Puerto Rico Status Convention Bill Receives Approval from Diaspora Coalition
Power 4 Puerto Rico says Congressional Bilateral Negotiating Commission could help ascertain how U.S. would respond
SAN JUAN – The Power 4 Puerto Rico (P4PR), a groups that gathers several Puerto Rican diaspora organizations, endorsed the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2020 (H.R. 8113), which was introduced in Congress by Reps. Nydia Velázquez (NY-D) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-D).
“The decolonization of Puerto Rico through self-determination should be treated with the full weight and seriousness it deserves. We commend Reps. Velázquez and Ocasio-Cortez for taking the bold step of introducing a self-determination bill that is inclusive and proposes a different approach via a status convention to flesh out all of the information and complexities that Puerto Ricans should be aware of for any informed decision on the Island’s future status,” P4PR coalition Director Erica González said.
In a statement, P4PR said the bill recognizes the authority of the people in Puerto Rico to make a final determination on the status of the island.
The bill by the congresswomen, who are part of the Puerto Rican community in New York, would allow for a status convention with elected delegates, who would draft a proposal outside the territorial clause to be ratified by a general vote in Puerto Rico. In addition to the status convention, H.R. 8113 creates a semi-permanent Congressional Bilateral Negotiating Commission to provide input and assistance to the delegates.
The group’s endorsement of H.R. 8113 doesn’t mean the organization believes the bill is perfect. The coalition also argued for amendments to go from a one option with an up or down vote to a model that would include “detailed definitions and transition plans of all the status options before a final vote.”
P4PR also suggested the possibility of a ranking vote, or marking options on the ballot in order of preference, as opposed to only marking one option.
The suggestion to expand the referendum to include more than one option, however, doesn’t mean P4PR is siding with those who argue for the inclusion of a territorial clause option.
“Though these observers legitimately believe that there is room for expanding the Island’s internal self-governance through that constitutional provision, most legal experts have concluded that as long as Puerto Rico is under the territorial clause, Congress would have vast powers to make unilateral decisions over the Island’s internal affairs. The controversial PROMESA [Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act] federal law, for example, cited the territorial clause as their source of authority to impose an unelected, undemocratic fiscal control board,” the statement reads.
H.R. 8113 is based on a bill introduced in 2007 by Velázquez with the support of then-Gov. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá. One of the changes highlighted by the organization is the negotiating commission, in that it “would provide necessary buy-in from the federal government.” It also stressed that the “lack of federal involvement in the last 5 non-binding referenda in the Island has been an obstacle to enacting any decision made by voters” on the island.
The congressional negotiating commission, P4PR further said, “ensures that any recommendation put forth by the assembly to voters has had an extensive consultation process with Congressional leaders so that voters are making an informed decision. This also guarantees that Puerto Rico can express their wishes in the most democratic form possible, while –for the first time– simultaneously ascertaining how the U.S. government would respond.”
While the bill is lauded by some, several pro-statehood politicians and activists have decried it. Reps. Darren Soto (FL-D) and José Serrano (NY-D), for instance, argued for going directly to a plebiscite vote on status.
Soto said the proper course of action was to wait for the November plebiscite and if the statehood option won, to start the admission process. This is consistent with H.R. 1965, a bill Soto introduced last year to grant Puerto Rico statehood.
In the case of Serrano, the outgoing congressman argued that the convention would leave the decision to “elites.”
“I believe that all Puerto Ricans should help determine the future of the island—not just a few. Changing Puerto Rico’s status (a career goal of mine) is too important to be left behind closed doors—all Puerto Ricans should have a say,” Serrano tweeted about the bill.
In line with Serrano and Soto’s expressions, congressional candidate Ritchie Torres tweeted, “Elections are for the people, conventions are for political insiders.” Torres won the Democratic primary of New York’s 15th district, which is the seat currently held by Serrano.
P4PR dismissed Serrano and Torres’ criticism by highlighting that the bill states the delegates would be elected by popular vote. Additionally, the organization pointed out that options that have been presented “were drafted by a small group of partisan political insiders, either in San Juan or Washington, DC, and the people have had no say as to the content of those deliberations, the language used in the legislation, nor have the transition plans towards a final solution been even addressed.”