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House Committee on Natural Resources at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan. (David Villafañe)

Last night, members of the House Committee on Natural Resources were able to listen first hand to complaints against PROMESA and in favor of decolonization, the cockfighting industry and eliminating cabotage rules, all during a session that generated political tension.

“We thought it was important to listen to the people affected by Hurricane María,” and the fiscal crisis that Puerto Rico is facing, said  Democrat Raúl Grijalva, chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources in opening the learning session at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan.

Grijalva said that the event does not seek to leave the status debate behind but that the two issues he could handle right now are the recovery process after the devastation caused by Hurricane María and reviewing PROMESA including the effects of austerity measures imposed by the Board.

The New Progressive Party (PNP) government has asked Grijalva to include statehood in his agenda but the Democratic congressman was clear in stating that the low voter turn out in the 2017 referendum undermines the possibility to move that issue.

However, many of those participating in the learning session last night were pro-statehood who brought banners in favor of statehood and booed at San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz during her opening message.

Cruz called to repeal PROMESA, to have a Marshall plan for Puerto Rico and to audit the public debt. Although she  understands Grijalva´s position to avoid the status debate “to kidnap this dialogue” she stressed that PROMESA marked a landmark page in the Puerto Rican colonial situation by granting seven non-elected officials the authority to “unilaterally allocate the island´s resources.”

Amid boos from those holding pro-statehood banners, Yulín Cruz apologized to Grijalva for their behavior. Boos also raised during PPD representative Luis Vega Ramos´ presentation. It was then when Grijalva interrupted to tell the audience that he understood passion but asked them to show “some courtesy”.

Jennifer González received a standing ovation from statehood supporters, while Democrat Nydia Velázquez (New York), was received with applause and also some boos from pro-statehood sectors. Republican Rob Bishop (Utah) and Puerto Rican Democrat Darren Soto (Florida) did not seem to raise passions in the audience at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum.

Before the end of the session, Resident Commissioner González thanked for the hearing and stated that “statehood is the way to achieve full equality” and added that when discussing PROMESA “we have to address the island´s neural problem that is the colonial status.”

For Velázquez, González participation turned into a political message and said she will file an ethical complaint. “This is an official trip,” she said.

Grijalva, meanwhile, said he understands passions over the status of the island.

Iris Feliciano who spoke at the event said she supports statehood because the U.S. citizenship “opens us the doors to travel the world”; that “it is important because it the most powerful nation in the world”; that Puerto Ricans have fought in American wars and that voting for Congress representatives would grant political power to Puerto Rico.

Meanwhile, José Torruella Iglesias recalled that his father fought in the Korean war without being able to vote for the President that sent him to war and asked why he could vote in federal elections while living in Kansas and now that he is in Puerto Rico he cannot vote.

“Puerto Rico was invaded, occupied and colonized in 1898. A country led to bankruptcy as a colony,” said Wilda Rodríguez, spokeswoman for Junte de Mujeres 2018.

Outside the coliseum, there were demonstrations from the Puerto Rico Independence Party (PIP), Misión Estadista (Mission Statehood) and from Asociación Cultural y Deportiva del Gallo Fino de Pelea  (Cockfighting Cultural and Sports Association). PIP president, María de Lourdes Santiago said that the priority should be to “address the colonial situation.”

Brenda Domínguez, a university professor, was among the speakers –that also included students- requesting to strengthen the University of Puerto Rico since it is also a poor jurisdiction and that public university is essential.

Retirees from the Puerto Rico Teachers Association denounced that the Board “wants to reduce the pensions of the government retirement system.”

Many speakers, including Gerardo Mora and Rafael Durand, asked for the repeal to the bill that extended the ban on cockfighting to Puerto Rico and other territories.

Ricardo Cortés Chico and Amanda Pérez Pintado collaborated with this article.


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