August 5, 2021

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Betting on a Joe Biden administration

Washington, D.C. – Representative Darren Soto hopes that a Democratic victory in November elections will put the debate on Puerto Rico’s political status and substantive changes to PROMESA on track the next term.

Soto, a Democrat from Florida’s 9th District, considered that the November “yes-or-no” statehood referendum called by the New Progressive Party (PNP) government will be difficult to ignore and that with former Vice President Joseph Biden in the White House there will be an openness for the debate on the island’s political future.

Soto said that this time the fact that the referendum presents a “very clear” question and that -contrary to the 2017 plebiscite- voter turnout should be high since it coincides with November general elections should create interest.

There are many Congress members who are (waiting for) this November plebiscite and we have a candidate – former Vice President Biden – who is open (to the subject),” said the federal lawmakers, in an interview with El Nuevo Día.

In an op-ed published El Nuevo Día in December, Biden said he will engage “Puerto Ricans — including representatives of every status option — in a process of self-determination, listening and developing federal legislation that outlines a fair path forward.”

Soto supported the 2017 plebiscite, in which statehood won by 97 percent of the vote, but was blurred by a 23 percent voter turnout, amid a boycott by the opposition.

The Democratic congressman went so far as to introduce legislation to make Puerto Rico a state, with a transition of only 90 days. But that proposal, which will be three years old tomorrow, never advanced in Congress.

Soto indicated that criticism of the low voter turnout, the opposition by President Donald Trump and by Senate Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell to statehood, and natural disasters that hit Puerto Rico prevented the referendum from having an impact three years ago.

After Hurricanes Irma and María, the 2020 earthquakes and the coronavirus pandemic, “we had to focus on those crises,” said Soto, who hopes to “aggressively” promote statehood if it prevails in the November referendum.

This Puerto Rican congressman also alluded to the fact that Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott (Florida), have made no progress within the Senate Republican majority on the statehood proposal.

Before today’s Natural Resources Committee hearing on the impact of the coronavirus on Puerto Rico’s fiscal crisis, Soto referred to Congressman Raúl Grijalva (AZ) bill – the committee chairman – seeking to amend PROMESA and which he co-sponsored.

The bill seeks to ensure funding for essential services such as the University of Puerto Rico, elementary and secondary public education, health, and public safety.

The bill also proposes auditing the public debt, canceling the unsecured debt, and avoiding that former island´s government officials become Oversight Board members and the legislation also includes proposals to avoid conflicts of interest with contractors in the fiscal entity, among other things.

We’re going to have new rules to prevent conflicts of interest… protections for essential services… and the ability to end unsecured debt. I understand that there is a very strong movement in Puerto Rico for debt cancellation and we heard many voices in favor of an audit,” Soto said.

Although he made it clear that he is in favor of repealing PROMESA, he said others in the committee believe that eliminating the statute could create a chaotic situation for Puerto Rico in the face of creditors lawsuits.

In that sense, he sees Grijalva’s project as a negotiation among the committee’s Democrats.

However, he insisted that through Dr. Jill Biden, former U.S. vice president wife, Joe Biden’s campaign has pledged to have an open mind regarding claims to amend PROMESA.

Today’s hearing

The Board´s Executive Director, Natalie Jaresko, and the Executive Director of the Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority, Omar Marrero, will speak at today’s Natural Resources Committee hearing – scheduled for 3:30 p.m.

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