(September 17, 2020- Washington, D.C.) – Today, the Governor of Puerto Rico Wanda Vázquez Garced sent a letter to the U.S. Attorney General, William Barr, and Deputy Attorney General, Jeffrey A. Rosen, regarding a communication sent by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) on July 29, 2020. In this communication, DOJ denies the obligation of the $2.5 million appropriated under the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2014 (P.L. 113- 176), made available to the DOJ to help oversee and administer a plebiscite to resolve Puerto Rico’s political status. In the letter, the Governor addresses the misconceptions, oversights, and misguided reasoning of DOJ regarding the island’s upcoming plebiscite. The communication further states that even though the appropriated federal funding is not required by law, the $2.5 million obligation could help procedurally with this plebiscite after the Puerto Rico’s State Elections Commission failed to complete its function efficiently in the 2020 primaries.
In the letter, the Governor asserts that the island will move forward with the 2020 general election plebiscite to resolve Puerto Rico’s status. This year’s plebiscite comes after the 2017 objection by DOJ to Puerto Rico’s initially proposed ballot for that year’s plebiscite that included the “statehood” and “free association/ independence status” options, arguing that Puerto Rico needed to add the “current territorial status” option. The island officials complied with this request and included the colonial-territorial status option on the ballot; however, DOJ still failed to obligate funds for the 2017 plebiscite.
Additionally, the letter states that “the people of Puerto Rico and not the federal government should determine the preference among options,” ignoring that Puerto Rico’s elected officials selected the language for the 2020 plebiscite. This premise violates the directives of H. Rprt. 116-101 that states clearly “that the current territorial/Commonwealth status should be excluded from any future plebiscite, since it fails to address key inequities.” In the DOJ’s July 29th letter, the agency included outdated language from previous Congressional legislation that disregards current directives that Puerto Rico’s plebiscite language remained unchanged.
“We are disappointed with DOJ’s determination to not obligate the $2.5 million allocated by Congress for the people of our island to freely and democratically exercise their right to vote and finally resolve Puerto Rico’s colonial-territorial status,” said Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced. “I am concerned with DOJ’s explanation and the tone of the communication that seem to be skew in favor of the current territorial status, despite a clear mandate from Congress to disregard this option in future plebiscites and the policy of the U.S. to remain neutral in this topic”.
The Governor added, “DOJ’s decision will not deter our will and determination to end this unfair political status that further perpetuates inequalities and the unjust treatment of the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico. Today, I say to the DOJ that Puerto Rico will move forward with the November 3rd plebiscite. While we do not require the federal funds nor DOJ’s blessing to proceed with the free will of the people of Puerto Rico, I urge you to continue working with our Government to obligate the $2.5 million that will guarantee the fair and transparent election process that all Puerto Ricans deserve”.
“The language of the letter from DOJ is an example of the misconceptions some in the U.S. mainland have about Puerto Rico’s political status,” said the Executive Director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, Jennifer M. Storipan, Esq. “During my tenure as Executive Director of PRFAA, I have learned a great deal about the intricacies of the island and how, in some cases, complex situations are not always given the necessary consideration by the federal government. In its letter, DOJ failed to acknowledge that regardless of whether a U.S. territory is incorporated or unincorporated, and irrespective of a plebiscite being binding, non-binding, or even held at all, the only requirement for a U.S. territory to become a state is for Congress to vote.”
Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced: “In our nation, we hold democracy as a sacred right. That right should not be denied to the people of Puerto Rico. We must safeguard the integrity of the elections and in order to do so, we urge for the proper and swift disbursement of the $2.5 million funds appropriated by Congress for the 2020 general election plebiscite.”