Puerto Rico governor asks Trump to consider statehood

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Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló asked President Trump Wednesday to recognize “that Puerto Rico’s territorial status is discriminatory and allows for the unequal treatment of natural born U.S. citizens.”

In a letter to the president obtained by The Hill and timed to coincide with the anniversary of Hurricane Maria hitting Puerto Rico on Thursday, Rosselló said the island’s territorial status negatively affected recovery efforts post-Maria.

“As we revisit all that we have been through in the last year, one thing has not changed and remains the biggest impediment for Puerto Rico’s full and prosperous recovery: the inequalities Puerto Rico faces as the oldest, most populous colony in the world,” wrote Rosselló.{mosads}

Rosselló, who campaigned on the promise of promoting statehood, wrote to Trump that the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s bureaucratic processes — in which Puerto Rico has no say — have slowed disaster recovery.

“The ongoing and historic inequalities resulting from Puerto Rico’s territorial status have been exacerbated by a series of decisions by the federal government that have slowed our post-disaster recovery, compared to what has happened in other jurisdictions stateside,” reads the letter.

In the letter, Rosselló also asks Trump to reconsider a State Department request to dismiss a case in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) over the United States’ international responsibility regarding Puerto Rico’s status.

In that case, the IACHR is investigating complaints that the United States is violating the human rights of its citizens in Puerto Rico, who don’t have the same political rights as U.S. citizens who live in states.

Puerto Ricans are natural-born U.S. citizens, but they can’t vote for president unless they relocate to one of the states or the District of Columbia, and as a territory, Puerto Rico is only awarded one nonvoting delegate in Congress.

Rosselló, who at times has come under criticism for his tempered approach to Trump, told the president he felt “compelled to respectfully address the most egregious errors in the [State Department] missive,” which sought to dismiss the complaints.

Rosselló’s letter lists six such “errors”:

The State Department called Puerto Rico a “self-governing territory” in its dismissal request, but Rosselló calls it a “territorial colony.”

Rosselló said that calling Puerto Rico self-governing “ignores that Congress often uses its plenary powers over the territory to impose a multitude of federal laws without the island residents having any voting representation in the U.S. Senate and only a single Resident Commissioner in the U.S. House of Representatives, who cannot vote on the floor of that chamber.”

The letter also disputes the State Department’s assertion that Puerto Ricans are not “banned” from voting for president.

“The only way for U.S. citizens from Puerto Rico to vote in such an election and be counted is to leave Puerto Rico. If that is not a ban, then what is?” wrote Rosselló.

Rosselló further makes the case that century-old Supreme Court decisions that still apply today “uphold an inherently racist logic that deem the people of Puerto Rico as inferior and unable to fully participate in the institutions of democratic governance.”

The letter also touches on two referenda that statehood supporters have won in Puerto Rico, but that have not been deemed official results by the Department of Justice (DOJ). The most recent, in 2017, was boycotted by local opposition parties, and the ballot never received final DOJ approval.

While that referendum only had a 23 percent participation rate, statehood won with an overwhelming 97 percent of the vote.

Rosselló also complained to Trump that the DOJ did not approve the 2017 referendum, saying that “after the state legislature even amended the format of the vote to meet the recommendations of the U.S. Department of Justice, the federal executive failed to” certify the ballot.

The letter directly addresses the State Department’s request for dismissal of the IACHR case, saying that asking the international body to dismiss is tantamount to asking them “to turn a blind eye to an inconvenient truth, that Puerto Rico remains the unfinished business of American democracy.”

Rosselló ends his letter with an appeal to Trump’s leadership, asking him to “work together to abolish this century old territorial-colonialism once and for all.”

“Statehood for Puerto Rico is not only about realizing Puerto Rico’s full potential. It is about America living up to its most noble values by creating a more perfect Union,” added Rosselló.

Updated on Sept. 20 at 7:17 a.m.

Tags Donald Trump Politics of Puerto Rico Puerto Rican status referendum Puerto Rico statehood Ricardo Rosselló

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