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Written testimony presented by Luis Vega-Ramos, Member of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives and Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee on behalf of himself and 12 elected of officials of Puerto Rico to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources of the United States Senate regarding the results of the 2012 Plebiscite on the Political Status of Puerto Rico.
August 1, 2013

My name is Luis Vega-Ramos. I am Member of the House of Representatives of Puerto Rico elected on behalf of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP).

I also present this statement on behalf of the following elected officials of the PDP: the Mayor of San Juan, Hon. Carmen Yulín Cruz-Soto, the Mayor of Caguas, Hon. William Miranda-Torres, the Mayor of Comerío, Hon José A. Santiago, the Mayor of Hormigueros, Hon. Pedro García, the Mayor of San Germán, Hon. Isidro Negrón, the Mayor of Isabela, Hon. Charlie Delgado, representatives Luis Raúl Torres, Carlos Vargas-Ferrer, Carlos Bianchi, Luisa "Piti" Gándara-Menéndez and Charlie Hernández-López and the majority leader of the Municipal Assembly of San Juan, Marco A. Rigau.

Last November 6th, along with our general elections, the previous pro-Statehood government held a referendum that posed two questions on the issue of Puerto Rico's political status. Said plebiscite was held with the objections of large segments of our society, including the Popular Democratic Party.

Regrettably, the expression of an overwhelming majority in favor of a process to produce changes to the political status of Puerto Rico was thwarted as a direct consequence of the timing of the vote and of the politically charged language of the first question in the ballot.

With regards to the second question, an important clarification is in order. Puerto Rico's Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 24, recently approved by both Houses of our Legislature, correctly states that: "Supporters of Estado Libre Asociado (Commonwealth) expressed themselves through two protest mechanisms. On one side, the Governing Board of the pro-Commonwealth Party adopted a resolution asking voters to deposit a blank ballot in protest. On the other side, a significant number of pro-Commonwealth leaders openly campaigned in favor of a vote for the option called Estado Libre Asociado Soberano (Sovereign Commonwealth)."

The elected officials that file this testimony are among those that campaigned and voted against Statehood through the option of Estado Libre Asociado Soberano (Sovereign Commonwealth). We present this statement on behalf of the more than 454.000 Puerto Rican voters who also voted that way. It is our duty to expose the misrepresentation of the results of the so-called plebiscite of 2012 by the leaders of the pro-Statehood Party. We also want to reiterate our demand that the U.S. Government enact now, a binding, self-executing mechanism in furtherance of our demands for Puerto Rican self-determination. But in the event that Congress and the Administration fail once more in providing for such a process during the remainder of this year, we inform you that we will advocate for the convening by the Puerto Rican Legislature of a special Constitutional Assembly on Status as the best way to achieve this purpose.

To this end, we state for the record the following:

1. That the economic and social situation of Puerto Rico requires organizing responsibly and diligently the matter of our self-determination to avoid conflict with ongoing recovery efforts, and to substantially accelerate the benefits that the resolution of the issue will bring. There is no contradiction between working for economic improvements today and simultaneously promoting self-determination.

2. It is misleading to claim that the option of Statehood won last year's plebiscite with a majority of 61% of voters. When you add up the votes of all other participants: Independence (74,894/ 4%), Sovereign Commonwealth (454,768/ 24.3%) and blank ballots (498,604/ 26.5%), the votes cast for Statehood do not surmount its traditional 45% support. The majority of the votes on last November's status plebiscite were cast against the Statehood option.

3. That to secure democratic validity of any process, it is necessary to include all sectors of the debate. That means properly allowing for the discussion and consideration of all options including, among others, the non-territorial aspirations of those who seek to develop the Commonwealth status through what former Governor Luis Muñoz Marin called in 1962, "the sovereign capacity of the people of Puerto Rico".

4. That the Constitutional Status Assembly is the appropriate mechanism to address the issue of political status. We filed in the Puerto Rico's House of Representatives, Bill No. 210, drafted by the Constitutional Development Commission of the Puerto Rico Bar Association, which provides for the convening and functioning of the Constitutional Assembly on Status. Various members of the Puerto Rico Senate have recently stated that they will file a similar bill during this month. The PDP Platform, also approved by voters last November, states the following: "If after one year, the White House has not fulfilled its pledge, meaning, that the President has not presented a bill before Congress to enact a referendum on which the United States commits to abide by the totality of the decision of the people of Puerto Rico, the Governor will move forward with a Constitutional Assembly to deal with the issue of status. To that end, the Popular Party formally commits to enacting legislation to convene a Constitutional Assembly on Status. Any proposal for a change in status that is recommended as a result of the proceedings of the Constitutional Assembly will have to be presented to voters in a special referendum as an indispensable condition for its approval or rejection."

The fate of President Obama's proposal on status included on the budget presented to Congress will be known by October 1, when the new federal fiscal year begins. In its current form, it falls short of being a bill before Congress that would enact a binding plebiscite. But even if President Obama's proposal is approved, nothing prevents it from being tempered to work within the framework of a Constitutional Assembly on Status convened by Puerto Rico. In that regard, we suggest that you look into S.2304 filed by Senators Burr, Kennedy, Lott and Menéndez during the 109th Congress as a starting point.

There is an additional issue of importance. Last May, Oscar Lopez-Rivera reached the unacceptable milestone of serving 32 years in confinement as a Puerto Rican political prisoner in the U.S. correctional system. The call to President Obama advocating for his immediate and unconditional release has overwhelming support among Puerto Ricans of all political ideologies. Recently, both the House of Representatives and the Senate of Puerto Rico passed resolutions reiterating this position to the President of the United States. Governor Alejandro García-Padilla has also requested this action. We bring to your attention that Mr. Oscar Lopez-Rivera's release is an important step towards Puerto Rico's self-determination process.

Thank you very much.

Luis Vega-Ramos
Member-at-Large
Puerto Rico House of Representatives

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