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Democratic lawmakers introduce legislation to end Puerto Rico’s ‘colonial status’

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Democratic lawmakers introduce legislation to end Puerto Rico’s ‘colonial status’

By Kerry Picket | Washington Examiner | March 18, 2021

A group of Democrats offered an alternative to Puerto Rican statehood Thursday to end the island’s “colonial status,” saying the U.S. commonwealth should decide its own future. The Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2020 calls for a “status convention” for residents of Puerto Rico to vote on what type of status they want going forward.

Although the legislation does not support one status over another like a competing bill, which offers Puerto Rico statehood, the Self-Determination Act calls for Puerto Rican voters to elect a group of delegates to study the island’s status issue and propose options such as statehood, independence, and free association, but the current commonwealth status would not be an option.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer received a letter from over 80 activist groups in 16 states and Puerto Rico requesting they pass the bill co-authored by New York Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Nydia Velazquez, both left-wing Democrats and of Puerto Rican heritage.

The bill currently has 75 co-sponsors in the House, and Sen. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, is offering companion legislation in the Senate. Menendez announced Thursday that Sen. Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican, is a co-sponsor of the bill.

“The commonwealth as we know it is basically a colonial status. The United States Congress has authority over the affairs of Puerto Rico. So, in that respect, what we are saying is that it has to be a formula outside the territorial clause, and that is for the status convention to discuss among the delegates in the formulation and definition of the different formulas,” Velazquez said.

However, supporters of Puerto Rican statehood legislation say the island’s residents already made their decision last November, when the U.S. presidential race occurred.

A nonbinding referendum in Puerto Rico at that time resulted in 52.52% of voters in the U.S. commonwealth voting “yes” for statehood. Six referendum votes have happened since 1967.

Velazquez, however, says the last referendum was not legally binding.

“The issue here is that the last plebiscite that was conducted in Puerto Rico and was created by the Puerto Rican Legislature didn’t reach a consensus within the Legislature. It was not, it will not be federally binding. So they bought her for that, and what is going to happen next? It has to be a process where the U.S. Congress in this legislation creates a bilateral commission between Puerto Rico and the U.S. Congress to work on,” Velazquez argued.

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