Good morning Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee, and fellow
Members of Congress. I want to thank you, Senator Murkowski, your
Committee staff, and everyone who has worked so very hard, with
exemplary fairness, unswerving commitment to democracy, and untiring
efforts, on behalf of full democratic rights for all the American
citizens of Puerto Rico. This collective effort truly exemplifies the
best of true American democratic tradition. This is indeed a historic
moment. S. 472 will provide the first ever Congressionally mandated
referendum on the political status of the territory of Puerto Rico. Mr.
Chairman, my deepest thanks for keeping this process moving. I look
forward to seeing it brought to a successful conclusion.
I SUPPORT S. 472
I appear before you in strong and full support of S. 472. This bill
establishes a process to end the present colonial status of Puerto Rico.
This bill has bipartisan support for good reasons. It is a good bill, a
needed bill. I fully support the process for decolonization and
self-determination established in this bill -it is a basic right of all
PUERTO RICO HAS BEEN A COLONY TOO LONG
The actual status of Puerto Rico is a colony - nothing more, nothing
less - because Puerto Rico is under the territorial clause of the United
States Constitution and Congress has plenary powers over it. Thus, among
other things, Puerto Rico is subject to all federal laws, although it
does not have voting representation in the federal legislative process.
Nor is Puerto Rico sovereign and able to pursue its interests in the
From its discovery by Columbus in 1493 until American Troops invaded
and occupied the Island in 1898, during the Spanish American War, Puerto
Rico endured 405 years of colonialism by Spain . Since then, from 1898
until now, it has endured another 100 years of colonialism by us. Today
it is still a colony that continues vehemently to ask for its basic
democratic right of self-determination.
This bill is the vehicle to end the 100 years of colonial status for
the 3.8 million U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico. The people of Puerto Rico
have been denied the sovereignty that is acquired either through
independence or statehood long enough. It is time to correct that
un-American condition. This is an appropriately historic year to approve
this bill. On July 25, 1998, Puerto Rico will become the United States',
and the world's, oldest colony. How tragic it would be if the country
that professes to be the strongest supporter of democracy refuses to
step up to the plate and advance the process for ending the colonial
status of Puerto Rico.
I do not care if statehood wins. I do not care if independence wins. I
do care every day when I get up and I realize that the American citizens
residing in Puerto Rico are all colonial subjects of this nation. This
In the meantime, in this century the following territories of this
Nation have been admitted to the Union or granted independence:
- The territory of Oklahoma, sold by France to the United States in
1803, became a State on November 16, 1907;
- The Territories of New
Mexico and Arizona were admitted to the Union on January 6, 1912;
- On July 4, 1946, the Philippines, acquired by the United States
during the Spanish-American War, became an independent nation;
- On January 3, 1959, the territory of Alaska, purchased it from
Russia in 1867, became the 49th State of the Union;
- On August 21, 1959, the territory of Hawaii, annexed in 1898,
became the 50th State of the Union.
The desire of the people of the territory of Puerto Rico to determine
and express their preference regarding their political status has a long
history. In 1898, 1914 and 1917, leading Puerto Rican figures proposed
that plebiscites be held. In the 1920's and 30's, proposals for a
plebiscite were made by the principal political parties in Puerto Rico.
Congress provided Puerto Rico with increasing levels of self-
government for the first half of this century, culminating with the
authorization in 1950 of the process of developing a local
constitutional government. By 1952, Congress conditionally approved a
draft constitution submitted by the legislature of Puerto Rico. After
the required changes were made by Puerto Rico, the new constitutional
government of the territory became effective under the name declared by
the constitutional convention as the "Commonwealth of Puerto Rico".
However, the establishment of local constitutional self-government did
not alter Congress' constitutional powers and responsibility under the
Territorial Clause for Puerto Rico.
The Puerto Rico legislature sent joint resolutions to Congress in
1993, 1994 and 1997 requesting congressional action to define the
political status and establish process to resolve Puerto Rico's
SELF-DETERMINATION ISSUE HAS BEEN EXTENSIVELY CONSIDERED
As far back as the 94th Congress, virtually every Congress has worked
on this issue, both in the House and in the Senate. Extensive testimony
has been heard. Numerous site visits and fact finding trips have been
made over the years, too, especially in the last two Congresses, to
study the Puerto Rico situation. In particular, extensive testimony
across the political spectrum was heard in Puerto Rico and in Washington
regarding legislation very similar to this. There was ample
deliberation, mediation, and compromise on the issue. This process has
been absolutely fair and culminated in the March 4, approval by the
House of a good and fair bill, H. R. 856, which is substantially similar
to S. 472.
So as you all can see, this issue is not a last minute issue, hastily
promoted. It is an issue on which Congress has done its homework very
well. It has acted in an extremely responsible and democratic way. It is
time to complete the process, by approving this bill in this Committee
and in the whole Senate.
If we fail, this nation will be viewed as a nation that preaches one
thing and does another with its own citizens. As we get closer to the
year 2000, we, the greatest democracy on Earth, incredibly still hold
close to 4 million people in colonial subjugation. Instead, we should
heed the United Nations' call for the end of colonialism in the world
before the end of his decade.
For half a century, our nation has been committed to political freedom
and self-determination around the world. In his special Message to
Congress on Puerto Rico, on October 16, 1945, President Harry S. Truman
said: "To this end, I recommend that the Congress consider each of the
proposals, and that legislation be enacted submitting various
alternatives to the people of Puerto Rico. In that way, the Congress can
ascertain what the people of Puerto Rico themselves most desire for
their political future." Since then, Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon
B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George Bush
and William J. Clinton all have supported self-determination for Puerto
Moreover, both the Democratic and Republican party platforms have
supported self-determination by the people of Puerto Rico. But support
is not enough. The fact is that we have inexplicably, inexcusably and
absolutely shamefully failed to extend that basic democratic right to
our own American citizens residing in our own American colony. Yes, in
our own American colony.
THIS BILL HAS REALISTIC DEFINITIONS OF THE STATUS OPTIONS
S. 472 includes carefully crafted and accurate definitions for all
three status options Statehood, Independence and the current
Commonwealth. Each was defined in a manner consistent with our
Constitution and federal laws. Puerto Ricans are fully aware of what it
is to live under the territorial clause of the United States
Constitution, that is what they currently do. We all know what a
sovereign Nation will entail, whether an Associated Republic like Palau
or Micronesia or an independent Nation like the Philippines. We all have
extensive knowledge of what a State of the Union is: sovereign, yet
limited by the United States Constitution.
S. 472 has realistic status option definitions and that is as it
S. 472 does not place any language requirements on any of the status
options and that, too, is as it should be.
Let's face the reality of the 21st century - we live in a
multicultural and multilingual society, and this is America's strength.
We are a proud nation of immigrants. English- only isolates the U.S.
from the rest of the world. We live in a global economy, requiring
Americans to be more proficient in the languages, and cognizant of the
cultural norms and sensitivities, and the business practices of our
international trading partners. The majority of federal documents are
already in English. According to the General Accounting Office, only
0.06% of federal documents are printed in non-English languages. Rather
than restrict the use of non-English languages, we should be expanding
our fluency in several different languages.
Moreover, the United States never asked Puerto Rico to adopt English
when it invaded the island in 1898 nor when it sent our brothers and
sisters to fight in American wars. This bill should not have any
language requirements. It is about self-determination and not about
"English Only" or "English First". The fact is that Puerto Rico has an
historic commitment to both languages, English and Spanish. Both Hawaii
and New Mexico have dual official languages. In 1902 Puerto Rico
recognized English and Spanish together as their official language of
local government. If statehood is granted, Puerto Rico should not be
treated any differently from any state regarding language. Our
commitment to liberty, common rights, mutual responsibilities and high
goals, not English, form are the common denominator that bonds all
In addition, Puerto Rico's current bilingual language policy serves
well as a cultural, economic, social and political bridge between the
United States and the Spanish-speaking nations of the world.
We need to promote greater cross-cultural understanding between
different racial and ethnic groups in this Nation. Our cultural and
linguistic richness should be conserved and developed.
English-only is divisive. Implementing English-only policies would
aggravate racial and ethnic tensions not only in Puerto Rico, but in the
United States. It would further isolate non-native speakers of English
by discouraging them from fully integrating themselves into our society,
and fully participating in our political process.
ALL AMERICAN CITIZENS WHO WERE BORN IN PUERTO RICO, BUT RESIDING
OUTSIDE THE ISLAND SHOULD BE ELIGIBLE TO VOTE IN THE STATUS PLEBISCITE
Mr. Chairman, S. 472 should be amended to provide that American
citizens who were born in Puerto Rico but reside outside the island can
participate in the plebiscite vote.
This proposal comes about because, as many of us understand, the
relationship between the U.S. and Puerto Rico created situations
throughout our history which made a lot of us, either as children with
our parents, or as adults by ourselves, leave Puerto Rico and settle on
the mainland. We left the Island physically, but we never did leave the
Island in many other respects. In addition, many of us travel back and
forth to the Island and there is a union between the two places.
This amendment would be about the future of a territory, of a colony.
And when that future is decided forever, then all of the children of the
territory, all of the children of the colony, should be allowed to
This amendment would maximize the number of people who will
participate and, in my opinion, make the plebiscite truly an American
plebiscite by including more than just the people who live on the
More important, the U.S. citizenship conveyed by law to people born in
Puerto Rico could be affected by the outcome of the referendum. I have
no doubt that this Congress can pass a law to take my citizenship away
from me and rescind the citizenship of all born in Puerto Rico. I am
clear on the fact that my son's citizenship is different from mine. His
is protected by the Constitution of the United States and mine is
The outcome of this plebiscite could affect people like myself who
were born on the Island. This could affect the future of all Puerto
Ricans, whether they live in or out of Puerto Rico. And so it is only
right that on a plebiscite that will have such profound consequences on
the future of the people, all who were born in Puerto Rico be given the
opportunity to exercise their right to self-determination.
This vote is a different vote, it is not a vote for the Governor of
Puerto Rico or mayor of my hometown, Mayaguez. This is a one-time vote
on this very unique status question. These people have been subsumed
under the American flag through conquest and, by virtue of that, they
have been extended citizenship through congressional action. Puerto
Ricans are to a very large degree a Nation of people. They can be
integrated into the union as Hawaii was. They can become a separate
Nation as the Philippines did. That, too, can happen. That is why we
should embrace the voter eligibility that I propose, which allows
participation to all those people that became citizens by virtue of
This amendment was agreed to by they House Republican leadership, but
at the last minute, a parliamentary misstep caused its defeat.
S. 472 PLEBISCITE PROCESS
S. 472, the "Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 1997" has broad
bipartisan support. This bill is carefully crafted. It provides a
mechanism for Puerto Rico to exercise self-determination and end its
present colonial status. Under it, the people of Puerto Rico would
choose between joining the Union as a State, becoming a separate
sovereign nation, or retaining their current status until one of the
decolonization options is chosen. It does not favor one solution over
another. Some people who are mis-informed, and others who hope to defeat
the bill by mis-characterizing it, will say, that this bill is slanted
towards statehood. That is absolutely not true. This bill provides for
the Congress to consult the people of Puerto Rico regarding which
decolonizing option --statehood or independence-they prefer, or whether
they prefer to remain as they now are. Once the people of Puerto Rico
respond with their votes in a plebiscite, we in Congress, our commitment
is to take up the results not to implement them. Therefore, to suggest
this bill favors one option is to suggest that Congress has already made
up its mind on the issue. If Puerto Rico does not choose a decolonizing
option, and chooses to remain a Commonwealth as it is now, it can do so
indefinitely, or until Congress decides otherwise.
TERMINATION OF PUERTO RICO IS AN ISSUE OF GREAT INTEREST TO MAINLAND
I also urge this Committee to favorably consider this bill, and for
the Senate to approve it, because it is an issue of great interest to
the Hispanic community of this Nation. The Hispanic community strongly
supports self-determination for Puerto Rico. That support is evidenced
by the endorsement of key national Hispanic organizations such as the
U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the American G.I. Forum, the
Republican National Hispanic Assembly, the National Hispanic Policy
Forum, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and the National
Association of Hispanic Publications, among others.
The American Hispanic community is the fastest growing community in
the nation. Early in the next century it is projected that one in every
ten Americans will be of Hispanic origin. It is also projected that
Hispanics then will be the largest minority group in the Nation, and
that no group will constitute an absolute majority of the population.
IT IS TIME TO ACT
Mr.Chairman, it is time to act. It is time to consider and pass S.472.
Passage of S.472 will serve our democratic ideals well.
Puerto Rico is a United States territory with 3.8 million American
citizens. It is the largest colony of the United States. And it is in
fact, the oldest colony in the world today. The time is long past that
we should have given the people of Puerto Rico, the opportunity to
become either a state of the Union or a sovereign nation, as they may
choose by a majority of their votes.
Although we call Puerto Rico a "Commonwealth," or a "Territory," there
is no question that Puerto Rico is a true colony of the United States,
for Congress unilaterally exercises plenary powers over Puerto Rico
under the territorial clause of the United States Constitution. Puerto
Rico plays no role in the life of the international community, either
directly, or indirectly as a participant in the decisions taken by the
United States. In the Caribbean and in Latin America, as well as in the
rest of the world, Puerto Rico is seen as a colony of the United
On July 25, 1898, the United States acquired Puerto Rico from Spain
during the Spanish-American War. When the U.S. troops landed on the
island of Puerto Rico, Puerto Ricans offered little, if any, resistance
to American soldiers. Some Puerto Ricans believed they should be saved
from Spanish imperialism. Little did they know that Puerto Rico would
instead move onto 100 more years of colonization, this time by the
United States. For good or bad, as a result of that war, the political
fate of Puerto Rico was determined by a new emerging powerful country -
the United States of America. Puerto Rico became a territory of the
United States by virtue of the Treaty of Paris, in 1898. This year is
the 100th anniversary of the acquisition of Puerto Rico by the United
States of America. It is therefore fitting that we reflect today on the
100-year relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico.
In 1917, Congress unilaterally conferred United States citizenship on
the people of Puerto Rico. Since then, the political, economic and
social relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States has been
central to its development, politics and identity.
What has been the result of this 100-year relationship with the United
States? We can't ignore the fact that the relationship between the
United States and Puerto Rico had some difficult times. Among them were
the economic conditions which caused many Puerto Ricans to migrate to
the mainland United States.
Fortunately, the difficult times were followed by a series of
initiatives designed to grant Puerto Rico greater control over local
affairs and to reform the economy. However, the powers of internal
self-government granted to Puerto Rico remain subject to the plenary
powers of the Congress under the territorial clause of the U. S.
Constitution. In fact, what self-government the American colony of
Puerto Rico enjoys, it enjoys solely and absolutely by the graciousness
of the United States Congress. And moreover, for as long, and only for
as long, as the Congress may dictate.
Since World War I, more than 200,000 Puerto Ricans have courageously
served in the United States Armed Forces, fighting and dying for this
Nation. For 80 years, throughout every major international conflict of
this century, Puerto Rican mothers and fathers in the colony of Puerto
Rico have shed their tears and given their sons and daughters to fight
for "liberty and justice for all." Those sons and daughters have given
their sweat, their blood and their very lives to defend this Nation and
our democratic ideals around the world. It is time to show some decency,
some gratitude to those who have stood with us for so long, by giving
them their choice of statehood or independence.
The Congress has never given Puerto Ricans such a choice. By failing
to do so, the nation, the master, has in fact denied Puerto Ricans their
right to freely choose their political status, thus denying the right of
Throughout this century, efforts by some Members of Congress to solve
the status problem of Puerto Rico have resulted in nothing. But the
people of Puerto Rico still have a right to full self-government,
either as a sovereign independent nation or as a sovereign state in the
Democracy and colonialism are absolutely incompatible. The United
States may take pride in calling itself the champion of democracy in the
world. But it has absolutely no right whatsoever to continue to maintain
Puerto Rico in colonial subjugation without periodically giving Puerto
Rico the right to choose one of the only two decolonizing options
-independence or statehood. Moreover, it has the inescapable duty to
grant the people of Puerto Rico whichever one of those two decolonizing
options -independence or statehood- Puerto Rico chooses. Therefore,
Congress must now give Puerto Rico the option to decolonize. S. 472 will
do this. It provides for a process for Puerto Rico to make a choice in a
federally mandated referendum to be held no later than December 31,
The United States must work to fulfill the challenge posed by the
United Nations, that colonialism be ended in the world by the year 2000.
How can we, the greatest democracy in the world, the staunchest
supporters of self-determination, still hold close to 4 million of our
citizens in colonial subjugation?
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