A tale of two bills: Competing legislation on the status of Puerto Rico

A tale of two bills: Competing legislation on the status of Puerto Rico

On Wednesday, April 14, the House Committee on Natural Resources, chaired by Arizona Democrat Raúl M. Grijalva, will hold a full committee hearing on two pieces of legislation which take oppositional positions on the future status of Puerto Rico. They are H.R.1522, “To provide for the admission of the State of Puerto Rico into the Union,” and H.R. 2070, “To recognize the right of the People of Puerto Rico to call a status convention through which the people would exercise their natural right to self-determination, and to establish a mechanism for congressional consideration of such decision, and for other purposes.” 

The opening session of the Insular Affairs Legislative Hearing on Puerto Rico Status is scheduled for 1 PM EDT, and will be livestreamed on Facebook and YouTube.    

The announcement of the upcoming hearing was made in March.

On April 14 we’ll hold a hearing to discuss two legislative approaches to #PuertoRico political status. Led by Chair @RepRaulGrijalva, the Committee will consider H.R. 1522 by @RepDarrenSoto and H.R. 2070 by @NydiaVelazquez. Chair Grijalva will not put his thumb on the scale.

— Natural Resources Committee (@NRDems) March 29, 2021

Both pieces of legislation were introduced by Democrats. 

Our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico have again declared their desire for statehood, and Congress must follow suit. Today, along with @RepJenniffer, I’m proud to introduce the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act. 🇺🇸🇵🇷#PRStatehoodhttps://t.co/9RCc5CMj6p

— Rep. Darren Soto (@RepDarrenSoto) March 2, 2021

After over one hundred years of colonial rule, Puerto Ricans would have a mechanism to determine their own future. This bill introduced just now would provide a democratic option by giving the Puerto Rican people a chance to make their voices heard in two open elections. pic.twitter.com/kJI7WjISZo

— Rep. Nydia Velazquez (@NydiaVelazquez) March 18, 2021

Soto’s bill currently has 58 co-sponsors, including the Republican non-voting Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico Jenniffer González-Colón, and Velázquez’s bill has 73.

What complicates the issue for those people not actively engaged in Puerto Rican issues, is that there is no singular position on the status question, nor is is there unanimity on the island or among those people of Puerto Rican heritage here on the mainland. What becomes even more confusing for outsiders is that both bills were drafted by Democrats who both lay claim to being “Boricuas.” Soto, though born in New Jersey, has Puerto Rican ancestry via his father. Velázquez was born and raised on the Island, and was the first Puerto Rican woman elected to the House in 1992.

Tensions are running high on both sides of the issue. No sooner than the Soto bill was announced, opposing groups took out an ad against it.

Today, a group of Puerto Rican advocacy groups who do not favor statehood paid for an ad in the DC Metro section of the @nytimes, the same day that @RepDarrenSoto and @RepJenniffer are formally submitting a #PuertoRico statehood bill to the House. pic.twitter.com/qbr59ZtJ5E

— Latino Rebels (@latinorebels) March 2, 2021

I’m in agreement with Futuro Media’s Editorial Director, Julio Ricardo Varela. I’ll get ready for the fireworks with some popcorn.

April 14. Bring your popcorn. This is pretty historic. #PuertoRico pic.twitter.com/Kqoq7rwxbJ

— Julio Ricardo Varela (@julito77) March 29, 2021

Invited witnesses are:

H.R. 1522 (Rep. Soto), “Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act” 

  • The Hon. Pedro R. Pierluisi, Governor of Puerto Rico
  • Ms. Johanne Vélez-García, Vice President, Puerto Rico Democratic Party
  • Mr. José Fuentes, Chair, Puerto Rico Statehood Council
  • Dr. Christina D. Ponsa-Kraus, Professor of Law, Columbia Law School

H.R. 2070 (Rep. Velázquez), “Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2021”

  • The Hon. Rafael Hernández, Speaker, Puerto Rico House of Representatives
  • The Hon. María de Lourdes Santiago, Vice President, Puerto Rican Independence Party
  • The Hon. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, Former Governor, Popular Democratic Party  
  • The Hon. Manuel Natal, Former Representative, Citizens Victory Movement

CBS News correspondent Lilia Luciano, discusses the differences between the two bills, and gives an overview of Puerto Rican political parties, and how they differ from those on the mainland in this report.

The question of Puerto Rico’s status as a territory (read colony) is not new. The three main political parties on the island are organized around the question of status—statehood, the current relationship with perhaps some adjustments, or independence. The parties are the: New Progressive Party (Partido Nuevo Progresista PNP), Popular Democratic Party (Partido Popular Democrático PPD), and the Puerto Rican Independence Party (Partido Independentista Puertorriqueño PIP).

Recently, post Hurricane Maria, and a popular uprising on the island forcing Gov. Ricardo Rossello’s resignation, two additional parties were formed—Citizens’ Victory Movement (Movimiento Victoria Ciudadana MVC) and the Dignity Project (Proyecto Dignidad PD).

To get a deeper understanding of how complicated the issues and divisions are I suggest you read this opinion piece by journalist Andrea González-Ramírez:

And here is my last story for @GENmag: A deep-dive into Puerto Rico’s colonial status and the quest for statehood. With comment from @GovPierluisi, @RepDarrenSoto, @NydiaVelazquez, @AOC‘s team, @PRStatehoodDem, and more 🇵🇷https://t.co/sIdx8rADH5

— Andrea González-Ramírez (@andreagonram) April 7, 2021

The status question is the beating heart of politics in Puerto Rico today. It’s the issue that anchors its major political parties, fills the airwaves, and triggers family arguments on Mother’s Day. For estadistas like Gabriela, welcoming Puerto Rico into the union is a long-overdue matter of civil rights. But unlike the status of Washington, D.C., where nearly 90% of the population supports statehood, there are other schools of opinion on the island.

There are those who believe in the current territorial status, who argue Puerto Ricans are their own people — not Americans — and what should remain is a partnership that allows for self-governance with long-lasting support from the United States. Others believe the benefits Puerto Rico currently receives can be further expanded without necessarily becoming a state by making it an “enhanced commonwealth.” And then there are those who believe Puerto Rico is its own nation and should be free from the shackles of empire, something the island has not experienced since 1493 when it was first claimed as a colony by the Spanish crown. Independence, they argue, would allow Puerto Rico to finally live up to its modern potential, without oversight from a foreign power. It could cut its own trade agreements, build its own economy, and preserve the island’s national identity.

Despite these profound disagreements over what’s best for Puerto Rico, most boricuas these days seem to agree on one thing: The current territorial arrangement, which has been in place since 1952, is unsustainable. The Estado Libre Asociado (ELA), which cemented the archipelago as a U.S. colony, feels like a failed experiment. The problem comes down even to its name, which literally translates to “associated free state,” as Puerto Rico is neither associated, nor free, nor a state.

Without understanding the history, many people here on the mainland, most of whom are not Puerto Rican, have been lumping Puerto Rico into their support for D.C. statehood. As we watch Democrats struggle with a Senate which they only hold control of by a hair, more and more voices are heard supporting statehood for D.C., to hopefully overcome being stymied by Republicans. I have no issue with D.C. statehood and have supported it for decades.

What I see as problematic, is that coupled with cries for D.C. statehood, many people are calling for a similar status for Puerto Rico under the assumption that were Puerto Rico to become a state, it would elect two Democratic senators.

From my perspective as an outside observer of Puerto Rican politics, there are a lot of things wrong with this position. First and foremost is that Puerto Ricans should have a right to determine their own destiny, and not simply become a tool in the conflict between our two political parties. It reeks of both opportunism and colonialism.

Lots of people who are not Puerto Rican seem to have opinions. My issue with them is that they should be educated ones. I post a Puerto Rico tweet every morning.  Sometimes I ask questions like this one:

Curious. Question for not-Puerto Ricans. Without looking it up in Wikipedia, can you name Puerto Rico’s political parties? If you can do that, do you know where they stand on a left to right spectrum? It has been 1283 days since Puerto Rico had full power post Maria.

— Denise Oliver-Velez 💛 (@Deoliver47) March 27, 2021

The majority of people who responded did not know the answer. From my perspective, you can’t just jump on the statehood bandwagon without knowing Puerto Rican history.

To wrap up, in case you are wondering why these two bills are being dealt with in the House Committee on Natural Resources, their website explains.

The House Committee on Natural Resources advances the interests of the indigenous peoples and residents of the territories of the United States, and considers legislation and oversees federal conservation and species protection programs under the leadership of Chairman Raúl M. Grijalva.

Vice Chair of the Natural Resources Committee Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, an Illinois Democrat offered his take to host Joshua Smyser-DeLeon on the Paseo Podcast.

Here’s a quick cut of @RepChuyGarcia explaining what exactly the House Natural Resources Committee does & the immense power it has over Puerto Rico as well as other American “territories.” Listen to the FULL episode everywhere podcasts are streamed! 🎙️https://t.co/2ACwxhTR2I pic.twitter.com/WdsHUiaTpY

— 🇵🇷 Paseo Podcast (@PaseoPodcast) March 18, 2021

I hope you will tune in.  I look forward to discussing the session later on this week.

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