Playing politics with Puerto Rican veterans

I feel compelled to respond to the column posted June 12 on the Congress Blog, titled “Honor for Puerto Rico veterans is important step in fight for equality,” by Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner in Congress, Pedro Pierluisi.

It is disappointing that Mr. Pierluisi would inject divisiveness into such a momentous occasion of unity among the Puerto Rican people as the recent enactment of a law to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the veterans of the U.S. Army’s 65th Infantry Brigade, better known as the “Borinqueneers;” the overwhelming majority of whom hailed from Puerto Rico. In his column, Pierluisi implicitly suggests that the fight against the racial discrimination faced by these brave soldiers after their honorable and highly decorated service in the Korean War is akin to the fight for making Puerto Rico the 51st state of the union.

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The fight to award the Congressional Gold Medal to these distinguished service members brought together people from all political parties in Puerto Rico and the U.S., and we were proud to stand with veterans groups who helped make this long overdue recognition a reality when President Obama signed the bill into law this week. The Borinqueneers have thus become the first Hispanic group to receive this award, and thus join the Tuskegee Airmen, the Navajo Code Talkers, and other segregated units.

The sacrifice and courage of the Borinquneers is unquestionable. What one does have to ask is why Mr. Pierluisi would be compelled to mix the divisive politics of the political status of Puerto Rico with such an unparalleled show of unity among all Puerto Ricans. Why would he suggest that the fight against discrimination towards these veterans is related to the struggle for statehood? The reality is that there should be no place for politics when it comes to our veterans. Some may think that it would only be logical to connect the struggle for racial and ethnic justice with the complicated and bitterly contested question of Puerto Rico’s political future. However, the truth is that Puerto Rico has held four votes on this issue since 1967 and statehood has been rejected every single time, including in 2012.

It is regrettable that Mr. Pierluisi felt compelled to make his case for statehood on the backs of the Borinqueneers, who are a symbol of pride, not only for Puerto Ricans but all Hispanics. The Governor of Puerto Rico, the Commonwealth’s House and Senate, members of Congress of both parties, including Pierluisi, and organizations representing folks from all walks of life came together to push Congress to pass this historic recognition for our Borinqueneers – and we prevailed.

On the issue of bestowing one of the highest civilian honors the U.S. can offer a group of its citizens, the sense of unity and honor should prevail above all else, instead of thinly veiled attempts to promote a divisive political agenda.

Hernández is the director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA), which is the office of the governor in Washington, D.C.