Bitter debate ensues as House approves bill that could move Puerto Rico to statehood

April 30, 2010


The House on Thursday approved a bill that could move Puerto Rico to statehood – exposing a rare and bitter rift between New York members from the island territory.

Bronx Democratic Rep. Jose Serrano backed the measure, calling it a vital step to ending colonial rule, even as his usual ally, Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-Brooklyn) blasted it as a “disgrace,” “shameful” and “appalling.”

The measure offers Puerto Rico – a U.S. territory for 112 years – a two-step vote.

The first would ask whether Puerto Ricans – including those living in the States – like the current territorial commonwealth status or if they want change.

If the vote is for change, a second vote would ask what change they want.

“For the first time in 112 years, the Congress of the United States will ask the 4 million American citizens in Puerto Rico what they wish their relationship to the United States to be,” said Serrano.

Velazquez and Harlem Rep. Charlie Rangel, whose father was Puerto Rican, said the measure was a backdoor move to a statehood vote on the island that has failed three times in the past.

“It is baffling that the statehood option, which lost in 1967, in 1993 and again in 1998, is now allowed to scheme its way to victory,” Velazquez said.

Before the debate, the bill had offered three options for change: statehood, independence or an independent “free association” like three other former U.S. territories.

Velazquez argued that if keeping the current status was no longer on the ballot, statehood – always the second choice in the past – would win by default.

She favors a Puerto Rican constitutional convention.

Velazquez managed to win an amendment to add keeping the status quo to the choices.

“We restored some fairness to a badly flawed process,” she said.

Still, Serrano was so pleased he wielded the final gavel, hammering it down with a wide smile.

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