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Democracy Commission begins work on Puerto Rico’s admission as a state

By on August 15, 2017

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SAN JUAN – The Democracy Commission, whose purpose is to achieve Puerto Rico’s admission as the 51st state of the United States, held its first meeting Tuesday and named former Gov. Pedro Rosselló, the current governor’s father, as its president, and attorney Zoraida Fonalledas, who was elected to the Republican National Committee as national committeewoman for Puerto Rico in 1995, as its vice president.

The group held its first meeting in the governor’s office, La Fortaleza, where the seven-member delegation to Congress was sworn in before Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González.

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The commission presented its website and bylaws, the approval of which was left for an upcoming meeting while they evaluate them.

The commission’s bylaws contain the duties of Puerto Rico’s two senators and five representatives before the U.S. Congress; the use of funds, of which none can be public; the requirement to hold monthly meetings; and what constitutes quorum, among other administrative matters.

The bylaws will not be made public for the moment because it is a “draft” document, the elder Rosselló said jokingly, referring to the legal dispute between his son’s administration and Senate Minority Leader Eduardo Bhatia, who sued to have the first version of the government budget presented to the fiscal control board made public.

The now-president of the Democracy Commission, one of its three Democrats, explained that the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration’s (PRFAA) office in Washington, D.C. was chosen to serve as headquarters.

 


The commission’s second meeting will be held in the U.S. capital on Sept. 12 and 13, when it will discuss its agenda and visits to Congress and other U.S. Government offices, among other matters.

Despite assuring it won’t use public funds, the commission will utilize PRFAA staff, the group said in response to a question from Caribbean Business. The Legislature will oversee the commission’s efforts, its president said.

Although named in June, the commission has not yet met or been in communication with prominent members of Congress or the White House.

“The commission doesn’t have initiatives with President [Donald] Trump at this time, nor with the House or Senate, we are beginning our work. The short answer is no. That doesn’t mean other people haven’t had some type of contact or some initiatives, but the commission itself begins its work now,” its president said.

“I have been in talks for years with senators and representatives, but not since I have been on the commission,” added former Gov. Carlos Romero Barceló, the group’s Democratic senator.

Although some argue that achieving statehood will be difficult amid Puerto Rico’s financial and economic crisis and the bankruptcy-like process underway in federal court, the elder Rosselló said now is the right time to appeal for “equality.”

He said there have court rulings, presidential reports and the “imposition” of a fiscal control board through the Promesa law that confirm “we are in an antidemocratic colonial system.” There have also been two political-status referendums, in 2012 and 2017, in which the current commonwealth status lost to the statehood option.

However, he conceded that the group is aware Congress will not necessarily acknowledge them as fellow members of Congress, as happened to Tennessee when it sent its delegation more than two centuries ago.

Besides the elder Rosselló, Romero Barceló and Fonalledas, former Senate President Charlie Rodríguez, former Gov. Luis Fortuño, retired Gen. Félix Santoni and former Major League Baseball player Iván Rodríguez, who participated in the meeting via videoconference, make up the rest of the Democracy Commission, known in Spanish as la Comisión de Igualdad.

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