It is altogether fitting that the Republican majority in the 105th Congress, under the leadership of Senator Frank Murkowski and Representative Don Young, should be establishing the framework and the mechanism for the 3.8 million American citizens of Puerto Rico to freely exercise their right of political self-determination and to finally resolve their future relationship with the United States.
After all, the National Republican Party and the Republican Party in Puerto Rico have a long and close relationship, both sharing a rich tradition and commitment to the principles for which our party stands and for the right of Puerto Rico's residents to become fully self-governing as either an independent nation or as the fifty-first state in our glorious Union.
That the road to this objective should commence on the centennial anniversary of Puerto Rico's coming under the American flag makes it all the more important that the work of this Republican Congress, S. 472 and H.R. 856, be accomplished before adjournment.
To assist the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in achieving this goal, I am submitting this statement with the intention not only to augment the record but also to reflect the views of the Republican Party of Puerto Rico on some issues that arose during the legislative hearings of July 14-15, 1998.
In the course of the following discussion, I will make these points:
- Puerto Rico's Republican Party has successfully implemented the Contract With America's economic and social agenda largely because the island's electorate shares similar attitudes on these issues with the national party, demonstrating a politically competitive Republican Party on the island and an appeal to Hispanic Americans in the fifty states.
- The National Republican Party's long held commitment to Puerto Rico self-determination can be realized only through the passage of legislation establishing a congressionally mandated plebiscite defining the legal and constitutional status options thereby permitting the people of Puerto Rico to make an informed choice capable of congressional execution.
1. Puerto Ricans, Hispanic Americans Share Republican Values and Endorse Republican Policies
Puerto Rico's Republican Party was founded in 1902 by Dr. Celso Barbosa just four years after our island became a U.S. territory following the Spanish American War in 1898. Its political agenda was carried forward by a long line of outstanding leaders including, I'm proud to say, my grandfather Senate President Rafael Martinez-Nadal, and our current State Chairman, former governor Luis A. Ferre. They all shared one common goal: to make Puerto Rico a state of the Union.
The pursuit of this goal has energized our party and catapulted it to majority status in our territory's two legislative chambers and in the mayor's offices across the island. These majorities among our elected officials have enabled Puerto Rico to become the leading American jurisdiction in implementing the National Republican Party's Contract With America.
Eliminating the last vestiges of the command economics experimentation begun during the New Deal era, Puerto Rico has embarked on ambitious programs to reduce a bloated public sector bureaucracy and to privatize shipping and sugar interests, hotels, hospitals and, most recently, the telephone company.
Health care reform, tax cuts, school vouchers and silent devotional moments evidence additional commitments to Puerto Rico's championing of private sector initiatives and family and spiritual values.
It should come as no surprise that these efforts to fulfill basic Republican Party tenets have found early success in Puerto Rico. For Puerto Rican's tend to take conservative stances on issues mirroring the national party's positions which have propelled it, in the fifty states, to unprecedented to electoral success.
Recent surveys by noted Republican pollster Dr. Richard Wirthlin and those conducted on behalf of former Christian Coalition Executive Director Ralph H. Reed, Jr. provide confirmation. The people of Puerto Rico overwhelmingly embrace the same conservative values as the Republican Party. By large majorities Puerto Ricans are pro-life and pro-family, favor stricter law enforcement and mandatory sentences for violent criminals, support tax relief and welfare reform, right to work laws, the free market system, and a strong national defense. These are the core values of the Republican party.
When taken together, conservative attitudes and conservative government, senate Republicans should find every reason to pass the S. 472 legislative initiative that provides for Puerto Rico self-determination and that every Republican president since Dwight Eisenhower has supported. A position restated and re-affirmed in Republican presidential platforms as late as 1996.
President Ronald Reagan, on numerous occasions, stated his belief that commonwealth is "historically an unnatural status", and that "statehood would benefit both the people of Puerto Rico and their fellow American citizens". President Bush thought the issue so important that he pledged his support for statehood for Puerto Rico in his 1989 State of the Union Address. These presidents realized that it was not only the right to do, but they also that doing so would have tremendous political significance. Recent history has validated their foresight.
While fulfilling the national party's pledge on Puerto Rico self-determination is important, the political advantage the party can gain by leading on this issue must be recognized as well. Not only does the reality of Puerto Rican politics argue for a competitive Republican Party should island voters opt for statehood status, congress concurring, but passage of the legislation, in and of itself, will promote increased electoral support among the 27 million Hispanic Americans residing in the fifty states.
As Ralph Reed stated, "Puerto Rico represents the future of America."
Here's why. By 2005, the US Census bureau estimates that Hispanic Americans will surpass the non-Hispanic African American population as the second largest race in America. Hispanic Americans will represent nearly one-fifth of all Americans. By the year 2025, Hispanic Americans will represent one half the population of Texas and will be the single largest group in the state of California.
And the Hispanic American vote in American politics in increasingly the swing vote in American politics. They are the swing vote in 1/3 of the electoral college (California, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina).
The Republican Party today stands on the threshold of sweeping political success. To achieve that success, we must demonstrate that it is an inclusive party. We must demonstrate that it is the natural home to Hispanic Americans and is the true representative of their ideals and values.
But, in 1996, 6.6 million Hispanic American voters participated in the presidential election. A twenty-percent increase from just four years earlier. An overwhelmingly, they supported the Democrats 60% in 1992 and an astounding 72% in 1996.
This is unacceptable. It must change. And it can. Through outreach, the Hispanic American population can be pulled back into the fold of the Republican Party. The party which consistently reflects their majority views. The party which should be their home.
We have an opportunity to begin this outreach now. S. 472 the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act establishes a fair and balanced process by which the political status of Puerto Rico would finally be determined.
In just a few days, July 25, 1998 to be exact, Puerto Rico celebrates it centennial anniversary as a territory of the United States. Puerto Ricans should be allowed to freely express their status preference. 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.
2. The Current Impermanent Status, a U.S. Territory Populated by Statutory American Citizens, Must Through Congressionally Authorized Referenda Give Way to a Permanent Status
S. 472 and H.R. 856 provide the framework and mechanism for Puerto Rico to finally attain full self-government as either the fifty-first state of the union or as an independent nation.
In setting forth this objective, both bills recognize the importance of providing definitional starting principles. These immutable non-negotiable principles are:
- Puerto Rico has continuously since 1898 remained a territory of the United States under the Constitution's Territorial Clause,
- the U.S. citizenship conferred by statute on Puerto Ricans in 1917 is not fully constitutionally protected for those who have it, nor guaranteed for future generations, and
- the referenda process leading to full self-government must continue until such time as the people of Puerto Rico choose a permanent status - independence or statehood.
That the congress even held these hearings is indisputable proof that the Territorial Clause is applicable to Puerto Rico as is Congress' plenary power over the island. Regardless of what others may allege, congressional legislative initiatives regarding the island's future political status incontrovertibly demonstrate Puerto Rico's current political status: a U.S. territory.
Yet, the commonwealth party tells the public Congress no longer has authority to alter Federal law a dangerously misleading position that causes many of the party's rank and file to be complacent with less than complete U.S. citizenship.
Secondly, the statutory American citizenship that over 95 percent of Puerto Ricans cherish is by self-definition revocable as to current residents who might become foreign citizens in a sovereign Puerto Rico and the future generations of offspring born in such a new nation will be aliens under U.S. law.
Finally, plebiscites must be authorized until such time as a permanent political status is attained. Otherwise Puerto Rico will be coming back to Congress over and over again instead of managing self-determination at the local level. The residents of Puerto Rico as well as American taxpayers can ill afford indefinitely, politically or economically, to maintain a territory that has already cost the U.S. treasury more than $150 billion since the territorial commonwealth's founding in 1952.
These uncontrovertible tenets of Puerto Rico's current status and the island's ultimate political disposition must be the first principles from which the final decision regarding Puerto Rico's political future can be made. Legislatively they provide the precision and legitimacy for the residents of Puerto Rico to choose a future that is legal, constitutional and permanent.
Territorial status, statutory citizenship, repeated referenda until permanent status is achieved: making the choices clear, unambiguous and without unfounded claims or unattainable promises for Puerto Rico. Statehood or separate sovereignty. S. 472 and H.R. 856 crystallize the options and eliminate a legally dubious middle ground that would perpetuate, let alone enhance, the status quo outside the constitution while, hypocritically, seeking guaranteed statutory citizenship in a constitutional sanctuary.
In the forthcoming plebiscite, that these bills call for, Puerto Ricans will know exactly what the status of the island is today and what it can be tomorrow. They will be able to make an informed choice to finally achieve full self-government.
As these bills will provide the framework and mechanism for Puerto Rico's status deliberations and decisions, they will also offer the American people in the fifty states their first opportunity to finally 'resolve' the seemingly open-ended Puerto Rican conundrum. Puerto Rico, a benignly administered American territory, if not a colony, does little to enhance a United States foreign policy self-determination agenda abroad. Puerto Rico's metamorphous to independence or statehood will fulfill the Founder's dreams of an American beacon to the all world's peoples seeking political and civil freedom.
Ascension to independence or statehood will also generate immediate reductions in the $13 billion annual U.S. taxpayer subsidy that goes to maintain the commonwealth status quo, over time making Puerto Rico economically self-sufficient. Puerto Rico will finally stand on its own, paying its own way or going its own way: based on an informed choice under the proposed legislation.
The U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico have too long been denied the rights stateside Americans take for granted. This congress, exercising its constitutional powers must not deny Puerto Ricans the power to achieve full self-government through the free exercise of a self-determination process.
The U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico have too long embraced the principles of the U.S. Constitution, having defended them abroad since 1917, to have their loyalty and fitness as Americans challenged just as their dream of achieving all these rights for themselves at home is within reach.
I trust that all Members of Congress, in the Senate and the House, will cast their votes with the Founding Fathers for equality and opportunity, enlightened as they are, the bearers of their principles and the safe keepers of their constitution.