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May 19, 2010

Velázquez Comments on Puerto Rico Bill before Senate Committee

Urges Senators Not to Take Up Flawed Bill

Washington, DC –Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY) today submitted testimony to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing being held on H.R. 2499, legislation related to Puerto Rico’s political status.  Following is Velázquez’s testimony:

“Thank you, Chairman Bingaman, for holding this important hearing.   As one of the four Puerto Rican Members of Congress, I am personally invested in the status of Puerto Rico.  I appreciate the opportunity to provide my views on H.R. 2499 and its impact on Puerto Rico and the United States.

“I oppose this bill. I have stated before that I believe that the best process to determine the will of the people regarding status is through a Constitutional Assembly. However, if the process for self-determination should be through a plebiscite, it is my firm belief that Puerto Ricans should, at minimum, have all the options available from which to choose.

“Whenever the debate about the status of Puerto Rico occurs, it still amazes me that the same old issues keep resurfacing.  The tactics and actions taken by interested parties continue to be a disservice to the people of Puerto Rico and an affront to the democratic concept of self-determination.

“What seems to be missing from this debate is the realization that prior processes, in both the House and the Senate, taught us important lessons.  We need to acknowledge these lessons and apply them to today’s efforts. 

“In the past 15 years, the House has acted on flawed legislation that eventually, and properly, stalled in this body.  The Senate’s most recent experience in conducting a detailed examination of this issue was the extensive effort undertaken by this committee’s chairman, Senator Bennett Johnston, in 1989.  That review, while comprehensive, was unable to complete the legislative process.  Since then, there has been no other Congressional effort that has sought to ascertain answers to the economic, political, social and constitutional questions that are relevant in any debate on the future of Puerto Rico and the United States.

“So here we are, today, continuing to talk about Puerto Rico, its past, present and possible future.  Still, even with the endless debate, we do not seem to learn the lessons of the previous efforts on this matter.  

“This is especially true if you examine these past two decades.  We have spent time discussing:

  • Whether Congress would pre-commit to a status decision for the people of Puerto Rico;
  • Should the Senate or the House define for Puerto Ricans their status options?
  • What limits our Constitution does or does not have?

“Mr. Chairman, we should not place the cart in front of the horse.  Let’s take the novel position that Puerto Ricans should first tell us what they want, before we debate what we want.  In order to have a constructive discussion on how to address the Puerto Rico question, we must recognize the following lessons:

  • First, it is for the people of Puerto Rico, including those communities in the United States, to exercise their right to self-determination - not Congress.
  • Second, for a process of self-determination to be accepted as valid by the people, it must be transparent, fair and agreed upon by consensus.
  • Third, proponents of status options that fail to win the support of the people in Puerto Rico can not circumvent the will of the people through federal legislation; Congress will not validate nor sanction legislative schemes used to engineer an electoral victory.

“Two weeks ago, the House had a very spirited debate about this bill.  It is my view that the majority of members saw a flawed bill.  Even the Rules Committee seemed to tell the House that the bill had troubling issues by allowing debate on 8 amendments, 5 of which dealt, in one form or another, with the process laid out in the bill.  Whether it was eliminating one round of voting or adding an option to the ballot or even striking the whole process, the House clearly heard the message that the bill was unfair.

“Today, the Senate has a version of H.R. 2499 that includes the Commonwealth option in the second round of voting under this bill.  However, the bill is still the byproduct of a process that did not reach consensus with other status options supporters and tried unsuccessfully to exclude an option from the ballot.  This bill is not conducive to an informed self-determination decision by the people of Puerto Rico.  Rather, it was conceived with a predetermined agenda in mind.  I strongly urge you to not consider it.

“Fairness, transparency and consensus are paramount to this debate. In examining these issues, the highest priority should be given to what the people of Puerto Rico want.  Congress should not be considering legislation that would stack the deck to reach a predetermined outcome, as the original version of this bill sought to do.  Puerto Ricans must be allowed to express their aspirations in a democratic manner that is not encumbered with convoluted processes designed to undermine one side or another.

“Mr. Chairman, I appreciate opportunity to share my thoughts on this important issue.”