House Democrats on Thursday rallied to help end the stain of colonialism in America by passing a bill that gives Puerto Rico the option of possibly becoming the 51st state.
For Democrats, the legislation aimed at ending Puerto Rico’s status as a U.S. territory – the Puerto Rico Status Act – was also seen as a formal acknowledgment of America’s colonialism efforts that they seek to unwind.
‘Today, for the first time in our nation’s history, the United States will acknowledge its role as a colonizing force and Puerto’s Rico’s status as an extended colony,’ Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said on the House floor.
Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., who was born and raised in Puerto Rico, compared U.S. control over the island to British control over America in its colonial beginnings.
‘Congress’ unlimited plenary powers over Puerto Rico is reminiscent of the monarchical powers enjoyed by King George III, against which the founders of the American Republic so bravely fought,’ Velazquez said. ‘If Hamilton and Madison were alive today, they would be shocked to see how the anti-colonial Constitution they drafted in 1787 is currently used to legitimize colonialism in Puerto Rico even 300 years later.’
Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla., praised the bill as a chance for people living in Puerto Rico to finally ‘throw off their colonial bonds.’
The bill passed in the House of Representatives in a 233-191 vote thanks to help from more than a dozen Republican lawmakers who also agreed it’s time to end Puerto Rico’s status as a territory.
The U.S. acquired Puerto Rico as a new territory in 1898, during the Spanish-American War. Velazquez said that since then, the island has ‘remained in a state of colonial limbo that flies in the face of the anti-colonial values upon which the American Republic was funded.’
Under the Puerto Rico Status Act, the U.S. would formally authorize and sponsor a vote next year that would give Puerto Ricans the option of U.S. statehood, independence or sovereignty in free association with the U.S.
One option not in the bill is continued status as a territory. Ocasio-Cortez called that an ‘unsustainable colonial status,’ which is why the option is not there, although several Republicans said failing to provide that option is an example of how the bill dictates to Puerto Rico.
‘And my friends across the aisle want to talk about colonial power,’ said Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Pa.
The legislation is the result of months of negotiations among Democrats but also some Republicans, including Puerto Rico’s Republican non-voting resident commissioner in Congress, Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon.
Democrats said on the House floor that while Puerto Ricans are considered to be U.S. citizens, they aren’t allowed to vote in U.S. presidential elections, and the island can’t set its own trade policy or enter into international agreements. Gonzalez-Colon said that prompts many to leave the island for America for ‘equality.’
‘Colonialism has destroyed the Puerto Rican economy,’ Velazquez said. ‘Colonialism has divided the Puerto Rican people. Colonialism has eaten away our people’s sense of dignity and self-worth.’
Ocasio-Cortez acknowledged that the bill does not achieve everything its supporters want, such as reparations for Puerto Ricans. ‘But I am confident that in solidarity with movements on the island, we will solve these issues and achieve those victories as well,’ she said.
Another Republican, Rep. Lloyd Smucker of Pennsylvania, agreed that it’s time to give Puerto Rico the option of changing its political status and possibly become the next U.S. state.
But many more argued the bill was rushed to the floor and doesn’t stand a chance of becoming law. House passage of the bill sends it to the Senate, which still needs to pass legislation to avoid a partial government shutdown this week, and possibly a longer-term spending bill next week.