Tuesday, May 4, 2010

From the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights

I recieved this message via Facebook communication:

For Immediate Release:
National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights calls Puerto Rico Democracy Act: Inadequate; Contradictory and Confusing
David Galarza 917-573-9250
Victor Vazquez 305-926-0904

The National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights (NCPRR), the largest Puerto Rican civil and human rights organization in the United States, has reviewed the Puerto Rico Democracy Act approved by the United States House of Representatives on April 29, 2010. While attempting, once again, to address the 112 year-old political status of Puerto Rico, the NCPRR finds this legislation woefully inadequate, contradictory and confusing. The NCPRR’s Board of Directors asks the United States Senate to reject this bill and for President Barack Obama to refuse to sign this legislation into law. Rather, the NCPRR asks the President and Congress to address the serious flaws in HR 2499 and create a law that reflects provisions necessary for full self-determination by and for the Puerto Rican people.

HR 2499, as approved by the House, stipulates that Puerto Ricans will hold a plebiscite in for voters to choose whether to: a) "…continue to have its present form of political status" (in relation to the U.S.) or b) "…have a different political status." If voters choose the second option, a second plebiscite is required to choose among four status choices: 1) Independence; 2) Sovereignty in Association with the United States; 3) Statehood or 4) Commonwealth, or status quo. The bill is contradictory, since Puerto Ricans voting to change their status in the first stage, will still have to revisit the status quo option in a second vote, which completely undermines the purpose of the first stage vote.
We applaud Congressman Jose E. Serrano's (D-NY) legislative effort to"...get the ball rolling...," but note that the other two Puerto Ricans members of the House of Representatives, Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) and Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill) do not support the bill. Also problematic is who will be eligible to vote and under what conditions. According to HR 2499, only "...Puerto Ricans born in the island who comply with...local elections commission regulations” may cast a vote. This restriction bars millions of Puerto Ricans stateside who were not born on the island, but are the children of parents who moved from Puerto Rico. Cynically, however, this legislation would enfranchise hundreds of thousands of non-Puerto Rican residents of the island.

Another troublesome provision of HR 2499 is that ballots for the plebiscite will only be in English, despite constituting a potential a violation of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, which protects language minorities such as Puerto Ricans to receive ballots in their own language.
The NCPRR seeks a legitimate end to the tragic territorial/colonial status of Puerto Rico. Since 1981, the NCPRR has supported the right of the Puerto Rican people to self-determination, as outlined under the United Nations Resolution 1514 (XV), which states that "All peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they fully determine their political status." UN Resolution 1514 sets forth three acceptable options for internationally sanctioned political status. While HR 2499 includes the three options, it ignores the further UN requirement that the affected people to be fully informed and understand each option prior to a vote.

International law also requires the release of political prisoners for opposing colonial rule to any plebiscite vote. Currently there are still Puerto Ricans serving jail sentences for political views, including Carlos Alberto Torres and Oscar Lopez. The NCPRR does not endorse or support the tactics of these prisoners, but they have been in jail nearly 30 years for political acts, and deserve release before any legitimate vote on the political status of Puerto Rico. There is precedent for such release in the case of Nelson Mandela exiting his extended prison term in South Africa prior to a vote on the status of that country.
The NCPRR is troubled by the timing of HR 2499 questions why this issue is being brought forth at this time of strife over immigration? There is a problem of transparency here. The day after the bill was passed in the House of Representatives, nearly every media outlet dubbed it the "Statehood Bill." Conservative commentators have spoken of the "impending" statehood of Puerto Rico, stirring anti-Hispanic rhetoric amidst the current immigration debates, and causing fear that the US will add two Puerto Rican senators and six members of the House through this legislation.

The NCPRR seeks resolution of the status of Puerto Rico to allow for the unification of the eight million Puerto Ricans who dividedly inhabit the United States. We do not see HR 2499 as a proper means to that end. We call upon the US Senate to reject this bill in its present form, and propose legislation respecting the critical civil and human rights objectives at issue. We further call on President Obama to fulfill his campaign promise to the Puerto Rican people to address this issue in a fair, open and transparent fashion.

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