Wednesday, April 28, 2010

U.S. Congress, Puerto Rico and H.R 2499

The U.S Congress has finally acted on the H.R. 2499, Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2009. As stated in the resolutions summary, this allows for two votes. First would be a vote asking whether Puerto Rico should remain in its current status or whether there should be change. If the desire to remain in its current status is the choice then another vote would take place in another eight years. This would then solve nothing and would only leave Puerto Rico in its current colonial status. There is a lot to be said about the colonial mentality if this becomes the case. One hundred and twelve years under the wings of the U.S. will have proven that the fear of change has a stronghold on the people.

If Puerto Ricans desire to make change happen then another vote would take place with the options being between independence, sovereignty in association with the United States, continuation of the current status or statehood. With out going in depth into each option, each one carries its own pluses and minuses. For the people to make a just decision the full context associated with each option should be made available.

Amendments to the resolution add the continuation of the current status and 'none of the above options' to the second vote which seems to bring the status debate full circle to previous plebiscites. Reps. Velázquez (D-NY)/Gutierrez (D-IL) want to expand the eligibility to vote in the plebiscite to all U.S. residents of Puerto Rican descent-that is, anyone born in Puerto Rico or has one parent who was born in Puerto Rico. Interestingly enough, the current resolution states "the ballot would be open to all voters in Puerto Rico who are currently eligible to vote, as well as all U.S. citizens born in Puerto Rico who comply with guidelines determined by the Puerto Rico State Elections Commission, whether they live in Puerto Rico or not". Under the Jones Act of 1917, island born Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens. To include those who have one parent who was born on the island would open the door to a deluge of voters who are currently out of touch with the islands status and history with the U.S. (as well as and with respect to those who are in touch). This would bring with it many arguments (far too many to include here).

Now we come to the additions by Reps. Burton (R-IN) and Young (R-AK) which bring about the language issue. Not too long ago, Puerto Rico Senate Majority Leader Roberto Arango wrote a letter to the U.S. House asking for statehood. The letter was marred with many grammatical errors and created a bit of a stir. Add to this the rhetoric brought on by English-only advocates and we can easily ask if Puerto Rico is prepared to go along with these changes. The amendments by Republicans Burton and Young would require the Puerto Rico State Elections Commission to:

  • Ensure that ballots in the plebiscite include the full content of the ballot written in English.
  • Inform everyone voting in the plebiscite that, if Puerto Rico were to maintain its current political status or become a state, it would be subject to the official language requirements of the federal government.
  • Inform everyone voting in the plebiscite that it is the sense of Congress that if Puerto Rico were to maintain its current political status or become a state it would be in the best interest of the U.S. to promote the teaching of English in Puerto Rico

Can this possibly be a step in the right direction? Is it the only direction? The legislation has legitimate arguments from both proponents and opponents alike. In the end, the right to self determination is still absent of one thing, that the referendum require Congress to act on it. Leaving all this in the end, non-binding.


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