New York pols pen legislation to help determine the future status of Puerto Rico

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File photos by Mark Hallum

Two New York lawmakers helped pen legislation that would allow Puerto Ricans to determine their own political future.

Entitled the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2021, the legislation would create a status convention and delegates would be elected to discuss options with federal officials, therefore creating an official, legitimate and comprehensive bilateral conversation on the status of Puerto Rico.  The bill was introduced by Congresswomen Nydia M. Velázquez and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and New Jersey U.S. Senator Bob Menendez.

Velázquez first introduced the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act in the U.S. House of Representatives back in 2007, and it was most recently reintroduced last year in the House by both her and Ocasio-Cortez.

“Over a century ago, the United States invaded Puerto Rico. And ever since the U.S. has pursued its own colonial rule,” said Rep. Velázquez. “While many may disagree about the future of Puerto Rico’s status, we must recognize that the decision should come from those who will be impacted most: the people of Puerto Rico. That is why we are introducing the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act. After over one hundred years of colonial rule, Puerto Ricans would finally have a democratic mechanism to determine their own future. I would like to thank the hundreds of advocacy groups for making this bill possible as well as my House co-lead Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the leader of the Senate version, Senator Bob Menendez.”

The idea for an assembly to determine the status of Puerto Rico has been around for over 100 years and has been included in several federal proposals.

Under this new legislation, the status convention would be created and made up of delegates elected by Puerto Rican voters who would then devise a long-term solution of the island’s status, whether that be statehood, independence, a free association or any option other than the current territorial arrangement. The delegate election would be financed by the public and in an effort to keep dark money out of the election, a Puerto Rico Status Convention Public Matching Fund will be established, and it will be subject to the Federal Election Commission.

The delegates would collaborate with a Bilateral Negotiating Commission, which will be composed of several members of Congress and will provide advice and consultation to delegates regarding the different status options. After the delegates collaborate with the Negotiating Commission and present the status options, a referendum vote will be held. An allocation of $2.5 million dollars to the Puerto Rico State Commission on Elections will be appropriated to execute said referendum. Additionally, delegates shall carry out an education campaign through traditional paid media related to the referendum under this section. An appropriation of $5 million dollars is authorized to carry out said campaign.

If the referendum is approved by the people of Puerto Rico, Congress will approve a joint resolution to ratify self-determination option as approved in the referendum vote.

“The principled position — especially for the head of that colonizing power — is to say that people should have a process of self-determination and to not put your thumb on the scale of one direction or another. Our bill outlines a just, democratic, and inclusive process for Puerto Ricans to decide their future,” said Rep. Ocasio-Cortez.
“The more than three million residents of Puerto Rico deserve a comprehensive and fair process to chart their own path forward,” said Sen. Menendez. “That’s why I am proud to be introducing this bicameral and bipartisan legislation alongside my House colleagues, Chairwoman Nydia Velázquez and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. This is the most inclusive approach to addressing the long-overdue question of Puerto Rico’s political status, but most importantly, it offers the people of Puerto Rico a legitimate and democratic process to determine their own future.”

Click here to read the full bill.