On February 17, the Hon. Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner and a non-voting member of the U.S. House of Representatives, formally responded to the February 16 remarks made by Illinois Congressman Luis Gutiérrez. Here is a full copy of Pierlusi’s comments, which are now part of the House record:
Congressman Pedro R. Pierluisi
Statement for the Record
February 17, 2011
I rise to address the chamber this morning with disappointment, sadness, and a deep resolve to set the record straight. I am compelled to respond to remarks delivered yesterday on this floor by my colleague, the gentleman from Illinois, in which he harshly criticized the duly-elected government of Puerto Rico, the officers who serve honorably in its police force, and the chief judge of the U.S. district court for the District of Puerto Rico. The speech was inappropriate and insulting to the people of Puerto Rico. I hope such action will not be repeated. But if it is, make no mistake: I will return to this floor again to defend my constituents—and the government they chose in free and fair elections—from all unwarranted attacks. I will rise then in the same capacity that I rise now: as Puerto Rico’s only elected representative in Congress and the only member of this chamber who can make any claim to speak on behalf of the Island’s nearly four million American citizens. I will fight for my people because it is my privilege, my honor, and my duty to do so.
To compare Puerto Rico to an authoritarian country is beyond the pale. It demeans not merely my constituents, but also the millions of men and women around the world who suffer under real dictatorships, who are truly oppressed, and who lack the dignity that comes only with genuine freedom. Puerto Rico is a rich and vibrant democracy, with strong institutions, governed by the rule of law. Fundamental rights protected by the U.S. Constitution—including the right to free speech, free assembly and due process of law—apply fully in Puerto Rico. So does federal civil rights law. This is not to suggest that violations of individual liberties never take place in Puerto Rico. On occasion they may, just as they do in every jurisdiction. And I would be the first person to condemn such conduct if it occurs. But, in Puerto Rico, unlike in a dictatorship, there are legal remedies available to citizens who claim to have been deprived of their rights. Those who fail to grasp this basic distinction do not understand Puerto Rico or appreciate its strengths.
Moreover, I believe it is wrong for a member of this body to insult a federal judge simply because that judge ruled in a way the member finds objectionable. To use an enlarged photo of that judge as a prop is, in my view, particularly unfortunate. Such theatrics undermine, rather than strengthen, the argument being made. Judge Fusté, a man who has devoted over 25 years of his life to public service, does not deserve such treatment.
Yesterday, a great disservice was done to the good name and reputation of the people of Puerto Rico. I regret that it occurred. I hope—and expect—that it will not happen again.
I yield back the balance of my time.
Pierluisi is a political ally of Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuño, both pro-statehood politicians and members of the island’s New Progressive Party (PNP). On the Sunday episode of Univision’s Al Punto show with Jorge Ramos, Gutiérrez compared the tactics of Fortuño and his alleged manipulation of the island’s judicial system to that of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Ramos had invited Fortuño to appear on the show and respond, but the governor did not appear. There is still an open invitation by Ramos for the governor to appear. Fortuño declined to comment about Gutiérrez at an event in Ponce last week, but Pierluisi shared his opinions about Gutiérrez on the House floor, and it is very likely that those opinions are also shared by Fortuño.
Puerto Rican Independence Organization Supports Gutiérrez
Meanwhile, Puerto Rico’s Movimiento Independentista Nacional Hostosiano (MINH), a Puerto Rican organization that favors independence for the island, announced this past weekend that it fully supported Gutiérrez’s comments. In remarks made in Spanish, Héctor L. Pesquera, the co-president of the MINH said:
[Gutiérrez] completed his obligation as a congressman and as a Puerto Rican by denouncing the violation of fundamental civil rights in Puerto Rico committed by both the Government of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Federal Courts in Puerto Rico.
In his speech to his colleagues in Congress, he clearly referred to the abuses that are occurring in this colony of the United States. It is his duty and prerogative.
Pesquera also criticized Pierluisi, saying that he is not the only person who can speak on the floor of Congress about Puerto Rico, and added:
Pierluisi only represents the Fortuño government in Washington. Gutiérrez represents the dignity of Puerto Rico and the interests of all Puerto Ricans. We should all be thankful to him.
It is inconceivable that Pierluisi would silence Gutiérrez’s right to express himself freely.