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Where The Rubber Meets The Road

By Gene Roman

March 14, 2001
Copyright © 2001 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

The politics in the state of New York are about to get pretty rough. The state legislature is preparing to redraw congressional districts based on the results of the most recent census. Congressional representatives and their supporters are hiring high-priced lobbyists and preparing extensive outreach campaigns to protect their respective turfs.

Among those at risk of losing a congressional seat is Representative Nydia Velazquez, a New York Democrat. Congresswoman is a former university professor, served on the NYC Council and was Director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration office in New York during the administration of Governor Rafael Hernandez Colon.

During the 105th Congress, the Congresswoman and her House colleagues debated the historic Young Bill: United States-Puerto Rico Political Status Act. This legislation would have authorized a federally sponsored referendum to permanently resolve the Island’s political status. If it had become law, Puerto Rico would have had the same opportunity given to every other U.S. territory, namely, to decide the nature of its relationship with the United States. It passed by one vote in the House, but failed to reach the Senate floor.

Two of the bill’s most vocal opponents were two of Congress’ Puerto Rican-American representatives: Nydia Velazquez and Luis Guiterrez, D-IL. They attempted to win support by arguing that the process envisioned by the Young Bill was inherently unfair because the Popular Democratic Party’s proposed "best of both worlds" definition of the Commonwealth option was rejected on constitutional grounds. Congress again soundly refuted any notion that Puerto Rico could exist as an "autonomous political entity, that is neither colonial nor territorial, in permanent union with the United States under a covenant that cannot be invalidated or altered unilaterally."

In exercising its Constitutional authority to determine the political status of its territories, Congress sought to present the people of Puerto Rico a realistic and honest set of options regarding their future. Something of this magnitude had never been attempted before. This clearly frightened the Congresswoman and many of her allies.

Now Congresswoman Velazquez will be seeking the support of various Democratic constituencies in New York to retain her congressional district. As one of those Democrats, I have decided that I cannot in good conscience support her in this effort.

Some have argued that Island residents cannot be both Puerto Rican and first class U.S. citizens with all the inherent rights and responsibilities such as the payment of federal taxes, a voting delegation in the Congress, etc. People like Ms. Velazquez, Mr. Gutierrez and myself are but three examples that it can and is being accomplished across the Nation. Some of our national and regional Puerto Rican organizations who contribute time and money to voter registration and education campaigns refuse to extend first class voting privileges to our families and friends on the Island. Why can those of us on the mainland (Velazquez, Gutierrez) have a voting delegation representing our interests and Puerto Rico cannot?

In a November 18, 1997 statement in support of a fair census, Ms. Velazquez wrote: "If we are not allowed to conduct a proper census . . . it would mean that millions of Latinos and African Americans will not be counted in the 2000 census. It would mean that proper representation will not be extended to everyone living in this country . . . it

would be a huge loss for the American people and for the democratic process. Is that what the President wants?"

As the saying goes, this is where the rubber meets the road. Fair is fair, as long as the Island is disenfranchised, shouldn’t the Congresswoman be too?

Gene Roman writes from NY where he is the Deputy Director of the National Center on Education and the Economy. He can be contacted at

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