Cultural Institute in Old San Juan (Photo/Getty Images)

Opinion: The colony thrives at Senate hearings on Puerto Rico

I went into yesterday’s Senate hearing about Puerto Rico‘s political status with really low expectations. After watching the entire session (twice), my expectations plunged from low to lower that low. Like “how low can you go” limbo low.

The 88-minute Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing was jammed packed with so many issues, so many overarching themes, that instead of trying to tie them all together, I am going to comment on each one. To say I am disappointed is an understatement. This hearing was a colonial bag job.

Only three Senators showed up. Let’s start here. While the Puerto Rican press worked really hard to portray the narrative that Puerto Rico’s political status being discussed in Washington, D.C., was a really big deal, only three Senators showed up. Three Senators, and two of them —Oregon’s Ron Wyden (D) and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowksi (R)— had to be there since they are the co-leaders of the committee. The other senator was New Mexico‘s Martin Heinrich (D). Reality check: this critical hearing was scheduled the day before Congress’ August recess. This wasn’t prime time at all.

The optics of empty seats were a stark symbolic reminder that the US Congress still doesn’t care about Puerto Rico. When will Puerto Ricans wake up and realize this?

Three Senators.

Where was the Obama Administration? You would think that after winning Florida last year due to a strong showing by Puerto Rican voters in the I-4 corridor, President Obama would have sent someone, anyone, to testify at the hearing, since his Administration is pushing yet another plebiscite vote to discuss once again the political status options surrounding the island. I would have loved to hear the Administration speak to this. It didn’t, and I applaud both Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi and pro-independence supporter Rubén Berríos for criticizing the president. The message is clear: the president doesn’t care about Puerto Rico, either.

Governor Alejandro García Padilla did a poor job. I don’t know where to begin about García Padilla’s testimony. Could it have been his non-answer about what an enhanced commonwealth option is, causing many in his own camp to criticize him? His entrenched belief that the status quo is good for the island (it isn’t)? The majority of Puerto Ricans, including myself, believe that the current status quo relationship is holding Puerto Rico back.

Or what about the governor’s claim that Puerto Rico will become a “Latino ghetto” if it were to become a state? That just needs to stop.

Dear governor, please act like a governor. Take charge of the moment, instead of looking like a colonial leader bowing down to his imperial master.

Pierluisi needs to stop waving the statehood pom-poms all the time. Meanwhile, Pierluisi is handling it all wrong. His biggest strategic mistake is that he is putting the statehood option ahead of the bigger issue: working with other Puerto Ricans to make the island’s political status a legislative priority. For example, there are four million Puerto Ricans living on the mainland who have a vote in Congress. Where is the desire to work with them? Instead, Pierluisi insults those Puerto Ricans by saying that they have no say in any future votes on Puerto Rico’s identity.

To the resident commissioner, I would say this: your determination is admirable, but you are doing nothing to expand the tent. You worked hard to get a Senate hearing scheduled, and only three Senators showed up. Put the statehood pom-poms away for now, and make Puerto Rico important in Washington. You can’t do this all yourself.

Berríos speaks the truth. When this veteran of Puerto Rican politics basically said to the three senators that nothing will ever come out of this hearing and this is just a waste of time, I cheered out loud.

Yesterday in Washington, the world’s last colony was alive and well.

How tragic.


  1. Reblogged this on Franky Benítez and commented:

    Another one for NBC Latino this week

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