the chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, (semisquare-x3)
Rob Bishop, the chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources. (Vanessa Serra Díaz)

Washington - The outgoing House Republican leadership  with jurisdiction over the American territories have formalized their belief that the next process on the political future of Puerto Rico should be legislated in San Juan, not in Washington.

Yesterday – more than 17 months after the June 11, 2017 plebiscite - the chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, Rob Bishop (Utah), recommended again - to Ricardo Rosselló Nevares and the Puerto Rican Legislature – to request the US Department of Justice to endorse –through a federal law in force since 2014- the content of the electoral ballot and an educational campaign for a new referendum on status.

Along with Bishop, the chairman of the Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs, Doug LaMalfa (California), Congressman Don Young (Alaska) and Resident Commissioner in Washington, Jenniffer González, suggest the governor the next plebiscite to be a “statehood : yes-or-no” referendum.

The four Republican representatives -who in January will be minority in the House- signed another letter addressed to Acting Attorney General, Matthew Whitaker, asking him - as Bishop did on his January 21  letter or draft that was published by El Nuevo Día last week - to help the Puerto Rican government with the evaluation of the referendum, if the island´s authorities decide to call a plebiscite.

Although the four claim overwhelming pro-statehood results in the 2012 and 2017 plebiscites, they agreed that in order to advance the issue in Washington, another consultation legislated on the island is needed and they acknowledged that "the inability of the Department of Justice to provide a timely blessing of the 2017 vote has allowed opponents to contest its results."

Statehood obtained the support of 97 percent of the voters in the June 11, 2017 plebiscite, but with a voter  turnout of only 23 percent amid a call for boycott from opposition parties.

Now, Bishop, LaMalfa, Young and González - who until a few days ago supported that Congress make Puerto Rico an incorporated territory and study the statehood proposal-, consider that a local referendum that has the approval of the federal Department of Justice "would constitute an indisputable expression of the will of the people of Puerto Rico".

The outgoing leadership of the Committee on Natural Resources alleged in its letter to the government of Puerto Rico that the government of President Donald Trump "validated" the plebiscites of 2012 and 2017.

However, in an expression of public policy - on behalf of the Department of State-, the US ambassador before the Organization of American States (OAS), Carlos Trujillo, said in early October that these referendums reflected that "there is no consensus" in Puerto Rico regarding its political future. The reference to a validation of the plebiscite of 2017 by the Trump government does not appear, however, in the letter addressed to Whitaker.

Trump gave an "absolute no" to statehood, after questioning the political leadership of the island, particularly the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, who does not advocate for statehood, but has been the main voice in the complaints of the slow and inefficient federal response to Hurricane María.

Although the issue has not been discussed in the PNP leadership, both Governor Rosselló and Méndez, have welcomed the idea of legislating a new referendum in San Juan. Until last night, the Senate president did not comment on the issue.

"Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares wants the colonial problem of Puerto Rico resolved as soon as possible," said the Secretary of Public Affairs and Public Policy at La Fortaleza, Ramón Rosario Cortés.

Under federal law 113-76 of January 17, 2014, the government of President Barack Obama and Congress offered $ 2.5 million to help finance a future status referendum, in exchange for the US Secretary of Justice certifying whether the alternatives to a referendum aimed at resolving the status of Puerto Rico and the educational campaign that the State Elections Commission (CEE, Spanish acronym) develops, comply with the federal constitutional, legal and public policy regulations.

In early 2017, the government of Puerto Rico consulted with the US Department of Justice the content of the alternatives for a referendum on status that ended up taking place that year. But, despite having initiated the process and fulfilling the requirement to include in the current territorial status in the ballot, the government of Puerto Rico never waited for the final certification.

If the Puerto Rican government resumes this process - after having announced a plan similar to the Tennessee plan and the creation of a seven-member commission that came to Washington to demand the admission of Puerto Rico as state 51-, then they would have accepted that there will be no space to advance on the issue without a referendum

Bishop - who said that the next two years will be his last in Congress-, is co-author of González bill 6246 that seeks that Puerto Rico becomes an incorporated territory and create a Congress Task Force to study the changes to laws needed to make the Island, through another legislation, the 51 state of the USA facing 2021. Congressman Bishop, however, never took the measure to a public hearing.

Democratic doubts

Yesterday, the next chairman of the Committee on Natural Resources, Democrat Raúl Grijalva (Arizona), who had ruled out advancing a pro-statehood bill due to the low turnout in the 2017 plebiscite, did not  comment on the issue.

He has a conversation pending with Democratic congresswoman Nydia Velázquez (Puerto Rico), who in recent months has been part of the Committee on Natural Resources and is close to Congress Democratic leadership.

Velázquez, however, said yesterday that "the people of Puerto Rico are tired of symbolic consultations" that are non binding. She said they will develop an official position.

"We are not going to react to tricks to help someone politically in Puerto Rico. Democrats have to make a strong and honest examination of what the next steps should be to address the political situation on the island," Velázquez told El Nuevo Día.

The Popular Democratic Party (PPD) considers that in essence, Bishop has invalidated the 2017 referendum for the PNP leadership.

Representatives Luis Vega Ramos and Luis Raúl Torres presented a resolution facing this weekend’s PPD assembly, to demand that the government of Puerto Rico goes back to the idea of creating a Dialogue Committee with representatives of opposition parties to promote a broad discussion in Washington about the political future of the island.

PNP representative José Enrique "Quiquito" Meléndez, for his part, affirmed that although the decision to return "to the beginning" - referring to the federal law of 2014 - "those of us who believe in decolonization do not seek an excuse, but take advantage of opportunities".

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