WASHINGTON – Puerto Rico’s legislative delegation launched on Wednesday a campaign in Congress to demand statehood for the island.
The bipartisan delegation appointed by Gov. Ricardo Rossello, accompanied by the governor himself and three former governors, said at a press conference in the US Capitol that Puerto Ricans have already voted twice in favor of joining the US as its 51st state and it is “necessary” for them to have the same opportunities and rights as other Americans.
Rep. Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, the territory’s nonvoting member in Congress, appeared on the House floor on Wednesday to demand statehood, saying that “The island overwhelmingly voted for statehood in 2012 by a margin of 61 percent and 97 percent in June of last year.”
However, despite that apparent high level of approval, only 24 percent of Puerto Rican voters went to the polls for the 2017 plebiscite.
“It is our moral imperative to demand Congress recognize 3.4 million disenfranchised Americans. It is time to end Puerto Ricans’ second-class citizenship, and statehood is the only guarantee for that to happen,” said Rossello.
He said that the effects of Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island a little over four months ago, had highlighted the fact that Puerto Ricans are treated as “second-class” citizens, and he emphasized that the roots of that problem must be found.
In his judgment, the central difficulty is the “lack of political representation” for the island in the US Congress as a commonwealth, and he said that this year his administration will do everything possible to push for a referendum that will provide the island’s residents with their full rights.
The delegation’s “shadow senators” include former Democratic Gov. Carlos Romero Barcelo and National Republican Committeewoman of the Republican Party of Puerto Rico Zoraida Fonalledas.
In addition, the shadow House members on the delegation are former Democratic Gov. Pedro Rossello Gonzalez, former Republican Gov. Luis Fortuno, former president of the Senate of Puerto Rico and current State Chair of the Democratic Party of Puerto Rico Charles Rodriguez, former chief of the US Office of Citizenship Alfonso Aguilar and baseball Hall of Famer Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, who was not present.
Residents of Puerto Rico living on the island may not vote in US presidential or congressional races, although they may serve in any branch of the military.
The two powerful hurricanes that struck Puerto Rico this past year caused local authorities to put the statehood campaign on hold, but now that most of the island’s residents have regained their water and electricity service the campaign has been resumed.