Minority Affairs Committee Update November/December 2020

BY GUMERSINDO GOMEZ, CHAIR

Recently, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.) took a significant step toward initiating a serious process of self-determination and decolonization that puts the people of Puerto Rico at the helm of decision-making in the form of a bill, H.R. 8113, the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2020. While this legislation is not perfect, it is a step in the right direction in the ongoing struggle to end the colonial relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States. It also goes hand on hand with VVA’s Resolution MA-10, which was approved by the delegates at the 2019 Spokane Convention.

In 2017, while Puerto Rico was suffering through the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, a natural disaster that claimed nearly 3,000 lives, the White House inquired about “selling” the island. While this heartless suggestion was discarded by the President’s advisers, the incident speaks to how disposable Washington has long viewed Puerto Rico to be.

For more than a hundred years the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico has been subjected to policies foisted on it by a Congress often uninterested in the welfare of those who live there. This reality touches every aspect of Puerto Rican life: The island receives disparate treatment for Medicaid reimbursement, nutritional support, and a host of other safety-net programs, despite being poorer than the poorest U.S. state. These problems and others stem from Puerto Rico’s unique, long-standing colonial status, which has resulted in the island’s residents being treated as second-class citizens.

The time to remedy this situation has come, but it must be done correctly. Puerto Rico needs to be given the freedom to design its own future. That’s why members of Congress of Puerto Rican descent have introduced the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act. The legislation would prompt Puerto Rico’s Legislature to create a Status Convention whose delegates would be elected by Puerto Rican voters. This body would develop a long-term solution for Puerto Rico’s status—be it statehood, independence, free association, or any option other than the current territorial arrangement.

The Convention recommendations would be voted on in a referendum by the people of Puerto Rico, then presented to the U.S. Congress. The key is that this framework would be developed by Puerto Ricans and for Puerto Ricans—not dictated to them.

I will meet with Reps. Ocasio-Cortez and Velazquez early next year to put MA-10 in their hands so they will know that VVA supports self-determination for Puerto Rico.

If you are a minority veteran and have an issue that you will like our committee to work on, please email me at Sgtgomez@aol.com or ggomez@vva.org or call 413-883-4508.


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