Before Congress left for August recess, the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a hearing on to discuss the future political status of Puerto Rico. Although President Obama’s Puerto Rican Task Force has publicly stated that resolving Puerto Rico’s political status is the territory’s most pressing issue, no one from the Obama administration attended or participated in this hearing. 

By remaining on the sidelines, President Obama’s White House has decided to cast aside the will of the people of Puerto Rico.

In November 2012, 54 percent of Puerto Rico’s residents voted to reject their commonwealth’s status as an unincorporated territory, and 61 percent of voters cast their ballot in favor of statehood for Puerto Rico, with a full 72 percent of the eligible electorate participating. 

One thing is certain — President Obama has inexplicably decided to stand by inaction and ignore the loud voices of a clear majority in Puerto Rico asking for permanent change.

- Javier Ortiz

In December 2012, the White House unequivocally stated that "the results were clear, the people of Puerto Rico want the issue of status resolved, and a majority chose statehood in the second question." A White House spokesman added, "Now it is time for Congress to act and the administration will work with them on that effort, so that the people of Puerto Rico can determine their own future."

Congress is taking this issue seriously, as evidenced by the August Senate hearing. Testifying before the Committee were: The Honorable Alejandro Garcia-Padilla, Governor of Puerto Rico, who supports territorial commonwealth status; the Honorable Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner in the U.S House of Representatives in Washington DC, who supports statehood; and the Honorable Rubén Berríos, former Puerto Rico Senator, who supports independence.

Unfortunately, no one in the Obama administration heard what they had to say.

The White House has not provided a public explanation as to why it was uninterested in participating in a hearing to discuss the November 2012 plebiscite in which a clear majority of the American citizens residing in Puerto Rico resoundingly announced that they were no longer interested in living under the current colonial status.

Every presidential administration during the past 30 years, both Democratic and Republican, has consistently engaged with, and testified before, congressional committees on the issue of Puerto Rico’s current territorial status to provide the nation’s Chief Executive’s point of view.

How can the administration claim to “work with them on that issue” if it will not even provide testimony to the Senate committee of jurisdiction?  

For the Obama administration to be absent from these hearings is mystifying to many because there is no shortage of engagement in less public forums. For instance, the Honorable Tony West, Associate Attorney General (Acting) was in Puerto Rico the week of July 22nd, 2013 for official business. AAG West also is the Co-Chair of the President’s Task Force who wrote the report on Puerto Rico’s status. 

Why is it easy to travel thousands of miles from Washington, DC to San Juan, PR, yet be sorely missed at the U.S. Capitol, within walking distance of the Justice Department?

In another twist of puzzling confusion, Mr. Oscar Ramirez, a former senior aide to the U.S. Secretary of Labor under President Obama and the husband of a senior aide to the President, was recently hired by Governor Garcia to lobby "against statehood". Public records show Mr. Ramirez’s firm is being paid some $50,000 a month for this work. This is particularly baffling considering Puerto Rico is in a major fiscal crisis and lobbying “against statehood” doesn’t provide solutions for the high unemployment, access to healthcare, and better education. 

The press in Puerto Rico is abuzz with speculation and innuendo. No one can say for sure if Mr. West’s recent visit to Puerto Rico or the work Mr. Ramirez has done on behalf of Governor Garcia have anything, or everything, to do with President Obama’s change of heart on his own commitments to Puerto Rico. 

Whatever the reason for Mr. West’s visit or the motivation behind Mr. Garcia’s work, one thing is certain — President Obama has inexplicably decided to stand by inaction and ignore the loud voices of a clear majority in Puerto Rico asking for permanent change.

Javier Ortiz is a Republican strategist, principal at Crane and Crane Consulting, and an advisor on public policy and regulations for a D.C.-based law firm.

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