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Representative Raúl Grijalva.
Representative Raúl Grijalva. ([email protected])

Washington - Although he has warned that the low voter turnout in the 2017 referendum does not help to move the statehood proposal forward, Representative Raúl Grijalva perceives that a "significant majority" of Puerto Ricans want statehood for the island. 

However, he believes it does not make sense to file a bill promoting statehood for Puerto Rico, without having an idea of what the Senate and White House would do. 

Ricardo Rosselló Nevares and Resident Commissioner in Washington Jenniffer González criticized Democrat Grijalva, chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, for not prioritizing the status debate. 

Just after the 2017 referendum, when statehood got 97 percent of the votes, Grijalva said that "with a voter turnout of only 23 percent, and the other two parties boycotting the referendum, the question of whether that is the fundamental desire of the Puerto Rican people remains... if it had been clearer, things would be different. 

  On Thursday, in an interview with Latino Rebels, Grijalva said it seems “naive” to him to try to point at him as someone wanting to reject the statehood proposal, when for the last two years, Republicans controlled the Senate, the House and White House and did nothing. 

Grijalva also noted that he could call a debate on Puerto Rico's political status at some point, but insisted that placing that issue as a priority would "suck the oxygen" out of what he considers urgent: the revision of PROMESA and the island´s recovery after the devastation caused by Hurricane María. 

According to the chairman of the committee with primary jurisdiction over Puerto Rico's affairs, he never doubted that the island has to leave colonialism and that its territorial status "has to be changed.” 

President Donald Trump’s government and Republican Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, have agreed that the 2012 and 2017 plebiscites reflected that there is no consensus in Puerto Rico over its political future. 

Trump has opposed to statehood for the island. 

 In the 2012 plebiscite, about 54 percent of voters rejected the current territorial status. 

The second question complicated the situation, and resulted in calls, particularly, from the PPD leadership, for voters to leave it blank. 61.6 percent (834,191) of voters chose statehood; 33.34 percent (454,768) supported the Commonwealth (or free association); and 5.49 percent (74,895) supported independence. But, 498,604 people decided to leave that second question blank, compared to 67,217 who did not answer the first one. 

While on the plebiscite held on June 11, 2017, 97 percent of voters supported statehood. But, the referendum took place amid a boycott from opposition parties and had the lowest voter turnout for a status referendum. 

Last November, Rob Bishop (Utah)  then chairman of the Committee on Natural Resources and current Republican spokesman, sent letters to the governor and the U.S. Department of Justice to resume conversations that took place in 2017 and try to convene on the island a “statehood: yes-or-no” referendum with, based on a 2014 federal law, the certification by federal Attorney General of status alternatives and an educational campaign. 

Although Bishop does not reject the results of the 2017 plebiscite, he then warned the governor - along with Resident Commissioner González and Republicans Don Young (Alaska) and Doug LaMalfa (California) - that “the inability” of the Department of Justice to validate the 2017 vote in time has enabled the opposition to challenge them. 

Last Monday, Grijalva indicated that the first hearing of the Committee on Natural Resources on Puerto Rico, under the new Democratic majority, can take place in April and will be dedicated to studying the changes that can be made to make PROMESA more humanitarian. That law imposed a Board that oversees the government's finances and authorized the public debt restructuring process. 

 During his weekend visit to the island, Grijalva said he found people strongly distrust the federal government and "the central government," because they understand that things are not done in a "transparent manner ... and free of conflicts of interest.