ANSWERS TO FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT PUERTO RICO SELF-DETERMINATION
PUERTO RICO SELF-DETERMINATION
Realization of self-determination for Puerto Rico's 3.8 million U.S.
citizens represents the culmination of their quest for equality, dignity
and full self-government as first class citizens following 500 years of
Spanish and American administration.
Never entitled to their equal rights as citizens or the constitution's
full protections, Puerto Ricans have, nevertheless, demonstrated loyalty,
allegiance and dedication to the common bonds that unite all Americans.
They have fearlessly defended the American way of life abroad since WW I
though they can't vote for the commander-in-chief who sends them into battle.
At home their commitment to American democratic ideals is unmatched
in the U.S. by the highest voter registrations -- 98 percent -- and the
biggest Election Day turnouts -- over 80 percent. Yet, they are denied voting
representation in the national congress that determines the rules by which
Their U.S. citizenship does not shield them from discrimination that
would not be constitutionally tolerated in the fifty states. Economically,
as a territory, Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans are denied equal opportunity
in pursuit of the American dream.
America, the champion of self-determination throughout the world can
no longer prevent its own disenfranchised citizens from exercising that
same democratic principle at home. After a century under the American flag,
3.8 million of America's most loyal citizens have earned the right to self-determination.
It must not be denied.
ANSWERS TO FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT PUERTO RICO SELF-DETERMINATION
Why is it so important to act on the Puerto
Rico Self-Determination bill now?
- Under the constitution territorial status is temporary and 100 years
as an American possession is hardly a short time for a permanent status
for Puerto Rico to be determined.
- Puerto Rico has endured territorial status longer than any other
American territory without becoming either independent (Philippines) or
a state (Alaska, Hawaii). (N.B. Some claim Oklahoma was the longest held
territory from the 1803 Louisiana Purchase to 1907, when it was admitted.
However, the state now known as Oklahoma, was once part of the territories
of Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri and finally Arkansas until 1828 when it
was deemed Indian Territories and reserved for Native Americans. Indian
sovereignty was revoked in 1862. Not until 1890 was a territorial government
in the western part of the former Indian Territory organized under the
name Oklahoma. In 1907 Oklahoma and the remaining Indian Territory were
united and admitted as one state, Oklahoma.)
- The current status is no longer supported by a majority of Puerto
Rico's residents as the 1993 plebiscite found only 48.6 percent of the
electorate favoring commonwealth.
- As a result, the people of Puerto Rico, through their legislature,
twice petitioned Congress to "Respond to the democratic aspirations
of the American citizens of Puerto Rico" by defining the acceptable
self-government status options and mandating a plebiscite by 1998 as provided
under the Constitution's Territorial Clause.
- Further, American taxpayers can not be expected to indefinitely
continue subsidizing Puerto Rico's commonwealth at the rate $13 billion
a year, and growing, without, any permanent status solution in sight.
- It's time for Congress to end the discussion that goes back as far
as the 1989 congressional legislative initiatives on how to proceed and
to finally resolve the U.S. Puerto Rico relationship now. Calling
for further discussion is merely a thinly veiled attempt to kill the legislation.
What does the bill provide?
- It provides a process leading to full self-government independence
or free association or statehood - through self-determination in accordance
with the UN's mandate to end colonization in this, the UN's Decade of De-Colonization.
- Independence or free association and statehood are the two internationally
accepted full self-government alternatives mandated by the UN for termination
of colonial status.
- The bill calls for a non-binding plebiscite among the status quo,
independence and statehood options by Puerto Rico's 3.8 million U.S. citizens.
- Any change in status requires a majority vote in the first referenda
and confirming votes twice more over ten years until any actual change
in status takes place.
- Although congress is not bound to implement the change in status
selected in the referenda, we hope it will take into consideration our
choice when deciding the island's fate under the Constitution's Territorial
Why is U.S. citizenship so important and how
does each of the bill's options deal with U.S. citizenship?
- In the 1993 plebiscite 95 percent of all Puerto Ricans voted for
the commonwealth and statehood options which promised guaranteed U.S. citizenship.
- However, these bills make it clear that only statehood provides
the constitutional guarantee of permanent U.S. citizenship.
- Although no one is talking about ending statutory citizenship for
Puerto Ricans, it cannot be made permanent under commonwealth.
If Puerto Ricans vote for independence or free
association can they have dual citizenship as well?
- No. The residents of a new Puerto Rico country or a new free associated
state can retain their U.S. citizenship for life so long as they don't
take actions which demonstrate their dual or primary loyalty or first allegiance
to the new country or state.
- Once they demonstrate loyalty to the new sovereign state or free
associated state they will lose their U.S. citizenship.
- Offspring of U.S. citizens of the new sovereign state or free associated
state will not be American citizens
How does independence differ from free association?
- Independence or free associated state is just what it means, a newly
created sovereign state with its own laws, constitution, etc.
- The newly independent country will have a permanent status that
can not be altered, its ties with the U.S. subject to negotiations and
- A free associated state can not have a guarantee of permanent ties
with the U.S. Under international law both parties will retain the right
to unilaterally terminate the free associated state relationship. The U.S.
can unilaterally end it as can the new free associated state.
Isn't this bill tilted against commonwealth?
- Wrong, although commonwealth backers would have you believe it is
as they are trying to kill the legislation by claiming the writers of both
bills improperly rejected their definition.
- The truth: their 1993 status plebiscite definition was found unconstitutional
by four senior Republican House Committee Chairmen because it promised
guaranteed American citizenship (Puerto Ricans are statutory U.S. citizens),
full federal funding and no federal income taxation.
- Worse, the definition they submitted for S. 472 and H.R. 856 also
called for a veto power over federal legislation applicable to Puerto Rico!
Even their most ardent Democratic supporter in the House, Representative
George Miller, (D-CA), abandoned them on this issue.
- If anything, this bill is tilted toward the present territorial
status quo. Remember that any change in status requires a majority on the
first ballot and two confirming majorities on Transition and Implementation
stages over a ten-year period. All it takes is for independence or statehood
to fail to get a majority in any of one of these three referenda and the
status quo remains intact.
Isn't this bill, then, really a statehood bill?
- Hardly. There is no guarantee that statehood can even win a plurality
in a status referendum, less a chance of winning a majority the first time
around. In 1993, it came in second with 46.3 percent of the vote to 48.6
- Second, even if statehood does get a majority, it would still have
to receive majority votes in the Transition and Implementation stages.
- Since the plebiscites are non-binding, Congress will have the final
say as to whether it will act on the results.
- Finally, Congressional power over Puerto Rico is absolute; for example,
it could unilaterally declare Puerto Rico independent under the Territorial
Then why support its passage if statehood is
such a long shot?
- First, it's the right thing to do. How can the U.S. stand for self-determination
throughout the world and deny it to the 3.8 million American citizens of
Puerto Rico at home? It can't.
- Thus, self-determination is right for Puerto Rico. Either independence
or statehood will give Puerto Ricans first class citizenship (votes for
elected representatives and the presidency) and accelerated economic development.
Isn't there an alternative to this bill, one
that first provides for a vote on commonwealth and, if that fails, further
referenda on statehood or independence?
- No, commonwealth was already rejected by a majority of voters in
the 1993 plebiscite.
- Secondly, commonwealth is impermanent and can't, under the constitution,
- Third, the commonwealth option is already in the bill and it will
continue to provide for the territory's governance until one of the permanent
forms of self-government -- statehood or independence -- is selected.
- Finally, efforts to promote this alternative legislation are really
aimed at killing both bills and preventing Puerto Rico self-determination.
Wouldn't statehood cost American taxpayers more?
- Just the reverse. Even though federal programs would be fully funded,
up to $1.4 billion more, the immediate elimination of federal tax breaks
and the eventual imposition of federal taxes on individuals and corporations
would amount to $4.12 billion, actually reducing the cost of Puerto Rico
to the U.S. Treasury by some $2.7 billion annually.
- Secondly, over time Puerto Rico, like the rest of the territories
that became states, would exhibit higher economic growth 4.7 to
6 percent (2.2 percent to 3.5 percent over and above the current 2.5 percent
growth rate) -- causing federal tax revenues to rise eventually eliminating
all treasury subsidies.
- As proof, Hawaii almost doubled its rate of growth from 4 to 7 percent
in the 15 years after statehood and grew even faster than the vibrant U.S.
What's in it for the American people in the
- Lots, as was stated before, any change in status will reduce the
costs -- some $13 billion a year and growing to American taxpayers
of subsiding Puerto Rico.
- Secondly, Puerto Rico will provide cultural and bilingual links
with Latin America that will enhance economic and political ties with the
- It's the right thing to do, after all Puerto Ricans are Americans,
- Finally, as Ronald Reagan said, "Puerto Ricans have borne the
responsibilities of U.S. citizenship with honor and courage
tradition of democracy provides leadership and stability in that region."
What's in it for the people of Puerto Rico?
- Self-determination will finally, after 400 years of Spanish rule
and 100 of American, offer Puerto Rico's 3.8 million U.S. citizens the
opportunity to determine their own political future as part of the U.S
or as an independent nation.
- They need to shed their second class citizenship and be able to
vote for the president of the U.S and elect voting members of congress
if Puerto Rico becomes a state.
- Or, they will be the masters of their own fate if independence is
- In both cases, they will no longer be politically disenfranchised
or denied the full rights of their citizenship.
- Finally, independence or statehood will provide a better way of
life as a result of accelerated economic growth and increased per capita
Don't polls indicate that Puerto Ricans do not
consider themselves Americans and therefore a vote for statehood should
be disregarded or require a super-majority for approval?
- Puerto Rico's 3.8 million U.S. citizens are among the most fervent
Americans as the only polls that really count those held on Election
Day and in the battlefields -- reveal.
- In the 1993 plebiscite, 95 percent of the voters (statehood and
commonwealth) favored permanent ties with the U.S. and guaranteed American
citizenship. If that's not considered being 100 percent American what is?
- Puerto Rico's commitment to democracy and democratic institutions
is unparalleled in the United States; over 80 percent of the electorate
routinely turn out on election days.
- 200,000 of our youth have defended American values abroad since
WW I, one of the highest enlistment rates in all the U.S.
- Puerto Ricans are among the most traveled Americans freely demonstrating
their love for the Union by their frequent visits and by the fact that
over 2.5 million permanently reside stateside.
- Finally, no other territory has ever been required to have a super-majority
for statehood. Alaska got only a little more than 58 percent the first
time around but, as statehood became more of a reality, the numbers grew.
Puerto Rico, if it chooses statehood would mirror that increase in acceptance.
That brings up another issue: Why should possible
statehood for Puerto Rico be considered if many of its residents don't speak
- First, a commitment to common rights, responsibilities and ideals,
not a dominant language, bonds Americans.
- Second, since 1917, as American citizens, they have defended American
values abroad -- more than 2,000 have made the supreme sacrifice.
- English and Spanish are Puerto Rico's two official languages and,
recognizing the need to become bilingual, recent government efforts have
increased English education in our public schools.
- In fact, Puerto Rico in 1902, became the first American jurisdiction
to make English an official language. It joined Spanish as one of the island's
two official languages.
- English is the official language of the federal courts and all U.S.
agencies as well as the language of banking, commerce, real estate and
the hospitality industry.
- There is broad support in Puerto Rico for the House bill, which
would accelerate English fluency among children by targeting age ten as
the year in which they would speak English.
- Remember that it was a PDP (commonwealth) governor of Puerto Rico
who attempted to eliminate English as an official language in 1991; this
was reversed under the present administration in 1993.
- Puerto Ricans understand the importance of English fluency as a
means to achieve economic success and, therefore, support increased education
in the language.
- As such, pro-statehood Puerto Ricans are in agreement with Speaker
Gingrich that Puerto Ricans should be required to learn English if the
island is to be admitted into the Union.
Isn't there more, wouldn't statehood be for
- Not at all. Just because there would be full funding for federal
programs in Puerto Rico doesn't mean Puerto Ricans are looking for a handout.
If they were they'd all have left the island for the mainland a long time
- Puerto Ricans are willing to pay their fair share of federal income
taxes that would be eventually be required under statehood. (This would
have little effect on total tax bills as Puerto Ricans are among the highest
taxed in the nation to make up for the inequities in federal funding. Statehood
would carry with it full federal funding thereby allowing local rates to
be correspondingly reduced.)
- In fact, statehood is for all Puerto Ricans and all Americans. Statehood
would end the uncertainty over status thereby stimulating investment and
growing the economy causing Puerto Rico to catch up with the mainland economically
and making Puerto Ricans pay their own way rather than being wards of the
Why should Republicans pass Puerto Rico self-determination
- First, it's a matter of principle as the party has supported Puerto
Rico self-determination for over 40 years.
- Every Republican president -- Eisenhower to Nixon to Ford to Reagan
to Bush -- has supported Puerto Rico self-determination.
- The national Republican Party's platforms have, since 1972, called
for Puerto Rico self-determination. In 1996, it said: "We endorse
initiatives of the congressional Republican leadership to provide for Puerto
Rico's smooth transition to statehood if its citizens choose to alter their
current status, or to set them on their own path to become an independent
- Finally, as Ralph Reed stated "It's only fitting that a Republican
Congress should give the people of Puerto Rico what so many Republican
presidents sought to achieve a way to determine for themselves the
government they should have. Give them your support for H.R. 856
What's in it politically for the Republican
party if it passes S. 472?
- Politically, passage of the legislation can help Republicans among
the 27 million mainland Hispanic Americans, 6.6 million of whom voted by
a nearly 72 percent margin for the Democrats in 1996.
- They will soon be the nation's largest minority (2005) and key to
winning critical electoral votes in states like California, Arizona, Texas
and Florida. Without re-capturing a sizeable percentage of the Hispanic
American vote, the White House in 2000 may be out of reach.
- If the Republican Party wants to be the New Majority Party it has
no choice but to reach out to Hispanic Americans by passing S. 472.
- As Ralph Reed said, "The Republican Party stands today on the
threshold of sweeping political success. To achieve the success
must demonstrate that our party is the natural home to millions of Hispanic
Americans and is the true representative of their ideals and values
have an opportunity to begin this outreach now
Give your support for
and S. 472".
- Republicans should not be misled by opponents of self-determination
who claim Hispanic Americans are not united behind these bills; numerous
organizations including the League of United Latin American Citizens ("LULAC"),
the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Republican National Hispanic
Assembly, and the National Association of Hispanic Publications, not to
mention 14 of the 17 members of the Hispanic Caucus who voted for H.R.
856, are behind the legislation.
- Finally, a recent Univision survey found 56 percent of all Hispanic
Americans favor Puerto Rican statehood.
Why should the Republican controlled Senate
help Puerto Rico's Republican Party?
- The Puerto Rico Republican Party was founded in 1902 (78 years before
the Democrats started up on the island) by Dr. Jose Celso Barbosa, the
Forefather of Statehood for Puerto Rico. As early as 1928, our party won
control of both houses of the legislature.
- Poll after poll finds strong Puerto Rico identification with traditional
Republican values: fiscally conservative, family oriented, pro-life, very
- The Puerto Rico Republican Party has been a major supporter of the
national party and its candidates. In the 1996 presidential primary Bob
Dole's victory here re-energized his campaign sending him on to the presidential
- Finally, the ruling statehood New Progressive Party (NPP) initiatives
go beyond Republican mainland goals including: implementation of public
company privatization's, a moment of meditation at the start of the school
day, the Charter School concept, reductions in capital gains and income
tax rates and in the government workforce.
But, doesn't Puerto Rico's new Labor law allowing
public employees the right to organize permit union dues collected in Puerto
Rico to be used to finance campaigns against Republicans in Congress?
- No! It specifically prohibits the use of union dues in any political
campaign and violations of this ban will result in decertification of the
- This is exactly the type of law Republicans in congress have sought
to pass in order to prevent mainland unions from financing Democratic campaigns
against without the consent of their members.
If Republicans passed S. 472 and Puerto Rico
Became a state, wouldn't it elect Democratic sentaors and representatives
threatening their control of Congress?
- The statistics prove otherwise. A majority of members of the Puerto
Rico legislature are Republicans and 68 percent of the island's mayors
- The Democratic Party of Puerto Rico has never elected a single officeholder
as a Democrat.
- Moreover, a recent Center for Research and Public Policy poll found
that the people of Puerto Rico share the Republican Party's conservative
values: they are pro-family, anti-abortion, endorse school vouchers, favor
school prayer and harsh prison terms for perpetrators of violent crimes
and crimes against children and support a conservative lifestyle opposing
state recognition of homosexual lifestyles.
- As Ralph Reed pointed out, "If Puerto Rico became a state tomorrow
and congressional elections were held, we would expect that Republicans
would fare very well."
In summation, what do Senate Republicans and
the Republican Party have to gain by passing S. 472?
- Credibility and with it the potential to recapture their traditional
share of the Hispanic American vote in critical states -- in local and
national races as well as the White House -- in 1998 and 2000.
- Preventing the Democrats from claiming more of the Hispanic American
vote by taking credit for House passage of H.R. 856.
- Taking a major step toward building their New Majority Party status
by demonstrating the Republican Party's big tent appeal -- inclusiveness
-- to all comers.
What do Republicans risk losing by not passing
Puerto Rico self-determination legislation?
- Credibility within the Hispanic American community and other minority
groups throughout the country.
- Alienating and losing additional Hispanic American voter support
to the Democrats who would blame inaction on the bill on the Republicans.
- Diminished margins in the House, perhaps control, and the Senate
and loss of key gubernatorial races in 1998 and the White House in 2000.