Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló is using the first anniversary of Hurricane Maria hitting the island to make a stepped-up push for statehood.
In a letter to President Trump this week and in television interviews Thursday, Rosselló argued that disparate federal responses to Puerto Rico and other states affected by hurricanes underscore the need to alter the U.S. territory’s status.
“I think the case has essentially been made to the world in the aftermath of Maria,” Rosselló said during an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “The truth of the matter is we’ve been treated like second-class citizens.”
Rosselló, who campaigned on the promise of promoting statehood, said he was pressing Trump and members of Congress to state their position on the issue.
“It’s time for decision-makers to put up or shut up and state if they will welcome Puerto Rico as the 51st state, if they will do what’s in their power to make it happen, or if they will reject the right side of history,” Rosselló said.
He argued that the United States cannot claim to be a “standard-bearer of democracy while carrying colonial territories in the 21st century.”
“How can you go to Cuba or to Venezuela and preach democracy when you have over 3 million U.S. citizens disenfranchised?” Rosselló said, referring to Puerto Rico’s population. “Are we going to allow in this modern age to have two types of citizenship in the United States?”
Puerto Ricans can vote in presidential primaries but not in general elections.
Puerto Rico’s nonvoting representative in the U.S. House, Jenniffer González-Colón (R), introduced legislation in June that would make the territory a state, with full-fledged voting rights, no later than January 2021.
In a referendum last year, 97 percent of those in Puerto Rico who voted chose statehood, but just 23 percent of registered voters cast ballots. The vote was viewed as flawed, and opposition parties boycotted.
It was the fifth referendum held on statehood since Puerto Rico was acquired in the Spanish-American War of 1898 and designated a commonwealth a half-century later.
In his letter to Trump, Rosselló said the biggest impediment to hurricane recovery were the “inequalities Puerto Rico faces as the oldest, most populous colony in the world.”
“The ongoing and historic inequalities resulting from Puerto Rico’s territorial status have been exacerbated by a series of decisions by the federal government that have slowed our post-disaster recovery, compared to what has happened in other jurisdictions stateside,” he said.
A report released last month by George Washington University estimated that there were 2,975 “excess deaths” in the six months after Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico in September 2017.
Trump drew widespread rebukes last week after falsely claiming that the number of deaths attributable to Maria had been inflated by Democrats to “make me look as bad as possible.”
Arelis R. Hernández and Katie Zezima contributed to this report.