Good morning and welcome to the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status field hearing in San Juan, Puerto Rico. My name is Tom Perrelli, and I am the Associate Attorney General at the Department of Justice. But I am here today in my role as co-chair for the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status. And as co-chair, I am honored to be here with all of you.
This is a momentous occasion. A group of senior-level federal officials has never before come to Puerto Rico to listen to the Puerto Rican people in their home – to listen to the concerns of the people here, to listen to what is important to them, and to listen to suggestions they have for the federal government. In fact, I think an event like this is long overdue, and I speak for the entire task force when I say that we are all very honored to be part of this historic trip, and enthusiastic about a chance to talk and engage with you. This visit is an important first step, but still just a step in the process of working together to make real progress in many different areas that impact the lives of Puerto Ricans.
Now let me say a few words on the status issue – something that I know is very important to all of Puerto Rico and that you all care about very deeply and passionately. I know the President strongly believes that the status question is a significant one. He also believes that Puerto Rico’s status must be based on self-determination by the people of Puerto Rico. And we on the Task Force have come here with open minds and neutrality on this issue. I think that point merits repeating: we on the Task Force have come here with open minds and neutrality on this issue.
I view today’s hearing as a listening session for the federal officials here. We are going to spend today listening to you and hearing what you think the federal government can and should be doing to work with the people of Puerto Rico. We need this listening session - this is a new Administration in Washington that wants to engage with you, and we know that the first step is having an opportunity to hear from many of you.
We are starting today’s program with a roundtable of participants who are knowledgeable community leaders and academics. We hope to have a dialogue with them about substantive ideas regarding the different issues laid out in President Obama’s Executive Order. Later this afternoon, we will have a public hearing during which all of you in the audience will be able to address the task force directly. We are going to do our best to hear as many people and as many perspectives as possible – but I do want to point out that for anyone who does not get the chance, there is an email address on the bottom of your ticket, and it is PuertoRico@who.eop.gov. Please, if your voice is not heard today, make sure it is hear by those of us returning to Washington. We need to hear from you.
So again, thank you for welcoming us, and thank you in advance for what I hope will be an honest and constructive dialogue. We hope to come away with many ideas that we, working with you, can turn into concrete and specific policies and recommendations for the President and Congress.