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Puerto Rico’s rep in US Congress says new phase begins after status vote

By on June 11, 2017

CAROLINA, Puerto Rico Jenniffer González, Puerto Rico’s nonvoting representative to U.S. congress, said Sunday that after voting in the island’s political-status referendum closes, its official results will be delivered to all the members of Congress and the White House.

Upon arrival at Salvador Brau Middle School, where she cast her vote for statehood, the resident commissioner assured that other bills will be presented and an educational phase about the vote’s results will begin.

“This implies that even though there is a [status] bill … we will be filing other measures, and this education phase, an official notification about the will of the people of Puerto Rico, will take place not only congressionally, but also through other forums such as the Organization of American States,” González said. “From now on you will see not only a diaspora movement [but also] state and government organization movements to lead a common front.”

Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González speaks with members of the press before voting in Puerto Rico’s political-status referendum Sunday, June 11, 2017. (Jaime Rivera/CB)

The U.S. Congress, however, has not acted on economic legislation recommendations from the Promesa-established task force to help Puerto Rico deal with its fiscal crisis. “What assures you that Congress will act now when it has not acted on the island’s economic situation?,” Caribbean Business asked.

González replied that although the task force report was filed in late December, a group of the same original members of that task force has been forced to deal with economic development initiatives for Puerto Rico. Legislation to help Puerto Rico’s economy was introduced a month ago. These measures cover areas related to small business, public safety and healthcare. “That now will go through a process of public hearings … That measure collects 50% of the recommendations of the Task Force,” she said.

All this is happening at the same time the U.S. Congress is dealing with important legislation such as its tax and health reforms, González said, adding that Congress is traditionally slow in evaluating major bills.

However, González said she is creating a Caucus of Friends of Puerto Rico in Congress, which would be the first of its kind, to move the island’s agenda forward.

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The representative did not seem concerned with U.S. Department of Justice statements not endorsing the referendum for not including the commonwealth as an option. The federal agency also said the ballot’s definition of statehood was misleading because it implied that Puerto Ricans were only assured U.S. citizenship through statehood when Puerto Ricans already acquire U.S. citizenship at birth.

“The Department of Justice has never endorsed the [status] process of any other state or from any of the 37 territories when they were to be part of the union,”she said, pointing out that Congress cannot force Puerto Rico to have something in the ballot that the other territories did not have. She reiterated that the ballot contains all the recommendations requested by the Justice Department.

Sunday’s status referendum is the first to take place with González as resident commissioner. She said she is proud of that milestone because she was not able to vote in the first couple of status referendums because she was too young. Sunday’s is the fifth carried out in Puerto Rico.

Upon arrival at her polling school, González said voter participation was high based on what she had seen on social media.

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“No Puerto Rican is comfortable with a fiscal control board that governs over us … No Puerto Rican can feel comfortable at not being able to participate in decisions about things that deal with us. That is why today’s expression is important. The same goes for people who believe that Puerto Rico must be a republic and for those who believe we can be equal and have representation with a voice and vote in Congress. For me, that’s important … That’s why I’m voting for statehood,” she said.

González pointed out that the vote boycott organized by the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) has not been effective because there were several of the party’s leaders casting ballots.

Participation in the status vote cannot be the same as that of a general election because mobilization and participation is different when there are candidates on a ballot, González said.

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