people who I very proudly represent, and who understandably want to end over 100 years of inequality and second-class citizenship,” the resident commissioner said in her statement before the committee. “Ironically, this will also be my only opportunity to vote on this issue, since being a delegate will prevent me from voting on the final passage of this or any other bill that affects my constituents on the House floor.”

“As the only representative of Puerto Rico in Congress, I respectfully ask for your support and your vote,” she said.

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