Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, along with two other Democrats, on Thursday introduced a new legislation seeking to create a bigger role for citizens of Puerto Rico in determining the future status of the US territory, including statehood and independence.
The bill proposes creating a “status convention” made up of delegates elected by Puerto Rican voters to come up with a long-term solution of its future and territorial arrangements with the US, potentially paving the way for sovereignty or full statehood for the island.
“A colony is incompatible with democracy,” said AOC while co-introducing the bill in the house. “It’s incompatible with full citizenship, and we should all be able to enjoy the right to vote for our leaders,” she said.
Ms Ocasio-Cortez also said the bill is as much about allowing Puerto Ricans to assert their political identity as it is “about the identity of the United States.”
“If we want to consider ourselves a democracy and live up to our values, it is fundamentally incompatible for an open democracy to have subjects,” Ms Ocasio-Cortez said.
Ms Velázquez, Puerto Rico-born New York Democrat representative, said that the bill is ultimately aimed at ending US “colonial rule” of the island, which dates back to the Spanish-American War in 1898.
“Now, Congress must take responsibility and enter into a serious dialogue with the Puerto Rican people about the flawed territorial arrangement that currently stands,” she said. “This legislation guarantees the inherent right of the people of Puerto Rico to determine their own political future.”
She also said the federal government in the US, especially during the Donald Trump administration, failed the 3 million citizens of the territory while it was battling natural disasters and financial crisis.
The bill has more than 70 co-sponsors, a number that Ms Velázquez said she expects will rise in the coming weeks. When the bill was introduced last year by the two, it had 20 co-sponsors. The Senate version has seven co-sponsors, all of them Democrats except for Republican Roger Wicker from Mississipi.
Mr Menendez, who introduced it in the Senate and is also the chair of the Senate foreign relations committee, said under the bill, “options will be put before the people of Puerto Rico to vote in a federally recognized process for the first time.”
“Whatever that future is, they’ll be able to determine their security, their economy and who they have relationships with,” Mr Menendez said during a news conference.
“The more than 3 million residents of Puerto Rico, who are US citizens, have been repeatedly denied the ability to govern themselves and are too often treated as second-class citizens by the federal government,” he said.
The full statehood of Puerto Rico is a tricky subject in the US. However, more than half the residents of the territory, almost 53 per cent, voted in favour of a full statehood during a referendum carried out on 3 November, according to Puerto Rico’s Elections Commission.
The island was historically of strategic importance to the US. However, now residents are considered US citizens but don’t vote in presidential elections or pay federal income taxes.