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LatinoJustice Joins Power 4 Puerto Rico in Endorsement of Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2020


August 31, 2020



Erica González, [email protected]

Elianne Ramos, [email protected]


LatinoJustice Joins Power 4 Puerto Rico in Endorsement of Puerto Rico
Self-Determination Act of 2020

Legislation introduced by Reps. Velázquez, Ocasio-Cortez puts Puerto Ricans
in the driver’s seat of their own political future

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the Power 4 Puerto Rico coalition and partners formally endorsed the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2020 (H.R. 8113), a bill that recognizes the inherent authority of the people of Puerto Rico to call for a Constitutional Assembly on Status and sets up a “semi-permanent” Congressional response mechanism. The novel approach to solve the 122-year-long standing of the Island as a colony of the U.S. would empower Puerto Ricans and recognizes that they are the ones who should democratically decide the process, participate in the deliberations and make the final determination over the political status of the Island. This legislation was recently introduced by Puerto Rican Congresswomen Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).

A Constitutional Assembly, or Status Convention, has long been promoted, but never actually implemented, as a way to decolonize the Island in an inclusive, participatory and fully democratic fashion. Through this innovative procedure, Puerto Rico’s elected Legislative Assembly would ask voters if they wish to call for such an assembly, establish rules over how they should be elected and ensure the widest participation by voters choosing directly who represents their wishes. Similar approaches have been applied historically, as with the U.S. Constitutional Convention.

H.R. 8113 is based on a bill introduced in 2007 that had widespread support and would establish a similar process. The newest features in this bill include a Congressional Bilateral Negotiating Commission, voluntary federal funding for the final ratification referendum, as well as matching funds for delegates to pay for campaign expenses. The commission would not dictate terms but would instead be available, upon request, to thoroughly address issues related to transition plans –for example, on issues related to language, taxes, reparations for U.S. colonialism; detailed definitions of the several status options; and would provide necessary buy-in from the federal government. The lack of federal involvement in the last 5 non-binding referenda in the Island has been an obstacle to enacting any decision made by voters in the Island.

Some argue that this bill provides for a “small group” to decide the political future of an entire people and that a “direct vote” would be a simpler and more democratic approach. Detractors who use those arguments conveniently ignore that delegates to the convention are directly elected by the voters. No decision will be made to change the status of the Island until a self-determination option is presented to voters for an up or down approval. Those who make such claims also seem to ignore that the alternatives they propose were drafted by a small group of partisan political insiders, either in San Juan or Washington, DC, and the people have had no say as to the content of those deliberations, the language used in the legislation, nor have the transition plans towards a final solution been even addressed. Through a democratic and representative process, the people, not Members of Congress that Puerto Ricans do not elect nor party bosses, get to decide.

Our coalition stands behind this approach because, unlike other bills introduced in Congress, the Status Assembly proposed would be inclusive of all non-territorial and non-colonial options. Instead of imposing a predetermined outcome, the convention would be called for by the Puerto Rico Legislature and approved by voters of all ideologies and political persuasions. Power 4 Puerto Rico and our partners are pleased that Members of Congress who are steadfast allies of the Island have responded to the people’s desire for a fair, inclusive and transparent approach to solving the colonial status of Puerto Rico.

Critics also argue that this bill is not binding and therefore is somehow kicking the can down the road. While we would have preferred a self-executing or binding provision in the bill, the legislation introduced by Representatives Velázquez and Ocasio-Cortez takes the unprecedented step of creating a semi-permanent Congressional Commission that could only be dissolved after a self-determination option is ratified by the people and Congress. This ensures that any recommendation put forth by the assembly to voters has had an extensive consultation process with Congressional leaders so that voters are making an informed decision. This also guarantees that Puerto Rico can express their wishes in the most democratic form possible, while –for the first time– simultaneously ascertaining how the U.S. government would respond. This not only increases the likelihood of approval by Congress but also ensures that the vote would not be another exercise in futility like those in the past that lacked federal input over the substance and implications of any status outcome.

Other skeptics feel that the bill should not limit consideration by voters of only one option. The fact is that all valid options will be represented by elected delegates who will deliberate, consult and debate all status alternatives. The final outcome would be subject to an up or down vote. Though this does not exclude any option, we would suggest a friendly amendment to the bill in order for voters to be presented with detailed definitions and transition plans of all the status options before a final vote. Others suggest that this could be addressed through ranked-choice voting. While we welcome the opportunity for improving this legislation through the Congressional process, overall, we are pleased with this legislation, and are enthusiastically supportive of its content and aims. 

Some representatives of the current status option believe they would be left out because of the bill’s language stating that the Congressional Bilateral Commission will consider self-determination options that are outside the territorial clause of the U.S. Constitution. Though these observers legitimately believe that there is room for expanding the Island’s internal self-governance through that constitutional provision, most legal experts have concluded that as long as Puerto Rico is under the territorial clause, Congress would have vast powers to make unilateral decisions over the Island’s internal affairs. The controversial PROMESA federal law, for example, cited the territorial clause as their source of authority to impose an unelected, undemocratic fiscal control board that took back the internal self-rule Puerto Ricans attained through the Commonwealth constitution of 1952. While we are agnostic as to which status is best for Puerto Rico – after all that is for the people to decide – we believe that past statements by pro-Commonwealth party officials, including their current candidates for governor and Resident Commissioner, prove that they would be supportive of a non-territorial, non-colonial arrangement. In the end, voters will be able to select delegates with any persuasion and if a majority of the assembly, and ultimately the people at the ballot box (after Congressional consultation) support a particular outcome, the will of the people should be respected. We are also pleased that representatives of other major parties and movements in the Island have also welcomed this legislation.

In 2019, Power 4 Puerto Rico and 60 organizations released a policy blueprint that included a call for a transparent, fair, and inclusive self-determination process. We look forward to supporting the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2020 and urge those who believe in true self-determination, democracy, inclusion and fairness, to support it as well.

Quotes by coalition members and partners:

“The decolonization of Puerto Rico through self-determination should be treated with the full weight and seriousness it deserves. We commend Reps. Velázquez and Ocasio-Cortez for taking the bold step of introducing a self-determination bill that is inclusive and proposes a different approach via a status convention to flesh out all of the information and complexities that Puerto Ricans should be aware of for any informed decision on the Island’s future status. Their leadership is setting a tone for a self-determination process by and for the Puerto Rican people, instead of non Puerto Ricans or out of touch political elites in DC and San Juan believing they are in the place to decide the best status outcome,” said Erica González, Director, Power 4 Puerto Rico coalition.

“All decolonization processes begin with the premise of self-determination, a long established and recognized right under international law, and a fundamental premise of this legislation.  This bill is an important step forward for the United States to fulfill its legal and moral obligations and to respect Puerto Rico’s self-determination and sovereignty,” said Juan Cartagena, President and General Counsel, LatinoJustice PRLDEF.

“This historic initiative by our courageous Puerto Rican Congresswomen Nydia Velázquez and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez marks a major milestone in holding the Congress of the United States responsible for setting the course for the final solution of Puerto Rico's colonial situation,” said José Elias López, Executive Director of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center in Illinois.

“We applaud the action Reps. Velázquez and Ocasio-Cortez have taken to open up a self-determination process with diverse Puerto Rican voices and that centers Puerto Ricans, not Congress or the Executive. We look forward to a thorough, transparent and fair process  – one that should not be reduced to what’s happened thus far – referendums tainted by political parties and U.S.-based interests,” said Karen Rodriguez of The People for Puerto Rico in Pennsylvania.

“Puerto Rico's economic development and sustainable reconstruction have to be our priority moving forward. Resolving the island's colonial status is at the heart of that discussion but only through an inclusive and fully democratic process, as opposed to one dictated unilaterally by the political party of turn, can our homeland end the divisive status question and put our people first. While there is some room for improvement, we support the approach taken by Congresswomen, Nydia Velázquez, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others who understand the importance of a fair and balanced process. It is sound policy. We therefore urge all those concerned with the future of Puerto Rico to support it. Ultimately the people will choose and we should all follow the will of the people,” said Marcos Vilar, Executive Director of the Florida-based Alianza for Progress. 

“It is high time that Puerto Ricans have the opportunity to reclaim a right that should be available to all peoples of the world and impeded. Self-determination that is inclusive is definitely a necessary step in the right direction to resolve the political enslavement of Puerto Rico,” said Iván Fontánez of Puerto Ricans in Minnesota (PRIM).

Erin Cohan, chief of staff and vice president at the Center for American Progress and co-lead of CAP’s Puerto Rico Relief and Economic Policy Initiative, said: “Puerto Rico will never have a fair shot at a chance to recover and rebuild from decades of financial strain and compounding natural disasters until its colonial relationship with the United States is resolved. The island continues to be treated in a fundamentally undemocratic and unfair manner by the federal government—especially by the current administration. Previous plebiscites have repeatedly failed at determining the true will of the people, and a new approach is sorely needed. This legislation lays out a fair and inclusive process, with consideration of all non-territorial and non-colonial options, and a novel approach to working with Congress to find a permanent solution. It is the most democratic, participatory, and inclusive proposal to resolve Puerto Rico’s political status put forth in recent times.”

“This bill is a step forward in the right direction to finally start a serious process of self-determination and decolonization for Puerto Rico, where the U.S. Congress is closely involved but where the Puerto Rican People are at the steering wheel and have the ultimate decision on the political future of our Island Nation. Past plebiscites led by the Puerto Rican pro-statehood and pro-colonial parties have failed because they have been organized unilaterally, and as a tool for political gain and self-interest. It is fundamental to have a self-determination process with all recognized decolonization options in equal footing on the same table and with a serious and engaging educational campaign for voters. The Constitutional Assembly on Status is the right mechanism for achieving the long-awaited decolonization of Puerto Rico. We're glad that our activism in conjunction with that of other organizations has moved the status question in this direction, and look forward to working with both Democrats and Republicans as well as the representatives in Puerto Rico in achieving a prosperous and self-sufficient Puerto Rico,” said Edil Sepúlveda, Co-founder, Boricuas Unidos en la Diáspora.

“A process of self-determination that leads to the decolonization of Puerto Rico and puts the people of Puerto Rico at the forefront is the only way to guarantee that the future of the islands is not dictated by economic and military interests that have put greed and imperialism before the well-being of our people for more than a hundred years. After decades of toothless, lopsided plebiscites, this bill presents a process that could lead to an end to the colonial status of Puerto Rico.  We look forward to working with Congress and the Puerto Rican people to make a fair, decolonization process that puts Puerto Ricans on the driver’s seat, and making sure this legislation does not end being just a progressive messaging document,” said Julio López Varona, Director of Community Dignity Programs Center for Popular Democracy.



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