DOJ rejects statehood for Puerto Rico — so do Puerto Ricans

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Last weekend, The Hill published an op-ed making several false claims regarding the annexation of Puerto Rico as a state of the Union. Allow me to set the record straight.

Puerto Ricans have rejected annexing our country into the United States as a state every time we have been asked at the ballot box. The fact is that incorporating Puerto Rico into the union would not only be detrimental to Puerto Ricans, but to Americans as well. 

The United States Department of Justice (DOJ), correctly in my view, denied providing federal income taxpayer funds to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to hold a federally-sanctioned statehood “yes” or “no” referendum because it was a misleading and fundamentally unfair proposal. Some have argued that celebrating this decision is somehow akin to supporting the president’s well-recorded and reprehensible intolerant views against minorities in the U.S. In fact, it has been a long standing DOJ policy for all political options to have equal participation in any Puerto Rico status vote. That was the position established under the Obama administration, and that is the position taken by former Vice President Joe Biden.

It is an inherent contradiction to claim the moral high-ground of fairness, inclusion and democracy when arguing for a rigged “pro-statehood” process that, by definition, excludes the majority of voters in Puerto Rico who have repeatedly voted against annexation and who favor other legally valid options, such as more autonomy for the commonwealth, free association or outright independence. If statehood is the only option on the ballot, voters in Puerto Rico would find themselves shutout of the process this November when confronted with this sham vote.

As DOJ stated in its July 29 letter to the Puerto Rico Elections Commission, “…the Department’s approval and funding of the plebiscite may be seen as an endorsement of these (pro-Statehood) views and a rejection of other available status options.” To deny that excluding valid options from a supposedly democratic process is unfair is an outright disenfranchisement of Puerto Ricans who support other paths to decolonizing our people.

Puerto Ricans directly rejected statehood at the ballot box in plebiscites held in 1967, 1993, and 1998. In 2012 and 2017, the people rejected the entire process outright, just as DOJ recognized and is why it outright denied the government of Puerto Rico funding for the vote. The U.S. Congress and President Obama in 2014 enacted a law to pay for a vote where all Puerto Ricans would select among “options” to resolve Puerto Rico’s future status. Including only one option on the ballot clearly disenfranchises the majority of voters who do not agree with annexation. 

The fact is that most Puerto Ricans do want equality. We desire Puerto Rico and the United States to have a relationship among equals (“de tú a tú” as we say in our native Spanish language). Our dignity as a people, our right to have the freedom to determine our own future, and the potential for a more mutually beneficial partnership with the United States are core principles Puerto Ricans embrace. Puerto Rico is a nation, from the sociological point of view, that has a unique relationship with the U.S. based on a constitution of our own drafting and approval. Congress unfairly interfered with our affairs when it enacted PROMESA. This U.S. federal law imposed seven people as an unelected fiscal control board that stripped the island’s elected officials of their power in contravention of our own expansive constitutional powers. It was so unfair that Federal Circuit Judge Juan Torruella called for civil resistance and an economic boycott, after denouncing PROMESA as “the most denigrating, disrespectful, anti-democratic, and colonial act” the United States has perpetrated against the people of Puerto Rico.

What our people need is a thriving economy and jobs. We need opportunities. We want a dignified, democratic and bilateral relationship with the United States. That is why I support legislation introduced by Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands) and Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) for Puerto Rico and the territories to be part of the solution to the problem facing the U.S. in its over-dependence on China for 80 percent of materials used to manufacture drugs and other medical products. 

This November, Puerto Rico will stand united in saying “no” to the imposition of crippling federal income taxes that would hurt our economy, as well as that of the United States. We will say “no” to losing Spanish as our official language of our schools, courts, legislature and general government business. We will say “no” to the denial of our right to true self-determination and decolonization where all options are included and where the federal government is bound to its results. And when that happens, when we say “no” to another sham vote that is contrary to all of the fundamental democratic norms of inclusion and justice, I look forward to joining my former colleagues in Congress next January to chart the correct path forward. One where Puerto Rico and the United States have a dignified relationship where both our countries’ economies can reap the rewards.

Aníbal Acevedo-Vilá a former governor of Puerto Rico (2005-2009) as well as the former resident commissioner representing the island in Congress (2001-2005). He is currently running for resident commissioner in the 2020 general election.

Tags DOJ Joe Biden Nydia Velazquez PROMESA Puerto Rican voters Puerto Rico Puerto Rico plebiscite Puerto Rico statehood Referendum Stacey Plaskett statehood status status vote

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