NAACP statehood statement leaves Puerto Ricans perplexed

NAACP statehood statement leaves Puerto Ricans perplexed
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A statement issued by the NAACP on Thursday threw into confusion whether the group has endorsed Puerto Rican statehood.

Two days after the civil rights organization endorsed statehood through a resolution passed by its members, the group issued a statement that both sides of the statehood debate interpreted as supporting their cause.

The Hill and other news organizations initially reported that the NAACP had rescinded its endorsement. Puerto Rican newspaper El Nuevo Dia reported that an unnamed representative of the NAACP said the statement "annulled" the organization's pro-statehood resolution.

The statement in question emphasized Puerto Rican "self-determination." That's language used by opponents of statehood to dismiss the validity of the 2012 and 2017 referenda where voters overwhelmingly chose statehood.

"The NAACP has a long history of supporting the democratic value of self-determination," the statement read. "Our position as it stands seeks to advance the prosperity of the people of Puerto Rico. We, as the NAACP want to ensure that Puerto Ricans receive the resources, and support required to aid their recovery efforts.

"We feel our position is especially important following the devastating hurricane and abysmal response from our federal government," the group added. "The NAACP stands with the people of Puerto Rico now more than ever, and we affirm our ability to work together in our joint struggle for equal protection, equal opportunity, and free will. Puerto Rico should be free to decide its preferred option in a fair and inclusive manner."

The NAACP could not be reached for comment Thursday, as its leadership team was traveling back from the group's San Antonio convention. 

The earlier endorsement drew the ire of some politicians on the island who oppose statehood and say Puerto Ricans have not been given a fair chance to vote on their status.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz (D) criticized the endorsement, tweeting the NAACP should "rethink its position of not listening to all voices and supporting statehood over a true democratic process."

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In response to the statement, the Puerto Rico Statehood Commission -- a shadow Congressional representation appointed by Rosselló in January -- thanked the NAACP on Twitter for "reaffirming their position in support of #PuertoRico statehood."

But Cruz thanked the NAACP for "listening to the diversity of voices, reverting its decision to support statehood and supporting right of PR to decide." 

Though Puerto Ricans voted for statehood in 2012 and 2017, opponents say the votes were "rigged" because the referenda did not include the word "commonwealth" as an option for voters to choose, using instead the more neutral "current status."

In the 2017 referendum — the basis for the Rosselló administration's claim to statehood — 97 percent of voters chose statehood, but participation was a paltry 23 percent, largely due to a boycott of the vote organized by the opposition Popular Democratic Party (PPD).

PPD Chairman Héctor Ferrer on Wednesday criticized Rosselló's speech to the NAACP, saying the real civil rights issue for Puerto Rico is to allow supporters of the commonwealth to vote for their preferred option.

"The way to do it is head to head, everybody has the right to vote for what they want," said Ferrer.

The confusion over the powerful civil rights organization's endorsement hit at the center of a political fight that's among the most divisive issues in Puerto Rican politics.

Supporters of statehood, including Rosselló and Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón (R), have bet the island's future on accession to the United States, and blame Puerto Rico's economic and developmental woes on what they call the current colonial status.

Although Rosselló is a Democrat and González-Colón is a Republican, they are both members of the New Progressive Party (PNP) in Puerto Rico, which is a coalition of centrist Democrats and Puerto Rico's Republicans. Cruz is a member of the PPD, a left-wing party that mostly supports the island's commonwealth status.

In his speech to the NAACP Tuesday, Rosselló said, "colonialism is political segregation and it has no place in our country.”

Opponents see statehood as colonialism on steroids -- a push to assimilate Puerto Rico into the United States, abandoning its unique roots and culture.

"It's to say, 'We're going to let you join us. We invaded you. We know we colonized you, but we're going to give you that ultimate step of colonialism.' And that ultimate step of colonialism is when you assimilate and disappear as a people, as an entity. Thank you very much, NAACP, but I think we'll take our own road and we'll define our own destiny," Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) told The Hill on Thursday.

-Emily Birnbaum contributed to this story which was updated at 4:10 p.m.