Puerto Rico status act passes committee but faces new opposition

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The U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee passed a binding plebiscite on Puerto Rico’s status Wednesday but immediately faced opposition by some United States-based diaspora groups.

The bill would offer Puerto Rico voters three options: statehood, independence, or sovereignty in free association with the United States. The current status — remaining a territory — would not be offered.

To be adopted, any status would need more than 50% of the vote. The initial plebiscite would occur Nov. 5, 2023, with a runoff, if necessary, on March 3, 2024.

Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón said Puerto Rico remaining in its current subordinate position was not a valid option.

If voters approved statehood, Puerto Rico would become a state no later than one year after the vote.

At Wednesday’s committee meeting, the House Natural Resources Committee members voted 25-20 in favor of the measure. All but two Democrats voted in favor and all Republicans except for Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón voted against it.

On Wednesday, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Chair Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., said, “We have an opportunity here to deal with the colonial legacy — a legacy that should not be part of the governance of this nation of ours — and the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico deserve to have the same democratic principles that we believe in and swear to.”

González Colón said, “This bill gives us a final resolution. Remaining in a subordinate and inferior condition for political or financial convenience is not a valid option.”

However, on Wednesday, several United States-based Puerto Rico diaspora groups issued a joint statement opposing to the bill because there were no public hearings and Democrats were blocked “from introducing amendments that would provide Puerto Ricans with clear and full information.” Without the hearings or amendments, they said, it would “make it difficult for many in our community to rally for this bill.” 

The groups called on House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., “to immediately change course and allow an open rule and for amendments to receive an up or down vote on the House floor.”

The groups were Alianza for Progress, CASA, Boricuas Unidos en la Diáspora, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, Open Society Policy Center, Power 4 Puerto Rico Coalition, Puerto Rican Cultural Center–Chicago, Puerto Ricans in Minnesota, and Vamos Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico House President Rafael Hernández Montañez last weekend commented on the proposed federal plebiscite: “The political status of Puerto Rico has had multiple stages of development during the last 500 years, and its evolution cannot be tainted by the deliberate exclusion of one of the main political forces of the population on the island.”

Hernández Montañez is a leader of the Puerto Rico Popular Democratic Party, which supports the current “commonwealth” status, albeit without the Puerto Rico Oversight Board, whichmany observers describe as a territorial option. But supporters of the party frequently say the status need not be territorial.

Hernández Montañez said the Puerto Rico House of Representatives passed aresolution on March 1 that “also promotes a new model of the commonwealth of Puerto Rico, based on the will of the people, so that the future relationship with the United States is not colonial or territorial.”

The U.S. House Rules Committee is expected to decide next week what amendments the House floor may consider. The House recesses after the July 29 session. Hoyer has said he will try to have the fullHouse vote on the bill before the break.  

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