Washington D.C. – With a march from the Capitol to the monument to the veterans of World War II, leaders of the New Progressive Party (PNP) yesterday advocated statehood and demanded that Congress approve Bill 8393, which proposes a plebiscite in Puerto Rico between the alternative they defend, free association and independence.
About three dozen people – summoned by the PNP legislators Keren Riquelme Y Jose Aponte Hernandez.-, participated in the demonstration.
A press conference was held at the World War II Veterans Memorial, headed by Governor Pedro Pierluisi and Resident Commissioner in Washington, Jenniffer González. Veterans of the United States Armed Forces – led by retired Army General Victor Pérez – also participated in the march.
The legislation was approved on July 20 in the Natural Resources Committee of the House of Representatives, amid strong opposition from Republicans and demands from Liberal Democrats that the measure be brought to public hearings and could be amended. The vote in committee was 25-20, with Commissioner Gonzalez the only Republican vote in favor.
“It is a bill that is fair, that is correct. The time has come to put an end to colonialism, ”said Governor Pierluisi in his message at the event, which concluded with a floral offering in the part of the monument that recognizes the veterans of Puerto Rico.
Pierluisi noted that some 3,500 Puerto Ricans died in World War II and that the more than 200,000 who have served in the United States Armed Forces when they return home have not been able to vote for the Commander-in-Chief who sent them to war or elect members of Congress with full rights.
Governor Pierluisi said that this afternoon he expected to meet in a Congress hall with dozens of legislators who previously supported the pro-statehood project 1522 of Puerto Rican Democrat Darren Soto (Florida) and/or who now support 8393. Some legislators from the PNP and elected delegates to lobby for statehood.
Meanwhile, Commissioner González affirmed that “the people of Puerto Rico have voted for statehood and it is up to Congress to act.”
Former soldier Pérez, who unsuccessfully aspired to be one of the officials elected to lobby for statehood in Congress, argued that the Democratic leadership should put the measure to a vote. “I’m sure the majority will vote yes,” Pérez said, stressing that the blood of Puerto Rican soldiers who have been part of the United States Armed Forces “is all over the world.”
The general secretary of the PNP and deputy spokesperson for the minority in the Senate, Carmelo Ríos, the representatives José “Quiquito” Meléndez, José “Che” Pérez and Jorge Navarro, and the statehood delegates Zoraida Buxó and Roberto Lefranc Fortuño, among others They were at the event. The president of the Republican Party of the United States in Puerto Rico, former representative Ángel Cintrón, former Secretary of Justice José Fuentes Agostini and the director of the Puerto Rico Statehood Council, George Laws García, also attended.
Riquelme maintained that the march was an event with symbolism, since they see the alternative of statehood as a claim for civil rights. “Our message to Congress is one: enough is enough. Puerto Rico has the sad distinction of being the oldest colony in the world. This has to end now. The federal House of Representatives has the power and now, with House Bill 8393, the tool to end this injustice against American citizens,” said Senator Riquelme.
“We do not come to ask for statehood, we come to demand statehood,” said representative Aponte Hernández.
At this time, the PNP is the only political party on the island that is fully committed to Bill 8393, which the leadership of the Popular Democratic Party (PPD) fights, for excluding territorial status as an alternative. “Institutionally we have to be aggressive,” said Senator Ríos.
House Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Maryland), who was in charge of the negotiations that culminated in the presentation of chamberal project 8393, tried unsuccessfully to obtain the votes to approve the measure at the end of July. This week, the legislation is not on the agenda of the plenary session, which before the legislative elections in November will only be in session until September 30.
As the demonstration unfolded, Hoyer acknowledged, in his weekly press conference during sessions of Congress, that there are still issues to be resolved in the face of demands for a fair and transparent process from people “directly interested” in the legislation.
“I am hopeful that we will not leave this for the next Congress,” Hoyer said at his weekly press conference as the lower house resumed its sessions that will last – before the legislative elections in November – until September 30.
Bill 8393 now has the support of 36 Democrats and just six Republicans, including Gonzalez. But, it is estimated that he may need between eight and 15 Republican votes to be able to advance in the full House. Lisa BluntRochester, a Democrat from Delaware, signed on to the legislation Tuesday. Commissioner González maintained that the Republican Bill Posey (Florida) was added today to 8393.
Although the Senate does not plan to act on the measure, after his leadership ruled out a pro-statehood bill, if it is approved in the Lower House, it would represent the first time that this legislative body promotes a consultation with the voters of Puerto Rico that excludes territorial status, commonly known as Commonwealth (ELA) and is binding on the federal government.
On the three occasions in which the lower house has approved a project to regulate a plebiscite on the political future of Puerto Rico -1990, 1998 and 2010-, the measure was stopped in the US Senate.
In an example of Liberal Democrat discontent with the legislation, Congressman Jesús “Chuy” García (Illinois) said in July that he voted against it because no public hearings had been held on the measure, and he was dissatisfied with the definitions, specifically the issue of US citizenship under free association, not saying anything about the international sports representation of Puerto Rico under statehood or about the fiscal implications and around the public debt.
Puerto Rican Democratic Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez (New York) has indicated that moderates from her party, who are competing in districts where a close election is expected, may also have doubts as to whether it is in their best interest now to vote for a project that offers Puerto Rico the statehood.
In the Committee on Natural Resources, Republicans tried unsuccessfully to amend the measure to, among other things, include territorial status as an alternative, propose declaring English the official language, avoid putting the potential law into effect until the goals of Promise law or pay all public debt and demand a supermajority.
The Republican Minority Leader on the Committee, Bruce Westerman (Arkansas), told El Nuevo Día in July that they will try to revive some of those amendments, if the Democrats allow a broad debate on the legislation, if it goes to the plenary session of the federal lower house this year.
Former Representative Cintrón considers that there is also opposition from members of Congress to the idea promoted by 8393 to recognize a direct transmission of United States citizenship to the children of two United States citizen parents during a first free association agreement between Puerto Rico and USA.
But Cintrón said he does not take for granted or downplay strong opposition from congressional Republicans to the idea of making Puerto Rico the 51st state of the United States.