Pierluisi: Illinois Rep. Gutiérrez disrespected PR
Pierluisi said Gutiérrez “went too far” when he took to the House floor Wednesday urging members of Congress to eye what he called human and civil rights violations in the “U.S. colony of Puerto Rico.”
The Chicago Democrat, who was born and raised stateside by Puerto Rican parents, cited ongoing protests by University of Puerto Rico students over new fees and launched a withering attack on U.S. District Court Judge José Fusté for his jailing of Puerto Rico Bar Association President Osvaldo Toledo on contempt charges.
“His speech was a lack of respect to the people of Puerto Rico and the officials they duly elected. I am the only member of Congress who represents Puerto Rico. He represents a district on the South Side of Chicago,” Pierluisi added.
Gutiérrez is one of four stateside Puerto Rican members of Congress along with Reps. Nydia Velázquez and José Serrano, both New York Democrats, and Idaho Rep. Raúl Labrador, a Republican.
Gutiérrez’s speech included a large photograph of Fusté, who he said has close ties to the ruling New Progressive Party, propped up in front of the lectern in Congress.
Without mentioning Gov. Luis Fortuño by name, Gutiérrez likened the government in Puerto Rico to a “dictatorship.” He charged that students at the UPR have been attacked by “heavily armed riot police” bent on cracking down on free speech.
“What faraway land has seen student protests banned, union protesters beaten and free-speech advocates jailed: the U.S. colony of Puerto Rico,” Gutiérrez said.
Pierluisi also took to the House floor Thursday morning to “set the record straight.”
“The speech was inappropriate and insulting to the people of Puerto Rico. I hope such action will not be repeated. But if it is, make no mistake: I will return to this floor again to defend my constituents — and the government they chose in free and fair elections — from all unwarranted attacks,” he said.
The resident commissioner said that comparing Puerto Rico to an authoritarian country not only demeans island residents but “the millions of men and women around the world who suffer under real dictatorships, who are truly oppressed, and who lack the dignity that comes only with genuine freedom.”
He also said that it was “wrong” for a member of Congress to criticize a federal judge just because he disagreed with his ruling.
“Yesterday, a great disservice was done to the good name and reputation of the people of Puerto Rico. I regret that it occurred. I hope — and expect — that it will not happen again,” Pierluisi concluded.
Full text of Pierluisi’s statement for U.S. House record
I rise to address the chamber this morning with disappointment, sadness, and a deep resolve to set the record straight.
I am compelled to respond to remarks delivered yesterday on this floor by my colleague, the gentleman from Illinois, in which he harshly criticized the duly-elected government of Puerto Rico, the officers who serve honorably in its police force, and the chief judge of the U.S. District Court Puerto Rico.
The speech was inappropriate and insulting to the people of Puerto Rico.
I hope such action will not be repeated. But if it is, make no mistake: I will return to this floor again to defend my constituents — and the government they chose in free and fair elections — from all unwarranted attacks. I will rise then in the same capacity that I rise now: as Puerto Rico’s only elected representative in Congress and the only member of this chamber who can make any claim to speak on behalf of the Island’s nearly four million American citizens. I will fight for my people because it is my privilege, my honor, and my duty to do so.
To compare Puerto Rico to an authoritarian country is beyond the pale. It demeans not merely my constituents, but also the millions of men and women around the world who suffer under real dictatorships, who are truly oppressed, and who lack the dignity that comes only with genuine freedom.
Puerto Rico is a rich and vibrant democracy, with strong institutions, governed by the rule of law. Fundamental rights protected by the U.S. Constitution — including the right to free speech, free assembly and due process of law — apply fully in Puerto Rico. So does federal civil rights law.
This is not to suggest that violations of individual liberties never take place in Puerto Rico. On occasion they may, just as they do in every jurisdiction. And I would be the first person to condemn such conduct if it occurs.
But, in Puerto Rico, unlike in a dictatorship, there are legal remedies available to citizens who claim to have been deprived of their rights.
Those who fail to grasp this basic distinction do not understand Puerto Rico or appreciate its strengths.
Moreover, I believe it is wrong for a member of this body to insult a federal judge simply because that judge ruled in a way the member finds objectionable. To use an enlarged photo of that judge as a prop is, in my view, particularly unfortunate. Such theatrics undermine, rather than strengthen, the argument being made. Judge Fusté, a man who has devoted over 25 years of his life to public service, does not deserve such treatment.
Yesterday, a great disservice was done to the good name and reputation of the people of Puerto Rico. I regret that it occurred. I hope—and expect—that it will not happen again.