Jenniffer González Willing to Resort to Civil Disobedience for Statehood
SAN JUAN – Jenniffer González’s goals as the first female resident commissioner in Washington, D.C., are clear: obtaining parity in healthcare funds, boosting economic development and turning Puerto Rico into America’s 51st state.
For statehood, she is even capable of engaging in civil disobedience. “We will use all the tools necessary to advance the causes of equality for Puerto Rico… All tools, except violence … [Civil disobedience] is one of the mechanisms,” she said in an interview with Caribbean Business.
For this reason, after being sworn in as a resident commissioner on January 3, the first thing she will do the following day will be to submit an admission agreement that establishes the bases for Puerto Rico to become a state. It is González herself who, along with Congressional officials, writes the agreement, which does not conflict with the intention of Governor-elect Ricardo Rosselló to seek annexation through the Tennessee Plan.
“It will be the first time that the people of Puerto Rico, through their legal representative, in this case the resident commissioner, files a petition from the people of Puerto Rico to become a state of the Union and that statement is very important because it marks the historical development of a past plebiscite,” said the official in reference to the 2012 status plebiscite in which the island rejected the current status and favored statehood over other non-colonial formulas.
González explained that both the admission agreement, of which she did not provide further details, as well as the Tennessee Plan are some of the tools they will use to obtain statehood, but they will also present alternatives through legal means, public expressions, through federal agencies, courts, international jurisdictions, the U.S. Congress and even the Legislature of Puerto Rico. She said all of them will be announced shortly by Rosselló.
For the attorney, “a no means another way to say yes,” so she will not rest until she reaches her goal. “It’s an element of self-esteem. Puerto Ricans always think they’re going to say no, they do not want us. It will not be possible. Ricardo Rosselló and I are not from that school [of thought]. We are from the school [of thought that believes] that things have to be changed and we have to turn them around in our favor. It’s not [a matter of] what they want or do not want; it’s what we want,” she said.
She also urged those who favor other status formulas “if they are so convinced” that “the U.S. government will not give us statehood, I dare them to vote for it to see if it is true.”
The political leader also bets on her affiliation to the Republican Party, a majority in Congress, as one of the cards that will play in her favor in the process.
Looking to double EXIMBANK investment
The resident commissioner-elect has already set efforts in motion to increase investments by Banco de Exportaciones y Importaciones (EXIMBANK) in Puerto Rico products from $219 million—from 2012 to 2016—to about $1 billion, or at least to to double the amount.
González said she is the first official to meet with EXIMBANK President Fred P. Hochberg and has already scheduled another meeting to reach an agreement to benefit small and midsize businesses on the island.
“Here, not even companies know that it is a service that can be provided. That is the problem, the lack of information … We have to export and that is achieved by educating our manufacturers and entrepreneurs about the requirements for this [the agreements with EXIMBANK] and the portfolio of products we are capable of exporting,” she said.
Along the same lines, the outgoing New Progressive Party (NPP) House spokesperson said she would take advantage of President-elect Donald Trump’s proposal to bring money from U.S. factories to American soil.
“I have some proposals in that direction. I did not reveal them during the campaign as political promises because they are tax elements that, if one were to announce them, they could turn into a bidding and not achieve the [desired] effects,” she said.
Among the economic development measures she will drive is extending Section 199 of the federal Internal Revenue Code, a provision that provides special tax treatment to companies in state or domestic jurisdictions. She could even support the inclusion of Section 245A, which intends to exempt 85% of the income generated by U.S. multinationals in Puerto Rico from federal taxes. “Whatever it takes to produce business, we’re going to push it,” she said.
Push to replace Obamacare funds
In terms of health care, the resident commissioner-elect hopes U.S.-appointed Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price will discuss what could replace outgoing President Barack Obama’s health reform so Puerto Rico be included in those new funds. Price has been one of the main critics and opponents of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
“Whatever is going to replace the health care mechanism has to include a provision for Puerto Rico because spending $1.6 billion would represent the collapse of the island’s healthcare system,” González said in reference to money that the island would invest in the local health reform if it does not receive additional federal funding. Obamacare-related funds run out in 2017.
González asked Price for a meeting next year to discuss the matter, but he was told a few days ago that if no federal funds are granted to Puerto Rico’s health care system, the migration that would ensue will seriously affect health care systems in other states where Puerto Ricans request services.
“It will cost the federal government more to allocate $5.5 billion to Florida in order to address the migration of Puerto Ricans who go there instead of the $1.6 billion [that the island’s healthcare system costs],” she said.