Rivera Schatz Insists Statehood Will Solve Puerto Rico’s Economic Crisis
SAN JUAN – During his inaugural speech on Monday, recently sworn-in Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz insisted that Puerto Rico’s statehood will solve the island’s economic crisis, which is why he presented a bill to hold a status consult locally on May 28.
This status plebiscite proposed by Senate Bill 51, which received the support of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, will include only two political options: “statehood” or “self and separate sovereignty of the United States,” as the document defines independence.
However, during a press conference after the inaugural session, Rivera Schatz conceded that his bill won’t necessarily be endorsed by the U.S. government, while the federal Department of Justice will be asked to define the status formulas that are neither territorial nor colonial.
For this consultation, the $2.5 million in funds approved by the U.S. Congress for a status referendum on the island will be used, although additional money could be allocated for the process, the Senate president confirmed.
“The federal government will be asked to evaluate proposals for admission or independence. If they do not act, we’ll go ahead,” he said when asked by Caribbean Business on the matter, as the senator defended his bill because the New Progressive Party (NPP) has decided to use all the available tools to achieve statehood for Puerto Rico.
Therefore, he said that his measure doesn’t interfere with the admission bill presented last week in Congress by Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González.
In the event that statehood wins following the status plebiscite, a process to request Puerto Rico’s admission as the 51st state of the U.S. would begin. This process, Rivera Schatz admitted, “has not been easy” for any of the territories that have requested to be admitted as a state, but said that rights in the U.S. “are fought and achieved.”
If “self and separate sovereignty of the United States” wins, a referendum will be called on Sept. 24 for voters to determine whether they prefer a “free association” treaty with the U.S. or “total independence.”
Changes to the education system
The Senate president said during his inaugural speech that he will promote significant changes to the island’s education system, as well as give priority to local entrepreneurs over foreign investors in granting incentives.
Changes to the education system would go hand-in-hand with the Rosselló’s Plan for Puerto Rico, said Rivera Schatz, who called for changes in the way funds are used in the Department of Education at a time when there are fewer students and schools. The plan promotes, among other things, bilingual education and the establishment of international and specialized schools, with a greater focus on science and technology.
New team in the Legislative Assembly
Running more than an hour later, the inaugural session of the Senate began with the nomination and swear-in ceremony of Rivera Schatz as president of the upper chamber while Sen. Larry Seilhamer was sworn-in as vice president. The Popular Democratic Party (PDP) delegation abstained from voting in both nominations, while the Puerto Rican Independence Party senator abstained from voting on the appointment of the senatorial president.
New Senate secretary, Manuel Torres, was also sworn in — after recently leaving his post as electoral controller — as well as Sergeant of Arms Joel Fontánez.
Meanwhile, new minority leaders and independent Sen. José Vargas Vidot were also presented. The Senate majority leader will be Carmelo Ríos, while the majority whip will be Ángel “Chayanne” Martínez.
In the PDP, former Senate President Eduardo Bhatia will be the minority leader, while the minority whip will be Sen. José Luis Dalmau, the former vice president of the upper chamber during the past administration.
Sen. Juan Dalmau will be the leader for the Puerto Rico Independence Party as he is the only member of the party in the Senate.