Monday, May 3, 2010

Prelude to Equality

(Me, behind Congressman Jose Serrano in blue tie)
By: Phillip Arroyo

On Tuesday, April 27th, 2010 I took a 1:54 am flight from San Juan to our nation's capital Washington, DC with the objective of visiting congressional offices to urge members to support H.R. 2499 The Puerto Rico Democracy Act. The bill was scheduled for a vote the next day, but was then pushed to Thursday. The night before, I stayed up reflecting and looking back on the path our deconolization movement had taken until then. I began to think of the fathers of our decolonization movement, Jose Celso Barbosa and Luis A. Ferre and the fight they dedicated their lives to; the fight for equality. I remembered when I moved to Puerto Rico from North Carolina and saw how my father was stripped of his ability to vote for President, despite of serving in our nation's military proudly.

At the age of 16 I also remembered watching on T.V. as HR 856 The Puerto Rico Self Determination Act passed by one vote back in 1998 and how it later died in the Senate thanks to the likes of ultra conservative anti hispanic Republican senators like Trent Lott. And yet, here I was on my way to our nation's capital to join our Governor , our Resident Commisioner and dozens of volunteers to finally help push H.R. 2499's approval and put an end to our island's unfair and undemocratic colonial political status.

I was glad that God had given me the opportunity to travel to Washington, not only to witness history, but to help garner democratic votes as a part of our Resident Commisioner Pedro Pierluisi's Democratic Party lobbying team. I left my wife and daughter behind, yet I knew this journey would be for a noble cause. It would be to assure that my beautiful 1 year old daughter will one day grow up in Puerto Rico enjoying the same rights, resposibilities and priviledges as the rest of our brothers and sisters on the mainland. I owed it not only to her, but to every single child of our great Puerto Rico.

Upon arriving to DC, we began visiting offices right away alongside Francisco Domenech, the Young Democrats of America National Committeeman. As suspected, democratic members of congress were in favor of the bill, and those who were undecided informed us of the member's inclination to support it. Ever once in a while, a staffer would present questions or doubts in regards to the fairness of the voting mechanism offered by the legislation. " Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez has told us that this bill excludes the current political status on the island," expressed one legislative assitant. It was at that moment that I realized what we were up against. We were now facing a discredited campaign of lies whose premier architects were congresswoman Nydia Velazquez and congressman Luis Gutierrez.

I was in awe at how these two hispanic members of congress were actually going against not only the will of the people of Puerto Rico, but against what our beloved Democratic Party stands for! They would argue that H.R. 2499 was a statehood bill geared and designed to create an artifical support for statehood when in reality this bill was a civil rights piece of legislation. Obviously, they were terribly mistaken, and they knew it. It was truly shameful to watch them join forces with some of the most conservative ,radical and anti hispanic republicans in the house against letting the people of Puerto Rico to decide their final political status.

I stood in disgust when I approached a Republican Congressman from Alabama. I spoke to him about the Puerto Rican soldiers who sacrifice their lives for our nation and yet cannot vote for our Commander in Chief. He replied by saying, "Son, your preaching to the Choir. I agree with you." In response I expressed, "Then we can count on your vote, right?" The congressman, a bit befuddled, timidly answered," Now, I didn't say that son. Politics is politics." This answer pretty much sums up what the Republican Party represents, a party of divisive nature, political interests and unwillingness to support the hispanic agenda. It was at that moment that I realized that we would not have a significant amount of support among Republicans, regardless of whether or not our Governor was Republican. It seemed the race barrier was very much still alive within the GOP.

Returning to the topic of the Puerto Rican members in Congress, we all know in Puerto Rico, that Velazquez and Gutierrez have been allies of the local colonialist party in Puerto Rico headed by Hector Ferrer. Everyone knows that Congresswoman Velazquez owes her congressional seat to the colonialist party in Puerto Rico. She was director of the Puerto Rico federal affairs office during the term of Governor Rafael Hernandez Colon of the colonialist party in the 1980's. This move was cleverly planned to insert a Puerto Rican "colonialist" that would later respond to that party's ideological interest in Congress.

So it should be no surprise to anyone that Velazquez betrayed our democratic party's principles by opposing H.R. 2499, because she was never a democrat! She was and still is a "Popular" or "Populete", a term used to describe members of the local colonialist party on the island.

Finally, as the day dwindled and our visits were done, all that was left was expectation and hope. H.R. 2499 would finally be brought to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives the very next day. Years of advocacy and efforts were now behind us and all of Puerto Rico awaited the outcome. That night, I remember being exhausted and yet I could not sleep; I kept staring at the ceiling, obviously due to the expectation, but also anxious, and hoping that the will of the Puerto Rican people be respected. The Puerto Rican people had waited too long for the opportunity to put an end to almost 112 years of colonialism and it would be a disgrace if due to political maneauvering and trickery by the opposition, their voices be silenced.

The next day, I remember waking up to a beautiful sunny morning in DC. I took a cab to the capitol and during the ride I remember being quite nervous. The driver asked me where I was from and after I answered, he indicated his awareness on the Puerto Rico Political Status issue. I told him there was a Bill to be voted on that very same day to possibly begin a process to end colonialism on the island. As I paid the fare, the driver bid me farewell and wished me goodluck, not before expressing enthusiastically, "Equality for Puerto Rico!" I winked at him and said, "You're damn right!"

After an intense and fiery debate on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives between supporters and opposers of the Puerto Rico Democracy Act, the final passage vote was announced. Members of Congress would have 15 minutes to cast their vote while the eyes of our nation observed via C-SPAN. We would need to reach the 216 vote threshhold for final passage. One by one, the votes started to come in and were displayed in the House Gallery. With each vote in favor, a feeling of proudness overcame me. I was proud of the members of congress who decided to do the right thing and vote in favor of our cause.

On thursday, April 29th, 2010 at around 6:35pm, The Puerto Rico Democracy Act received vote number 216......... H.R. 2499 was finally approved on a final 223 to 169 vote..... I remember sitting in amazement as my eyes began to water. We did it..............

Only one amendment was approved, inserting the current political status of Puerto Rico in the second process alongside the other options: statehood, independence, and free association. Among all members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus presided by Nydia Velazquez, 22 voted in favor and only 2 opposed the bill.

Care to guess which two voted nay? That's right, Nydia Velazquez and Luis Gutierrez. As a matter of fact the only 2 hispanic names on the Nays list were them! It's a shame these 2 members of Congress joined forces with the conservate right in an attempt to derail self determination for the 4 million American citizens of Puerto Rico. But our voices and efforts prevailed and the U.S. House of Representatives sent a clear message to the U.S. Senate stating the importance of permitting the people of Puerto Rico to finally decide.

In past days, the Senate Committee on Natural Resources has announced a public hearing to be held next May 18th, 2010 to immediately attend H.R. 2499. It is now the duty of all democrats in Puerto Rico and the mainland to continue to advocate and promote the passage of this bill in the Senate. Our moment of destiny is now. Years from now, we will be able to say to our children, that at this very moment, at this time in our history, a group of young men and women of our generation assumed their historical responsibility to put an end to colonialism in Puerto Rico and achieve full equality for all Puerto Rican Americans.

We stand before the beginning of the end of our journey. A journey paved away by the fathers of our movement for equal rights in Puerto Rico. The approval of H.R. 2499 is our "Prelude to Equality". The time has come......

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