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Former Governor Pedro Rosselló González denounce the lack of voting rights for the residents of Puerto Rico to elect members of the federal government. (José A. Delgado Robles)

Boulder - Hours before yesterday's hearing at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the Puerto Rico Secretary of State, Luis Rivera Marín, had breakfast with Carlos Trujillo, US ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS) and detailed the results of the plebiscites of 2012 and 2017.

 "I explained him the numbers,” and how the voters’ rejection to the territorial status and how the 61 percent votes in favor of statehood that the government of the New Progressive Party (PNP) demands were left out of the analysis, Rivera Marín said.

 Nothing, however, changed.

 Just like the government of Donald Trump has done since April 2017, Ambassador Trujillo ignored the results of the 2012 plebiscite in which Puerto Ricans clearly rejected the territorial status with 54 percent of the votes.

And although he acknowledged the victory of statehood in the June 11, 2017 plebiscite, Trujillo - more strongly than ever since the beginning of Trump’s administration - warned the IACHR that even though statehood obtained 97 percent of the votes, only 23 percent of the electorate went to the polls, when "historically more than 80 percent participate in referendums".

Moreover, Trujillo - whose authority, President Trump, has given an "absolute no" to statehood as long as the island has "incompetent” leaders - argued in the session that "there is no consensus around a solution" of status between the residents of the island.

 Ambassador Trujillo led the US representation during the session in which the IACHR considered the independent complaints of former Governor Pedro Rosselló González and lawyer Gregorio Igartúa, who denounce that the lack of voting rights for the residents of Puerto Rico to elect members of the federal government represents a violation of human and civil rights.

Rosselló González -with his son Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares present at the hearing- denounced that not being able to vote for president of the United States nor to elect Congress members with full rights represents "a geographic civil-rights ghetto within our nation".

 Igartúa's complaint is based on not being allowed to vote for president, a matter that has been brought before the court. The debate took place as part of the IACHR 169th session, at the Law School of the University of Colorado, in Boulder.

For Trujillo, although petitioners "frame the petitions in political rights, they really refer to the political status" and urged the IACHR to "not allow itself be used" to push for statehood, since in the opinion of the US government, Puerto Rico has favored the "Commonwealth" in all referendums prior to 2017.

"Nothing in the American Declaration (of Human Rights) entitles Puerto Rico to statehood ... This is a domestic political issue," he said, arguing that not being able to vote for federal representation is not an act of discrimination, but the structure of the US Constitution, which places the power of the Union in the states.

 Consequently, Trujillo, of Cuban origin and appointed by President Trump, alluded to the fact that the residents of Puerto Rico "are free" to move to the United States if they want to participate in the US elections.

 Thomas Weatherall, legal adviser to the US Department of State, also warned that neither former Governor Rosselló González nor lawyer Igartúa represented the government of Puerto Rico. "And if a person comes to claim that Puerto Rico must be independent, as people who were at the hearing (with banners), does that person have the right to involve all Puerto Rico?", Trujillo questioned, in an interview with El Nuevo Día.

Regarding the request for statehood based on the 2017 plebiscite, Trujillo maintained that this is an issue that is in the hands of Congress. "This is not the appropriate forum," added Trujillo, shortly before the session began.

As previously affirmed in writing by the U.S. Interim Permanent Representative to the OAS, Kevin Sullivan, when requesting the dismissal of the cases, Trujillo argued that Puerto Rico has the right to vote at the local level, elect a (non-voting) delegate to the U.S. House and participate in presidential primary elections.

Sullivan had already established that for the US government, Puerto Rico has "a broad base of self-government." Then, just like Trujillo did yesterday, he ignored PROMESA and the Oversight Board that controls the finances of the island.

 In April of 2017, when rejecting the electoral ballot of what would be the most recent plebiscite, the then U.S. undersecretary of Justice, Dana Boente, affirmed that they do consider the 2012 referendum due to the demographic and economic changes that occurred since then.

 After the hearing, Governor Rosselló Nevares, Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz, and House Speaker, Carlos "Johnny" Méndez, joined Rosselló González and others at a press conference to denounce what they consider as a disrespectful official US position.

 The governor said he will request a meeting from the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo. "It's incomprehensible," Rosselló Nevares said, noting that a conversation is not possible "if you ignore historical data".

"We want to clarify (to Secretary Pompeo) the errors and demand a position," said the governor, who said he traveled to Colorado with private funds.

Pompeo was previously director of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and was a congressman for Kansas when Congress approved the language that authorized $ 2.5 million to help fund an upcoming referendum on the island, if Puerto Rico accepted-which in the end never happened-that the US Attorney General validate the ballot and the educational campaign on the plebiscite.

 For Rivera Schatz, the US government "is a bit ashamed to recognize" that Puerto Rico, 120 years after the US invasion, is still a colony.

"It looks like they have not read history," said Méndez.

Complainants declare

Yesterday's session was opened by former Governor Rosselló González, as petitioner, who like lawyer Igartúa, initiated this process 12 years ago. "We are completely excluded from the political process at every level of the federal government," said Rosselló González, who testified with his lawyer, Orlando Vidal.

Igartúa - accompanied by his son, also a lawyer and with the same name – considered that inviting those who want to vote for US president to move to a state is "disrespectful”.

In spite of the US arguments, commissioners present at the session accepted the petitioners' proposals. "It is a fundamental right of every citizen to vote in all civil, political elections in the country," said the president of the IACHR, Margarette May Macaulay, from Jamaica. Vice President Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño, from Panama, made similar expressions.

 Macaulay asked former governor Rosselló González if the lack of political rights could be an act of racial discrimination. "I do not see a racial intention," Rosselló González said, however he admitted that it can be considered "suspicious" because it is a "Hispanic" jurisdiction with Spanish as a common language.

"There is nothing discriminatory" in the US Constitution, said Trujillo.

While Rosselló González was speaking at the IACHR session, the live transmission showed a chair with a banner indicating "Puerto Rico is a nation". A group of local Puerto Ricans, called by Vamos por Puerto Rico (Vamos4PR) and Boricuas Unidos en la Diaspora, among other groups, brought signs saying that Puerto Rico should be independent.

 "Puerto Rico is a country occupied by the United States, a colony and a problem of self-determination. The IACHR cannot ignore that, "said Denver-based trade union leader Luis Ponce Ruiz, who considered it hypocritical for the governor to claim human and civil rights, after "having run over the workers with austerity measures in collaboration with the Board".


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