By Angélica Serrano-Román/Orlando Sentinel
U.S. Rep. Darren Soto is seeking statehood for Puerto Rico, but many island residents and opposition political parties questioned both Soto’s intentions and whether the bill had a chance of passing.
If the Puerto Rico Admission Act is passed and signed into law, it would admit the island as the 51st state within 90 days of the president’s signature.
“It is time to end 120 long years of colonialism,” Soto, D-Kissimmee, said alongside the governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosselló, and Puerto Rico’s non-voting resident commissioner Jenniffer González, a Republican, at a news conference in Washington on Thursday.
But while the governor and resident commissioner back the bill, Aníbal José Torres, a senator and president of the Popular Democratic Party, or PDP, said Soto was just “playing to the stands” by appealing to the Puerto Ricans living in Florida.
The bill, he said, is “a deception to the people of Puerto Rico.”
Soto dismissed criticism of the 2017 referendum, telling the Orlando Sentinel on Wednesday, “We as Democrats shouldn’t be seen as second-guessing elections. … What matters are those who come out and vote. You cannot [know] the radical intent, and non-voters’ intent.”
Besides concerns about what Puerto Ricans think of the bill, both Torres and Márquez Lebrón questioned the likelihood of it ever passing.
Torres said the opposition to statehood by President Trump, who said he was an “absolute no” on the issue, meant any path to statehood was impossible.
“For the lack of convincing, they resort to confusion,” Torres said. “For two years, [González] had the Republican Congress in her favor and never could advance the issue, much less now. Trump has closed all the doors.”
Márquez Lebrón also said the pro-statehood bill “is going nowhere.”
“There is a song that says ‘Pasarán más de mil años, muchos más’ (‘It will be more than a thousand years, many more’),” Márquez Lebrón said.
To be a state, he said, three things must happen.
“First, we need to have a clear majority, which at this moment is non-existent,” Márquez Lebrón said. “[We must] have the economic conditions, but we are broke. And we need similar national and cultural visions. We are not Americans, we are Puerto Rican. We have our own cultural vision.”
Edwin Figueroa Narvaez, a 26-year-old resident of San Juan, said the news about the bill “is a media circus. … They do it just to satisfy those who voted for them. They have to assure their voters that they did everything they could to achieve statehood in order [for re-election].”
However, Mark Ojeda Matos, a resident of Cabo Rojo, said the bill will make the statehood supporters have a “clear mission of where they are and the work that they need to start”.
“I do not know if statehood would happen in 90 days, but it is good because it opens a debate in Congress about us,” Ojeda Matos said. “We are also seeing how several Congressmen are supporting Puerto Rico, something that was not common before.”
Soto said he was not surprised by some of the responses to the bill.
“With this being the defining question of Puerto Rican politics, it’s expected that responses will run the gamut,” Soto said in a statement Friday.
“Locally, we have had the realization among many after Hurricane Maria and PROMESA [the island’s controversial federal management board] that the island may be better served by having two U.S. senators and four representatives in Congress.”