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Testimony before the President's Task Force on Puerto Rico's Status presented by Mr. Luis Vega-Ramos, Member of the House of Representatives of Puerto Rico, on behalf of himself and Mr. Luis Raúl Torres-Cruz, Mr. Carlos Hernández-López and Mrs. Carmen Yulín Cruz-Soto, Members of the House of Representatives of Puerto Rico

The White House,
Eisenhower Executive Office Building
Washington, D.C
May 25, 2010

 

My name is Luis Vega-Ramos. I am an elected Member of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives. I also speak on behalf of three other elected officials of Puerto Rico, all members of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP). As such, we wish to tell to this Task Force that H.R. 2499, the so-called "Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2010", as approved by the U.S. House of Representatives, constitutes a flawed vehicle that will not only fail to allow Puerto Rico to properly exercise its right of self-determination, but will also, in a most undemocratic way, skew the process in favor of a victory for the Statehood option. We believe that a much better way for Congress to support a democratic exercise of the right of self-determination would be by supporting the convening of a Constitutional Assembly in Puerto Rico, and establishing a formal process of negotiation with the People of Puerto Rico to implement the results of said Constitutional Assembly.

If this Task Force is to fulfill its duty, it should recommend a serious and binding process in which all non territorial and sovereignty based options have an equal opportunity. We believe that a valid process of self-determination for Puerto Rico must comply with applicable U.N. Decolonization Committee resolutions. As such, it is essential that any valid process originates from Puerto Rico, not from the United States, and that it engages the Congress and the Administration in an effective response mechanism to the expressed will of the people. That is why; we also denounce the proposal of the current Puerto Rican administration to hold a locally sponsored plebiscite, which would not include a legal or official commitment of the U.S. Government to respond to that vote. In other words, it would be another beauty contest, like the ones held in 1967, 1993 and 1998. To discourage this futile exercise, the Administration should come with its own procedural recommendation soon.

H.R. 2499 would federalize our electoral process, which under U.S. Supreme Court decisions is unconstitutional, as it is also contrary to the very nature of self-determination. H.R. 2499 would create a two-vote process in which the first vote would be an unnecessary waste of valuable resources. Under the first vote, the people of Puerto Rico would be asked to choose between undefined change and the current state of relations between Puerto Rico and the United States. No party in Puerto Rico institutionally advocates for the continuation of Commonwealth as we know it today. Thus, the first vote included in H.R. 2499 is unnecessary and offensive to the idea of a proper self-determination procedure.

The addition of a "status quo" amendment in the second vote worsens H.R. 2499's fatal flaw. Now, instead of having three alternatives that do not adjust to the expressed wishes of the members of the PDP, H.R. 2499 contains four alternatives that do not adjust. The only way to avoid the disenfranchisement of PDP supporters, and an artificial Statehood win, would be to define an alternative in a way that adjusts to the text of the PDP platform, which reads as follows:

"Sovereignty means that a nation's ultimate power over its affairs resides with its people, its countrymen. The undertaking of the issue of Puerto Rico's political status should begin with the recognition that sovereignty rests with the people of Puerto Rico. The concept of "Estado Libre Asociado Soberano" (Sovereign Commonwealth or Free Associated State) seeks that Puerto Rico and the government of the United States agrees to specific terms that define the relationship between them, with U.S. citizenship as a bonding element of the political association. That effort will establish the extent of the jurisdictional powers that the People of Puerto Rico authorize to have in the hands of the United States."

We share the concern of the Congressional Research Service (CRS), as to the confusing nature of the so-called "sovereignty in association" option included in HR 2499. When a serious process of self-determination is entertained by this administration, the middle ground option between Statehood and Independence should be clearly outside the Territorial Clause and as close as possible to the previous models of association already adopted by the United States with three Pacific nations. We urge the Task Force to use the aforementioned PDP's platform language as a starting point as to what a non territorial, sovereignty based "Estado Libre Asociado" option should look like.

Instead of the flawed process suggested in H.R. 2499, we propose that a special Constitutional Assembly for self-determination be convened by the People of Puerto Rico, in accordance to our laws, institutions and our inalienable rights. This special Constitutional Assembly shall be the vehicle of expression which allows the articulation of non-territorial alternatives, based on the sovereignty of the People of Puerto Rico and not bound by the straitjacket of the territorial clause and its plenary powers. This proposal is consistent with the PDP platform. In fact, we have filed a Bill in the Puerto Rico House of Representatives, drafted by a multi-party special committee of the Puerto Rico Bar Association (that would provide for the convening and operation of such a Constitutional Assembly). Instead of wasting time and resources with flawed processes, Congress could also enact legislation that acknowledges the inalienable right of Puerto Rico to convene such a convention and that establishes a formal process to negotiate in accordance to what the People of Puerto Rico express as a result of that Constitutional Assembly.

Finally, we denounce the effects of an English language amendment included in the approved version of H.R. 2499. Said amendment mandates our Election's Commission to instruct voters that if Puerto Rico retains its current Commonwealth status, "it is the sense of Congress that the teaching of English to be promoted in Puerto Rico as the language of opportunity and empowerment in the United States in order to enable students in public schools to achieve English language proficiency". Said amendment is another attack on the culture and distinct identity of Puerto Rico, and by itself is enough reason to discard H.R. 2499.

Members of the Task Force: We urge you to discard H.R. 2499 for the various reasons that have been explained on this statement. By the same token, we invite you to discourage the celebration of a pointless local plebiscite. What we urge you to do is work with the people of Puerto Rico to truly fashion a self-determination process that respects our natural right to determine our ultimate political status. That process should be a Constitutional Assembly on Status or a federally mandated process that includes all non territorial and sovereignty based options on equal footing and provides with a real response mechanism on the part of the United States.

Thank you very much,

 

Luis Vega-Ramos
Member
Puerto Rico House of Representatives
Ranking Member, Ways and Means Committee