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Ocasio-Cortez, Velázquez call for convention to decide Puerto Rico status

Ocasio-Cortez, Velázquez call for convention to decide Puerto Rico status
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New York Democratic Reps. Nydia Velázquez and Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA may violate courts with new rule extending life of unlined coal ash ponds | Trump reverses course, approving assistance for California wildfires | Climate change, national security among topics for final Trump-Biden debate Biden distances himself from Green New Deal during town hall Ocasio-Cortez, progressives call on Senate not to confirm lobbyists or executives to future administration posts MORE proposed Tuesday a bill for Puerto Rico to choose its sovereign status through a convention, rather than the referendums preferred by proponents of statehood.

Velázquez, born in Puerto Rico, and Ocasio-Cortez, of Puerto Rican origin, published an essay on NBC News Think defending their approach, which they say would allow Puerto Ricans to decide their own fate.

"The legislation that would prompt Puerto Rico’s Legislature to create a Status Convention whose delegates would be elected by Puerto Rican voters," wrote the two lawmakers.

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"This body would develop a long-term solution for Puerto Rico’s status, be that statehood, independence, free association or any option other than the current territorial arrangement," they added.

Puerto Rico is due to have a yes-no referendum on statehood on the ballot in November's general election.

That referendum, promoted by the ruling New Progressive Party, known as PNP, has not been approved by the federal Department of Justice, which would make it non-binding, like previous exercises of the kind.

Territorial status is a sharply divisive issue in Puerto Rican politics.

The PNP, a collection of moderate Democrats and the territory's Republicans, is by design and vocation a pro-statehood party. The current governor, Wanda Vázquez Garced (R), as well as Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón (R) and Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz (R) are all members of the PNP.

The PNP's nominee to succeed Vázquez, former Resident Commissioner Pedro PierluisiPedro Rafael PierluisiPuerto Ricans voters are key in the Sunshine State Puerto Rico Democratic boss: Party 'cannot support' AOC/Velazquez status bill Ocasio-Cortez, Velázquez call for convention to decide Puerto Rico status MORE, is a Democrat.

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The territory's other large party, the left-leaning Popular Democratic Party (PPD), is a progressive party that for the most part eschews the idea of statehood, but has pushed for a review of the island's sovereignty status at the United Nations.

A third party, the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP), has historically garnered less than 10 percent support in elections.

Vázquez and Ocasio-Cortez's bill aligns most closely with the PPD position, which historically has confused many mainland Democrats.

"It is understandable that many of our friends in the Democratic Party have eyed making Puerto Rico a state as the answer. That view gained further traction after the U.S. House recently passed legislation that would move the District of Columbia toward statehood," wrote the lawmakers.

Under the current status, Puerto Rico's more than 3 million American citizens have no voting representation in Congress and cannot vote for president.

Spurred by growing PNP electoral success, control of the statehood party by Democrats under former Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and President TrumpDonald John TrumpPolice say man dangling off Trump Tower Chicago demanding to speak with Trump Fauci says he was 'absolutely not' surprised Trump got coronavirus after Rose Garden event Biden: Trump 'continues to lie to us' about coronavirus MORE's attitudes toward the island, statehood gained traction among stateside Democrats before Rosselló's resignation in 2019.

A 2017 referendum, held separately from the territory's quadrennial elections, showed 97 percent support for statehood, despite low participation due to the timing, an opposition-led boycott of the vote, and the DOJ's refusal to sanction the exercise.

Velázquez and Ocasio-Cortez wrote that the 2017 and 2012 plebiscites, where statehood overwhelmingly won support of those who showed up to vote, "were marred by voting irregularities and dismal participation."

And the two lawmakers noted that the "U.S. Department of Justice refused to validate the results of the 2017 referendum."

The 2017 referendum was disavowed by the DOJ under then-Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsHarris walks fine line on Barrett as election nears The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump's erratic tweets upend stimulus talks; COVID-19 spreads in White House The Memo: Team Trump looks to Pence to steady ship in VP debate MORE after the territory's government adopted the DOJ's suggested wording for the status question, but refused to change the date of the election.

The referendum followed a campaign promise made by Rosselló and González-Colón, then viewed as the future leaders of the PNP. Rosselló was forced to resign his post in 2019, González-Colón is running for reelection as resident commissioner.

Velázquez has long been vocal in Congress against statehood, often joining in the cause with former Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), and swaying progressives and members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on the matter.

"While yet another nonbinding status vote is scheduled for November, the recent primary fiasco in Puerto Rico does not inspire much confidence that the outcome will be any more reflective of popular opinion than previous votes," wrote Velázquez and Ocasio-Cortez.

Under their plan, the territory's legislature would call on a semi-permanent statehood convention to analyze the available sovereignty options, and then present the chosen self-determination option for a referendum.

That plan would void an ongoing conflict over how many options should be present on the ballot on election day, an issue that was at least partially responsible for the opposition boycott in 2017, and gave Sessions an opening to withhold DOJ sanctioning of that vote.

But Puerto Rico's statehood proponents were quick to pan the idea of a convention, defending the validity of prior referendums.

"The people's decision is through everyone's vote, not a meeting of the few. Puerto Rico has voted three consecutive times for statehood and it's our tough reality that it's up to Congress to act. Repeat after me: The decision of the people will be respected and Puerto Rico chose statehood," wrote González-Colón on Twitter.

Velázquez and Ocasio-Cortez wrote that it would be an "affront" to let Congress decide whether to validate the results of the existing referendum, pointing out that "many in Puerto Rico would view Congress pushing statehood not as an end to colonization, but the culmination of it."

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Rep. Darren SotoDarren Michael SotoRadiation elevated at fracking sites, researchers find Hopes for DC, Puerto Rico statehood rise Florida Democrat introduces bill to recognize Puerto Rico statehood referendum MORE (D), the first member of Congress from Florida of Puerto Rican origin, said Congress should respect the results of the November referendum.

"We have a plebiscite on the Island coming up this November. If the people of Puerto Rico choose statehood, then the next steps for Congress are pretty clear. We vote to admit them to the union. In such a scenario, there would be no need for this bill," said Soto, who last year introduced a statehood bill with González-Colón.

Still, Velázquez and Ocasio-Cortez in their essay criticized the U.S. takeover of the island, calling the episode of the 1898 war an "invasion" and a "dark episode [that] began more than a century of exploitation and brought us to the current, untenable situation."