Pierluisi pitches status in Congress
Pierluisi, the island’s sole representative in Congress, used his five-minute floor speech to underscore the importance of the upcoming election day status plebiscite in Puerto Rico. He expressed confidence that Congress and the White House would respect the results of island voters express a “clear desire” on Nov. 6 to move beyond the current status and to pursue a new political status.
“Top Democratic and Republican leaders have indicated they will take the results of this plebiscite seriously. That is as it should be,” Pierluisi said. “The United States is the greatest democracy in history and a champion of peaceful self-determination around the world.”
During the speech, the resident commissioner addressed his constituents back in Puerto Rico.
“This plebiscite will have a real impact on you, your family, and the future of the island we love,” he said. “It is important that you make your voice heard and your vote count.”
After explaining the format of the plebiscite, Pierluisi noted that it was different than previous status votes in Puerto Rico. Specifically, he noted that it would be the first time that island residents have an opportunity to answer “Yes” or “No” to the question of whether they support the current status.
“This question has inherent value in a democracy, where a government’s legitimacy is based on the consent of the governed,” the resident commissioner said.
He also observed that, unlike earlier plebiscites, this vote would include only the status options identified as valid by Congress and the White House, namely the current commonwealth, independence, nationhood in free association with the United States, and statehood.
“True self-determination is a choice among options that can be implemented, not an exercise in wishful thinking,” said Pierluisi, a national Democrat who is seeking a second term in Congress on the island New Progressive Party ticket.
Pierluisi made clear his call for a status change and his support for statehood.
“Whether it is called territory, commonwealth, or colony — the current status denies us the most fundamental rights in a democracy: the right to choose the leaders who make our national laws and the right to equal treatment under those laws,” Pierluisi said.
“The current status is about second-class citizenship, which we should rise up to reject. Independence and free association are about separation, which would diminish the opportunities available to our children and grandchildren. Statehood is about equal treatment. It would deliver to Puerto Rico what all free people deserve: full voting rights, full self-government, and full equality under the law,” Pierluisi said.
The resident commissioner labeled the current status as “an affront to our dignity.”
“In my office hangs a framed photo of service members from the island who have lost their lives since 2001. They are the latest in a long line of Puerto Rican patriots who have fought — and fallen—for this nation,” he said. “This photo inspires me, but it also makes me sad. I cannot understand how we, such a proud people, can voluntarily submit to a status that makes us second-class citizens in the country that we have defended for generations.”
Pierluisi said he realized that, “after nearly 115 years, the prospect of change can be unsettling.”
“But I also know that there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come. We deserve better than what we have, and the time has come for us to seek a new status that will empower us to realize our full potential,” he said.
Pierluisi said statehood is the right choice.
“Independence and free association are worthy options, but both would place at risk our U.S. citizenship and federal support under programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security for future generations of Puerto Ricans,” he said.
“Because I believe the overwhelming majority of you are opposed to breaking or substantially weakening the strong political, social and economic bonds that have formed between Puerto Rico and the United States, I think the only viable alternative to the status quo is statehood. At this critical moment in history, we should aspire to perfect our union, not to sever it,” the resident commissioner added.
The resident commissioner reiterated that, if a majority votes against the status quo, and in favor of either statehood, free association or independence, Congress and the president should take action that honors that choice.