HR2499: Self-Determination for Puerto Rico

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A few days ago (June 24) there was a hearing before the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources regarding HR2499 (To provide for a federally sanctioned self-determination process for the people of Puerto Rico). Yet, according to Ballot Access News, “Most members of the Committee did not listen to the testimony from Puerto Rico’s Governor, Luis Fortuño, nor to the testimony from the representatives of the Popular Democratic Party and the Puerto Rico Independence Party. The White House did not send any representative.” So much for a White House that is “open” and willing to listen to the people. Luis Fortuño told the committee, “The reality is that the island’s current status does not enable the people of Puerto Rico to fulfill their potential for social, economic and political development.”
Some groups have claimed this bill is a back handed attempt to make Puerto Rico the 51st State, however, I disagree. This bill calls for the first ever federally-authorized plebiscite on self-determination which will use a two-tier vote, unlike past plebiscites which were locally-authorized and placed all options on one ballot; thus ensuring no option received a majority. And even if a majority were reached, it would not necessarily have been accepted by the Federal Government.
HR2499 would require two votes, the first vote would determine if a majority of Puerto Ricans favor a change of status (i.e. something other than “commonwealth”/Territory of the
USA). If a majority supports the status quo, new plebiscites will be held every 8 years. However, if a majority supports a change of status another plebiscite will be held with three options: Independence, Statehood or Sovereignty in Association with the United States (similar to the status of Micronesia, Marshall Islands & Palau).
This bill has not just bi-partisan support, but multi-partisan support with 150 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle in Congress and the support of both the New Progressive Party (supports statehood) and Puerto Rican Independence Party.
The main opposition is the Popular Democratic Party which supports an “enhanced commonwealth” and claims “In the first proposed plebiscite, voters would be asked whether Puerto Rico should maintain its current political status (commonwealth) or adopt a different political status. Although in theory this might be a fair question, what it does, in effect, is merge voters from the statehood and independence factions and stack the deck against commonwealth defenders…in the hope of creating a false majority in favor of statehood.” While Governor Fortuño insists the bill provides for a “just and impartial” process, without taking a position in favor of or against the options on the table.
Whether you support Puerto Rico becoming a State, becoming Independent or remaining a Territory, it should be for the people of Puerto Rico, not bureaucrats in Washington, DC to decide. If this bill passes Congress should next allow the other territories a self-determination vote, too.