Saturday, September 24, 2022

Pierluisi: The Plebiscite was a Success

By on June 22, 2017

In this May 25, 2016, photo, Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, D-Puerto Rico, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, during a House Natural Resources Committee markup hearing on H.R. 5278, Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

The plebiscite of June 11, 2017, was a very important step in the quest for equal rights for the American citizens residing in Puerto Rico. In the midst of an unprecedented fiscal and economic crisis, voters in Puerto Rico reaffirmed that they want their American citizenship with equality. That was the case because it is already undisputable that the majority of the island’s residents know that they will have a much better quality of life once Puerto Rico becomes the 51st state of the United States of America.

The plebiscite’s ballot included all available status options for Puerto Rico: the island’s current status, statehood and independence/free association. However, the current leaders of the Popular Democratic Party were unwilling to support any of the options and urged their followers to abstain from voting. Similarly, the present leadership of the Puerto Rican Independence Party complained about the inclusion of the island’s current status in the ballot and also called for abstention.

But the result of the plebiscite speaks for itself. More than half a million voters exercised the most sacred right in a democracy and demanded to be treated as equals with their fellow American citizens in the States.

Who could question the value of being able to vote for the President of the nation of one’s citizenship? Who could doubt that two Senators and five Representatives can accomplish more than one, non-voting Resident Commissioner in Congress? Who could ignore the unequal treatment given to our children, our women, our aged or disabled citizens, our low-income population, our workers and our small businesses in a wide range of federal programs under our current status? And who could disregard the security that represents joining permanently with the most powerful and developed nation in the world?

The plebiscite was a success. Now, people in Washington, New York and all over the world are not talking just about the fiscal and economic crisis in Puerto Rico; they are also talking about the island’s undemocratic status and our voters’ demand for change.

The reaction to the plebiscite’s result from both Republican and Democratic leaders in the United States was loud and clear. President Donald Trump’s chief spokesperson said that the people of Puerto Rico had spoken and asked Congress to take action in response to the vote for Puerto Rico’s statehood.

Moreover, there was a long list of Members of Congress joining forces with the island’s statehooders, including Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida; Congressman Steny Hoyer, the Democratic Whip in the U.S. House of Representatives; Republican Congressman Sean Duffy of Wisconsin, chief sponsor of PROMESA; Hispanic Democratic Congressman Joaquín Castro of Texas; Democratic U.S. Representatives Darren Soto and Stephanie Murphy of Orlando, Florida; Cuban-American Republican U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami, Florida; and Republican Congressman Don Young of Alaska, the senior advocate for Puerto Rico statehood in Congress. This broad, bipartisan support should not be surprising, since more than half a million votes can make the difference in any electoral event in the United States.

Everyone may rest assured that Governor Ricardo Rosselló, Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González and the rest of the leadership of Puerto Rico’s statehood movement will use all available means, including this last plebiscite’s result, to demand and obtain equal rights for all the American citizens of Puerto Rico.

—Pedro R. Pierluisi began his professional career in Washington, D.C., where he practiced law. After serving as Puerto Rico Justice secretary (1993-1996), Pierluisi became a partner in the litigation department of O’Neill & Borges. He then ran for office and was elected in 2008 and reelected in 2012 as Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner. After his bid to run for governor, he rejoined O’Neill & Borges on Jan. 9, 2017. His practice focuses on corporate, litigation and government & regulatory affairs.

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