COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES
Thursday, May 6,1999
9:30 a.m. - SH-216
Hearing To Consider The Results Of The December 1998 Puerto Rico Political
The Honorable Frank H. Murkowski (R-AK), Chairman
The Honorable Pedro Rosselló, Governor of Puerto Rico
The Honorable Aníbal Acevedo-Vilá, President, Popular Democratic Party (PDP)
The Honorable Rubén Berrios Martínez, President Puerto Rico Independence Party (PIP)
Luis Vega-Ramos, President PROELA
Zoraida F. Fonalledas, New Progressive Party (NPP)
Opening Statement of The Honorable Frank H. Murkowski (R-AK), Chairman
The Governor is here to present the results of the plebiscite.
Representatives of the three political parties and the organization
certified to represent Free Association are here to discuss the results.
This is not a hearing to discuss the pros and cons of any individual
We have an obligation to our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico to assist
them in their debate over political status without dictating how to
proceed or unfairly limiting their aspirations.
I remember the debates in Alaska over status and the frustration we felt
when it appeared that Washington didn't care what we thought or what we
That will not happen in Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, American
Samoa, or the Northern Mariana Islands while I am Chairman.
It does not matter whether the subject is the Constitutional issues of
status in Puerto Rico or the control of an exotic species in Guam. I
intend to see that this Committee, this Congress, and the Administration
pays attention to the needs and legitimate aspirations of our fellow
A locally conducted plebiscite on future political status is one of the
most important exercises of local self-government and popular democracy.
It deserves our attention.
I am interested in knowing what occurred in Puerto Rico and why.
I am also interested in knowing what each of the witnesses believes the
next step should be and how we can be of assistance without becoming
involved in the internal politics of Puerto Rico between or within the
various political parties and organizations.
Given that next year is a general election at the federal level and in
Puerto Rico, I am not inclined to confuse those debates with status nor
to subject the very important issues involved in status to election
politics. If particular issues or questions could be resolved, or at
least illuminated, through a workshop or other forum, I am willing to
I do want to congratulate the residents of Puerto Rico who participated
in the plebiscite. As an historical note and by way of comparison, when
Alaska went to the polls in 1946 on the issue of status, less than
17,000 persons participated - about 23% of our population at that time.
In this plebiscite, 7 1% of the eligible voters participated - about
40% of the population. 7 1 % of the eligible voters turned out. However
each of the status advocates may interpret the results, the voter
turnout in this plebiscite and others, and in the general elections in
Puerto Rico, sets an example of participatory democracy for the rest of
As I stated, this hearing is not on the merits or demerits of individual
status options and I would encourage Members and witnesses to focus on
the plebiscite itself and this very -important exercise of local
Statement of The Honorable Pedro Rosselló, Governor of Puerto Rico
Mr. Chairman, and other distinguished members of the United States
Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources:
MY NAME IS PEDRO ROSSELLÓ. Since 1993, 1 have been Governor of Puerto
Rico. As Governor, I last appeared before this Committee on April 2,
1998, during a workshop on The United States-Puerto Rico Political
Many of you will recall that the chief Senate sponsor of that bill was
the Honorable Larry Craig of this Committee, and that a companion
measure had been approved by the House of Representatives on March 4,
Many of you will likewise recall that, during the 105th Congress, The
United States-Puerto Rico Political Status Act never emerged from this
Committee nor reached the Senate floor.
That omission had the effect of aborting an initiative which had come
closer than any before it to laying a firm, fair foundation for the
resolution of a century-old American dilemma.
It is an American dilemma to which this Committee has devoted a
prodigious amount of time - especially during the past ten years.
It was exactly ten years ago that the leaders of all three Puerto Rico
political parties issued a unanimous appeal to The White House and Congress.
Those political leaders requested substantive action that
would permit the people of Puerto Rico to make an informed decision on
our ultimate civic destiny.
This Committee -- under the leadership of then-Chairman J. Bennett
Johnston Jr. of Louisiana and then-Ranking Republican James A. McClure
of Idaho -- grappled earnestly with that complex topic for the better
part of two years.
Although no legislation emerged from those diligent efforts, the
endeavor definitely did help set the stage for the unprecedentedly
constructive Puerto Rico status bill that the House passed last year as
The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, therefore, has
made a very significant contribution to the arduous Congressional
process of addressing and surmounting the challenges posed by what has
accurately and succinctly been described as "American democracy's
And today, Mr. Chairman, I am grateful to you and to the Committee for
building upon that legacy by holding this hearing.
In SPEAKING As GOVERNOR, I must commence my presentation by placing the
December 13, 1998 Puerto Rico political status plebiscite within its
proper historical context.
When I first stood for election to the governorship, in 1992, the
tripartite status initiative of 1989 through 1991 was fresh in the
collective memory of the Puerto Rican people. Moreover, our voters had
not been formally consulted on political status since 1967.
Accordingly, I promised that -- if elected -- I would ask our
Legislative Assembly to take immediate action on a status-plebiscite
And so it was that we held a plebiscite in 1993.
However, that venture turned out to be futile in two important respects.
First, and most obviously, it proved futile because no political status
option polled an absolute majority of the votes; therefore, it failed to
satisfy the fundamental democratic precept regarding "government by
consent of the governed."
But there was a second futility factor, as well; a factor that was more
subtle than the first, but no less important. Indeed, had it not been
for this second factor, there probably would have been an
Factor #2 entered the picture because, in a good-faith attempt to
preserve the unanimous consensus that had been instrumental in launching
the 1989 self - determination quest, my administration made a point of
inviting Puerto Rico's three political parties to define for themselves
the political status options that they would endorse in our 1993
Regrettably, that good-faith gesture resulted in the inclusion on the
ballot of a "commonwealth" definition that was utterly unrealistic. And
when I say "utterly unrealistic," I do so in the context of parameters
that this very Committee clearly stipulated during its extensive
examination of the subject from 1989 through 1991.
Undaunted by that Congressional record, the proponents of
66commonwealth" campaigned in 1993 on behalf of a definition which they
literally proclaimed was a "best-of-two-worlds" solution to the status
dilemma; a solution that would have imbued Puerto Rico with many of the
benefits of U.S. statehood and many of the prerogatives of
independence, while exempting Puerto Rico from most of the
responsibilities inherent in both of those options.
The 1993 "commonwealth" ballot definition, in other words, amounted to a
"wish list." It was both politically unattainable and Constitutionally
So it is that the 1993 plebiscite failed in its objective. Although
"commonwealth" ostensibly won that plebiscite (polling 48.6% of the
vote, slightly ahead of U.S. statehood's 46.3%), it is worth noting
that nobody from the "commonwealth" party had the audacity to come up
here to the Nation's Capital afterward and argue for Congressional
enactment of that party's "best-of-two-worlds" platform.
Instead, what happened was that the Legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico
adopted a concurrent resolution which formally requested that Congress
respond to the outcome of our 1993 status consultation.
The 104th Congress, upon convening in January 1995, acknowledged our
legislature's petition: that Congress held hearings and drafted a bill,
which got the ball rolling on a process that culminated in last year's
House passage of The United States - Puerto Rico Political Status Act.
And it was that comprehensive measure which provided the framework for
what ought to have been a "foolproof' plebiscite in 1998.
UNDER The United States - Puerto Rico Political Status Act, this nation
could have converted the historically-clouded 100th anniversary of
America's unilateral seizure of Puerto Rico into an inspiring occasion
for undiluted celebration; this Nation could have observed that
centennial by empowering our territory's electorate to make a dignified,
meaningful choice among destiny-options delineated for that express
purpose by Puerto Rico's Constitutionally-designated overseer --
namely, this institution: the United States Congress.
However, in the absence of that legislation, the 1998 centennial
observance unfolded against a different backdrop altogether. And
consequently, a shadow fell over the celebration.
We went ahead with our commitment to hold a plebiscite. But, lacking
the empowering impetus of a Federal mandate, we were unable to employ a
foolproof -- or "fail-safe" -- format.
Why? Because a 1993 Puerto Rico Supreme Court edict obliged us to offer
our voters a fifth -- undefined -- alternative, in addition to the
options that were defined in H.R. 856.
More than 71% of Puerto Rico's eligible voters participated in the
plebiscite on Sunday, December 13, 1998. And in February 1999, 1
delivered -- to the President of the United States, the Speaker of the
House of Representatives and the Majority Leader of the Senate -- copies
of the official Puerto Rico State Elections Commission document that
certified the outcome of the plebiscite. I understand that each of you
has had access to those data, and I am confident that they will be
analyzed in detail by the panelists from whom you will be hearing
To MY MIND, We the People of Puerto Rico dispatched two forceful and
unequivocal messages by means of our most recent plebiscite. The first
of those messages was irrefutably transmitted "loud and clear."
A total of over 1.5-million persons cast ballots. Of that total, exactly
993 voters marked their ballots in favor of our current status as a
This means that, for every 1,577 persons who participated in the
plebiscite, only one person manifested support for the status quo; and
that level of support equals considerably less than one-tenth of one
Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, I respectfully submit that
this single fact speaks volumes.
During this hearing, it is safe to assume that a variety of
interpretations will be offered regarding the significance of the
I would urge, however, that - in evaluating those interpretations - you
keep foremost in your minds this one salient fact.
Because whatever else our plebiscite may have signified, it indisputably
constituted a virtually-unanimous rejection of the status quo.
Our people's massive disapproval of the status quo underscores their
contempt for what my predecessor has described as a "democracy deficit"
that afflicts Puerto Rico's current status.
In the July/August 1998 edition of FOREIGN AFFAIRS magazine, former
Governor Rafael Hernandez-Colon published an article entitled, "Doing
Right by Puerto Rico: Congress Must Act-99 In that article, this
lifelong advocate of "commonwealth" status made the following
affirmation about the political status debate on our island: "All
factions do agree on the need to end the present undemocratic
arrangement, whereby Puerto Rico is subject to the laws of Congress but
cannot vote in it."'
So there you have it. The political status with which Puerto Ricans must
contend today, and with which we have had to contend -- in one guise or
another -- for the past 100 years, is a political status that We the
People of Puerto Rico emphatically reject as an alternative for the
future. And that categorical rejection could not have been more firmly
articulated than it was on December 13, 1998.
Now let us move on to the second forceful and unequivocal message that
emerged from our recent plebiscite.
This second message pertains to the need for a responsible,
conscientious definition of the fifth ballot-option that was vacuously
denominated, "NONE OF THE PRECEDING."
I readily concede that many voters selected that option for reasons
having nothing whatever to do with political status.
Nevertheless, it must not be ignored that one of our two principal
political parties urged voters to mark their ballots in favor of "NONE
OF THE PRECEDING" - while simultaneously urging that the people of
Puerto Rico be granted an opportunity to vote on a certain
specifically-defined option that had been excluded from the ballot
because it was not incorporated into H.R. 856, the bill which had been
approved earlier that year by the U.S. House of Representatives.
Both H.R. 856 and our plebiscite ballot had defined fully the meanings
of U.S. statehood, independent nationhood, and free association under
separate sovereignty, as well as the current territorial "commonwealth"
But absent altogether was the option being supported by this major
political party that was urging our electorate to vote in the blank,
empty fifth column.
For precisely that reason, a high priority of this 106th Congress should
be to examine thoroughly the legislative viability and the
Constitutional validity of this additional alleged option -- this
"stealth option" -- which was surreptitiously promoted during our latest
plebiscite via the "NONE OF THE PRECEDING" column on our ballot.
I respectfully invite this Committee to take a hard, close look at this
11fifth column" alternative - an alternative which was formally embraced
by the Governing Board of Puerto Rico's Popular Democratic Party on
October 15, 1998, and which was presented to our people as that Party's
blueprint for "developing" the "commonwealth" status.
Take a hard, close look at what this "NONE OF THE PRECEDING" "stealth
option" promises to the Puerto Rican people.
Observe that it calls for "a compact that cannot be invalidated or
altered unilaterally"; a compact that entails "recognition that Puerto
Rico is a nation," and which establishes that Puerto Ricans "constitute
a specific nationality distinguishable from that of any other nation."
Observe that this option stipulates that "Persons born in Puerto Rico
are Puerto Rican citizens by birth," while likewise stipulating that
"People born in Puerto Rico will continue to be citizens of the United
States by birth and this citizenship will continue to be protected by
the Constitution of the United States and by this compact and will not
be unilaterally revocable."
Observe that these dual citizens are to "be protected by all the
rights, privileges and immunities granted by the Constitution of the
United States and the Commonwealth."
Observe how this compact would guarantee that the "Federal programs
that provide social and education assistance directly to Puerto Rico's
residents -- such as the Nutritional Assistance Program, Pell Grants and
educational loans, among others -- will continue and will be guided by
applicable Federal and State regulations."
Observe that, under this "fifth column" format, "the United States is
committed to providing the Commonwealth an annual block grant adjusted
for inflation," as well as "the creation of special incentive programs
for investment in the island"; and nowhere is there any mention of
making any contribution through the payment of Federal taxes.
Observe also, however, that "The Commonwealth will have control over
international trade" and "To that effect, it will have the capacity to
enter into -- among others -- commercial and tax agreements with other
countries." Furthermore, "The Commonwealth will be able to enter into
international agreements and belong to regional and international
organizations... And what about the United States District Court for
the District of Puerto Rico? On that score,
Observe that -- under this Popular Democratic Party proposal -- "The
Federal Court will have jurisdiction over matters that arise from
provisions of the Constitution of the United States and of the Federal
laws that apply to Puerto Rico, consistent with this compact and not in
violation of the dispositions of the Constitution of Puerto Rico."
Observe too that this compact contemplates the creation of "a specific
agreement regarding the applicability of legislation approved by the
Congress of the United States after the adoption of the compact and
which the people of Puerto Rico desire to have made applicable to Puerto
All of the. above items are contained in the "other option" that was
presented to the Puerto Rican people as a reason for endorsing the
ballot column labeled "NONE OF THE PRECEDING."
All of the above items were duly ratified by the Popular Democratic
Party Governing Board, two months before our people went to the polls.
And this "compact" is the only Puerto Rico destiny option that has yet
to be studied and declared legitimate by Congress and by judicial
Accordingly, I respectfully submit that -- in addressing "American
democracy's unfinished business" -- this Committee should place a high
priority on scrutinizing this "other option," which has been officially
endorsed by the leadership of Puerto Rico's pro-"commonwealth"
OUR NATION'S MOST BASIC CIVIC VALUES demand that neither this Committee,
nor the Senate, nor the Congress as a whole shirk the Constitutional
duty to "make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory
and other property belonging to the United States," as set forth in the
Constitution's Article AM Section 3, Clause 2.
On December 24, 1998, THE WASHINGTON POST analyzed last year's
plebiscite in an editorial. Several key passages from that essay merit
"The biggest vote, 50.2% [sic]o, went to a 'none of the above' catch-all
category supported in good part by pro-commonwealth voters who were
indulging a best-of-both-worlds fantasy definition of commonwealth (many
privileges, few obligations) that Congress would never approve."
"The plebiscite was a flop. It measured only erratically, not
conclusively, the sentiment on the island."
"But it is not only the Puerto Ricans who have been unable to get their
act together. Congress is at similar fault."
"Here lies the fault that must be remedied. Congress must select and
fairly define the Puerto Rican status choices it would be prepared to
'... [N]othing less will satisfy the obligation to convert an imperial
property into a place of dignity for American citizens who are equal in
rights to all others.91
I totally agree
A day later, Christmas Day, THE NEW YORK TIMES weighed in with an
editorial of its own. Here is some of what THE TIMES had to say:
"The only clear message from the recent plebiscite in Puerto Rico is
that the question of the island's political future remains deeply
divisive. Congress's failure to sponsor orderly balloting that would
give the island's 3.8 million voters a meaningful say about their
political status has not helped.'
"Much of the debate has focused on what is possible under a commonwealth
"Congress can reduce the confusion by crafting a referendum with input
from Puerto Rican leaders on all sides that accurately reflects the
options available. 'None of the above' does not move Puerto Ricans any
closer to defining their future." I agree.
Now, once more, let me quote a passage from last summer's FOREIGN
AFFAIRS article by my immediate predecessor:
"It is morally unacceptable, unfair, and harmful to Puerto Rico and the
United States for Congress to relegate the issue to business as usual -
that is, do nothing, wait for a Puerto Rican initiative, play with it
for a while but take no action, wait for the next initiative, and repeat
the cycle. Such insensitivity undermines Puerto Rico's capacity for
self-government, inflicts considerable hardship on its society, and
drains the U.S. Treasury."
Again, Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, I agree with those
declarations by Rafael Hernandez-Colon, who served as a
pro-"commonwealth" Governor of Puerto Rico.
Last but not least, former United States Attorney General Dick
Thornburgh has carefully scrutinized the results of our 1998 plebiscite;
and the following sentences are excerpted from essays that Mr.
Thornburgh has written on the topic.
"Suggestions that a large but indecipherable vote for 'None of the
Above' constitutes approval of the status quo border on the absurd...
'... [O]nly Congress can define terms for statehood, separate
nationhood or continuation of the current status so that informed self -
determination is possible."
"Territorial history demonstrates that the recent vote in Puerto Rico
was but one step in a larger self - determination process for which
Congress is ultimately responsible. For example, in the territory of
Wisconsin the vote for statehood was 25% in 1842, 30% in 1843, and 22%
in 1844. After each of those setbacks, pro-statehood leaders petitioned
Congress to set the terms for admission so a more informed vote could
occur oust as Puerto Rico's elected leaders are doing). Once Congress
responded by defining the terms for admission, the pro-statehood vote
in Wisconsin soared to 83%, resulting in admission."
Mr. Thornburgh goes on to cite an analogous situation in the territory
that eventually became the State of Washington. There, statehood polled
47% of the vote in 1869 and 30% in 1871. Not until after Congress
defined the terms for self - determination did a 60% majority opt for
In conclusion, there is one more paragraph by Mr. Thornburgh that should
be quoted in its entirety.
"So instead of being puzzled because elected statehood leaders in Puerto
Rico are asking Congress to act on the basis of the recent plebiscite,
let's remember that America became the greatest nation in the history of
the world by empowering people with the tools for informed self -
determination. Sooner or later Congress will have to do the same for
Puerto Rico, and the sooner the better for Puerto Rico and the nation
as a whole."
To that I can only add, Amen.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee.
Statement by Hon. AnÍbal Acevedo-Vilá,
President of the Popular Democratic Party
Chairman Murkowski and honorable members of this committee, thank you
very much for your invitation to testify before you on this hearing "to
consider the results of the 1998 Plebiscite ". My name is Aníbal
Acevedo-Vilá, Minority Leader of the House of Representatives of the
Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. I am also the President of the Popular
Democratic Party (PDP), the long-standing defender of the Commonwealth
of Puerto Rico. In the ballot of the December 13th 1998 political
status consultation there was no Commonwealth option as we know it,
therefore the PDP asked voters to reject all the status alternatives and
vote for the option titled "None of the Above." As you know, our
position prevailed and we obtained an absolute majority of the votes. We
won the plebiscite and therefore hold the mandate on behalf of the
In order to assist this committee in reviewing these results, it would
be useful to divide my presentation into five concise aspects. First,
why we had the vote? Second, analyze the plebiscite ballot and why
supporters of Commonwealth chose the "None of the Above" option. Third,
a campaign analysis. Fourth, a study of the results. And fifth, where do
we go from here?
But before getting into my remarks on this issue, it is my duty as
President of the Popular Democratic Party and as citizen of Puerto Rico
to call your attention to the current situation in the island of
Vieques, a small island off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico.
Vieques is a municipality of Puerto Rico. More than 10,000 Puerto
Ricans live there. Of the island's total 33,000 acres, the U.S. Navy
owns approximately 22,600. For many years the United States Navy has
been conducting maneuvers with live ammunitions in Vieques, right next
to the civilian population. These actions have continuously put in
danger the lives and property of the people of Vieques. As recent as two
weeks ago the life of a young civilian worker of the base was lost
because of a misfired bomb.
I am a strong believer in the common defense between Puerto Rico and the
United States but the people of Vieques are paying too high a cost for our
common defense. The common goals of Puerto Rico and the United States have always
been for the benefit of both nations but the use of live munitions has
to stop once and for all and the eventual devolution of lands to the
people of Vieques should start as soon as possible. That is the
consensus of all sectors in Puerto Rico. The civil rights of the people
of Vieques must be protected. I request the intervention of this
Committee in order to find a prompt solution to this situation.
1. Why we had the vote?
I will be brief on this issue, since I believe that this committee is
well versed on the reasons why the Governor of Puerto Rico wanted to
have a status plebiscite in Puerto Rico.
Suffice it to say, the Governor decided to call his own vote once it became clear that
the Congress would not enact pro-statehood legislation authorizing a
plebiscite. Moreover, the Governor was in desperate need to "fabricate"
an electoral mandate for statehood in order to force statehood
legislation in Congress.
While some individuals have blamed Congress for not enacting
legislation, I do not believe Congress can be blamed for its judgment.
No legislation was enacted because supporters of statehood were more
concerned with getting a bill tilted toward their option than with
obtaining a bill that would provide a workable framework for a
democratic vote and an all-encompassing solution to this issue. As a
result, the House of Representative was sharply divided on the bill
written by Chairman Don Young, since it passed with the smallest margin,
one vote, and the Senate was never able to generate the necessary
consensus. Faced with efforts to get this committee to reinterpret the
law and the Constitution, several members of this committee openly
questioned why it was necessary for the Congress to approve the proposed
legislation. As a result, there was no congressional legislation
2. The plebiscite ballot
When the Governor announced that he would organize a vote under the laws
of the Commonwealth, we in the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) were
doubtful of the usefulness and intentions behind this vote, but we,
nevertheless, accepted the challenge. Unfortunately, the pro-statehood
majority in the Legislative Assembly excluded us from the process of
drafting the ballot. Notwithstanding our exclusion, as part of the
legislative process on the enabling law, I suggested in my testimony
before the Puerto Rico House of Representatives that Column One include
a more accurate and less biased description of Commonwealth. I suggested
that it at least included the words in the Constitution of the
Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to the effect that "the political power of
the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico emanates from people and shall be
exercised in accordance with their will, within the terms of the compact
agreed upon between the people of Puerto Rico and the United States of
America." This description had already been adopted by the people of
Puerto Rico and approved by the U.S. Congress (both House and Senate)
and the President, but the pro-statehood majority indicated that they
would not support this language. Again, we had no choice but to vote for
"None of the Above," since we were completely excluded from the drafting
Supporters of Commonwealth were faced with a ballot in which our
preferred option was not included. Additionally, the misleading
definition of Commonwealth, under Column One, contained several legally
inaccurate statements, which made it intolerable.
On the issue of citizenship, pro-statehood forces wanted to be able to
claim in their propaganda campaign that the citizenship of Puerto Ricans
was at risk, unless people voted for statehood. They were able to make
this false claim by writing a description of Commonwealth, which failed
to recognize that our citizenship is protected by the U.S. Constitution.
Even the Young Bill, which was so biased against Commonwealth,
recognized Constitutional protections for our U.S. Citizenship.
The description under Column One also failed to recognize that our
relationship with the United States is based on mutual consent,
therefore impeding unilateral changes to our compact. In addition to
these legally inaccurate statements, the description of Commonwealth
under Column One was also written using fundamentally biased language,
worse than the one included in the Young Bill (H.R. 856) which at least
recognized the participation and the possibility of equality in all
Federal programs and the sovereignty of Puerto Rico over matters not
ruled by the Constitution of the United States.
It is common knowledge that each and every one of the status options can
be described in numerous different ways, but for the process to work,
each option must be described fairly. Imagine that the PDP had
controlled this process and had included the following description of
statehood on the ballot: " Puerto Rico loses all existing international
identity separate from that of the United States in order to become a
State of the Union subject to the uniform application of all federal
laws, including the full imposition of the federal income tax system, by
a Congress in which Puerto Rico will have less than 1.5% of the voting
power and where more than 90% of the members do not speak Spanish and
represent districts with populations that are culturally different from
that of Puerto Rico and with a geography that is different from that of
Puerto Rico." That is certainly not a very appealing description of
statehood. It is admittedly biased against statehood, yet it is 1 00%
accurate as a matter of fact and laws. The description of Commonwealth
under Column One was biased against Commonwealth and it also was legally
inaccurate. Accordingly, we had no alternative but to support the option
titled "None of the Above."
While the PIDP has always maintained our interest and belief in
developing the Commonwealth status, as I indicated before, we were not
permitted to present voters in the "petitions" ballot with a proposal
for development of Commonwealth. Accordingly, our next best option was
to support what we have under Commonwealth right now. We could do that
only with a vote for "None of the Above."
3. The campaign
The first issue that must be mentioned with regards to the campaign is
the unfairness in terms of financial resources. Supporters of statehood
wrote the law authorizing the vote in a manner that purposely denied the
PDP access to public funds to support our campaign. All other political
parties and groups were given $666,000 in public funds for their
campaigns. We did not receive a single cent from public funds. In the
end, based on reports filed with the State Elections Commission and on
an analysis of ads broadcasted on television, supporters of statehood
spent between $13 and $15 million in their campaign. Supporters of the
fifth column and the PDP spent only between $3 and $4 million in support
of a vote for "None of the Above."
In spite of this five to one (5:1) funding disadvantage, it is
unquestionable that the people of Puerto Rico understood what was a
stake and received our message more favorably.
Some statehood advocates have complained that another vote is necessary
because voters were somehow confused-, and that voters need further
clarification of the options. I strongly reject such a condescending
attitude toward voters. And I believe that this Committee should not be
a part of such an insult to the intelligence of our voters. The fact is
that if voters were confused, which I do not think is the case,
statehood advocates only have themselves to blame because of their
demagogue campaign issues. Television ads constantly aired by the
statehood forces gave voters a highly distorted view of statehood, as
the following quotes from their televised campaign illustrate:
(a) One ad proudly proclaimed the laughable notion that as a State of the
Union Puerto Rico would be able to maintain its separate Olympic
representation in competition against Team USA. The ad said "Hong Kong
is part of China and continues to participate in the Olympics. With
Statehood we will continue to keep our Olympic team." Some statehood
advocates might argue that this is a trivial issue, but this particular
TV ad was shown over and over the campaign. Obviously, the pro-
statehood strategists thought this was an important issue.
(b) Several ads proclaimed that statehood would be an economic bonanza
for Puerto Ricans as a result of additional federal welfare benefits
paying less taxes and the "bonus" that everyone would receive with the
Earned Income Tax Credit. The most visually stimulating of these ads is
the one in which a never-ending river of dollar signs is seen flowing
from Washington to Puerto Rico. Another of the ads said: "With
statehood you will pay less taxes than what you pay now. If you are a
head of a household and earn $12,000 you will pay $99. And will receive
an Earned Income Tax Credit of $2,195." On economic issues, statehood
proponents failed miserably in showing how Puerto Rico would continue to
prosper if it became a state. Simply put, they had no economic plan
other than "more welfare" and the perpetuation of dependency.
(c) Several ads were almost militant in their conviction that under
statehood everything will continue "in Spanish." One of them said: "With
Statehood we will remain what we are. We enter the nation with our
language and our culture stronger than ever. Speaking Spanish...
Statehood. Your language. Your culture. Your future."
(d) The " Statehood in Spanish" theme was but one form of expression of
the general tone of the statehood campaign, which was proudly Puerto
Rican nationalistic. In these statehood ads the American flag was
completely absent; the Puerto Rican flag was always flying proudly on
its own. The very same statehood advocates who come here to Washington
and deny that Puerto Ricans have a separate national identity aired
these ads. What better example than this to show that we are a different
nation. (See Annex A for a transcript of some of these ads.)
Clearly, those quotes demonstrated that the statehood leaders knew that
the statehood that they try to sell here in Washington - with Puerto
Ricans eager to assimilate - is neither popular nor acceptable in Puerto
Rico. In spite of this double speak, the people of Puerto Rico were
either not fooled or they simply decided that they are not interested in
statehood even if it is all in Spanish, with less taxes and more welfare
Even though statehood lost, it would be useful if the members of this
committee ask themselves "what if statehood had won?" What would be your
reaction to a majority vote for a Puerto Rican state with its own
Olympic team and a population with no desire to give up Spanish as its
language of government and commerce? Also consider that people would
have voted for statehood on the basis of promises of millions more in
welfare benefits, a threat that U.S. citizenship would be at risk if
they do not vote for statehood and with a Puerto Rican nationalistic
campaign that ignored the Stars and Stripes.
Fortunately, this is only hypothetical. But it would be useful if the
members of this committee publicly remind pro-statehood advocates that
Congress would not look favorably upon a statehood petition based on
such a false representation of the rights and responsibilities of
becoming a state.
The campaign in favor of "None of the Above," centered on the fact that
the Commonwealth in which we have lived over the last 46 years, was not
included under any of the ballot options, accordingly, voters who
support Commonwealth had to vote for "None of the Above." We also
reached out to voters who wanted to defeat statehood and to reject the
one-sided and imposed nature of the process that led to the vote; these
are votes who agree with us that any process to resolve Puerto Rico's
political status must be based on a consensus.
While it is true that some of the people who voted for "None of the
Above" are not necessarily supporters of Commonwealth, any suggestion
that they did not know what they were voting for is simply absurd. While
one could argue that voters might not understand the implications of
options they have not lived through like statehood or independence, most
Puerto Ricans have lived under Commonwealth their entire lives.
Consequently, it stands to reason that those of us who voted for "None
of the Above" chose not to make any of the petitions on the ballot. The
absolute majority vote for "None of the Above" is a clear rejection of
statehood. Furthermore, voters under stood perfectly well that by
rejecting these status alternatives in the ballot, the Commonwealth
relationship - as we know it - would continue. That is a fact which
nobody can dispute. Any further attempts to psychoanalyze voters would
certainly serve no purpose other than to indulge the complaints of
losers in a democratic event.
4. The vote results
While today it is universally understood that statehood lost, some
supporters of statehood still do not want to accept the truth. On the
night of the vote, statehood leaders held a victory rally and refused to
concede defeat. They were bolstered by a puzzling written statement from
the White House, which after stating that "a majority of the vote was
not for any of the options," it went on to state that "among the rest,
the overwhelming majority supported statehood." That would be the same
as saying of the 1996 presidential election: "aside from the majority
vote, among the rest the overwhelming majority supported Bob Dole."
In spite of these disturbing post-election distortions of the outcome,
people quickly understood that statehood had lost and that the people of
Puerto Rico had found a way to confirm their support for Commonwealth.
That was the message conveyed to the American people by virtually all
newspapers that editorialized on this issue. Of 34 American newspapers
that wrote editorials on this vote, not a single one accepted the
statehooders claim that statehood had won. Furthermore, the vast
majority of these editorials accepted that Commonwealth continued to be
the preferred choice of Puerto Ricans and that the U.S. should have no
problem with that. (See attachment B)
As I stated above, I do recognize that some of the people who voted for
"None of the Above" are not necessarily supporters of Commonwealth, but
instead voted with us to reject the whole process that led to the vote
and to defeat statehood. Accordingly, I am not here to argue that this
vote is a mandate the development of Commonwealth. I am here, however,
to make sure that this committee understands that the people of Puerto
Rico were unambiguous in their rejection of statehood specially when the
Governor continues to show a lack of respect to the will of the people
and insist, so shamelessly, that statehood won.
The truth is clear. For the second time in five years, the people of
Puerto Rico have rejected statehood in two plebiscites called by and
organized by the statehood party.
5. Where do we go from here?
While I believe that the vote results are clear, I recognize that the
status issue has not been resolved. Those of us who support Commonwealth
have an unfinished agenda to develop Commonwealth.
What should Congress do? In light of the undeniable fact that the people
of Puerto Rico have repeatedly rejected statehood and independence,
Congress should concentrate on an agenda to develop Commonwealth in a
way that will benefit both Puerto Rico and the United States. While I
recognize the difficulty of moving forward on the development of
Commonwealth while the Governor of Puerto Rico is against Commonwealth,
I am more than willing to sit down with any Member of Congress who is
interested in pursuing that course.
What would not be acceptable is for Congress to try to push another
plebiscite at this time. A recent public opinion poll published in El
Nuevo Dia revealed that 82% of the voters in Puerto Rico either do not
want another plebiscite ever again or do not want one in the near
future. Only 15% of the voters want another plebiscite soon. Even the
Resident Commissioner, Carlos Romero, recognized, in an article of May 3
published in El Nuevo Dia, that there is no environment in the House or
the Senate to approve another status plebiscite.
It also would be unacceptable for Congress to pursue agendas intended to
push Puerto Rico into either statehood or independence, since they have
both been consistently rejected by the people of Puerto Rico. If
Congress is interested in helping Puerto Rico bring resolution to this
divisive issue, Congress should recognize that Commonwealth is the only
option with the potential for reaching a greater consensus in Puerto
Rico. Congress has the responsibility of respecting the democratic
processes of Puerto Rico and the established consensus between the
majority of Puerto Ricans, by concentrating their energies and ours in
the development of Commonwealth.
I appreciate this committee's interest in Puerto Rico's political
relationship with the United States. While, in the past, I have had
differences with Chairman Murkowski over issues of legal interpretation,
he has always conducted his hearings in a fair manner. I am confident
that consistent with a recognition of the right to self - determination, any action by this Committee will respect the will of the people of
Testimony of Senator Rubén Berrios Martínez, President of the Puerto Rican Independence Party
Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee:
The day after tomorrow, Saturday May 8, in an act of civil disobedience,
former Senator Fernando Martin, Vice president of the Puerto Rico
Independence Party and myself shall violate federal law by trespassing
into federally restricted military target practice areas in the island
municipality of Vieques, Puerto Rico. Such action is the first step in
a broader strategy of civil disobedience designed to force the US Navy
to permanently discontinue its abusive military maneuvers, bombings and
target practice, and get out of Vieques.
The US Navy, through its occupation of 26,000 of the 33,000 acres of
Vieques has jeopardized the life, health, safety and tranquillity of
the 9,000 Puerto Ricans living there, and has strangled Vieques'
economic development for over half a century. In recent weeks, in what
can at best be regarded as negligent disregard for the human rights of
Puerto Ricans in Vieques, US Navy bombs have been responsible for the
death of one civilian and for having wounded several others. Needless to
say, the recent developments have sparked indignation among all sectors
of Puerto Rican society.
In the same spirit in which we defied the Navy's abusive behavior in the
island municipality of Culebra in 1971, leading to our imprisonment and
the subsequent withdrawal of the Navy from that island, we stand ready
today to again defy the Navy's abusive practices with the moral force of
militant non-violence, even at 1he price of personal liberty. But the
tragedy of Vieques is not an isolated incident in the history of US
colonialism in Puerto Rico. On the contrary, the problem of Vieques is
at the heart of the problem which brings us before this Committee -
Puerto Rico's colonial status.
The main reasons fair the US invasion of Puerto Rico in 1898 were
geopolitical and military, and the US Navy has always been a crucial
factor in the determination of US policy towards Puerto Rico.
Throughout this century its attitude has always been to oppose change
and to support the status quo.
We are here today because in the dawn of the 21st century Puerto Rica is
still a territory of the US. And Puerto Rico is a territory because the
US government and the US Congress have failed to fulfill their
constitutional duty to dispose of the territory, as well as their legal
obligation under international law to decolonize Puerto Rico.
Since 1953, Congress has refused even meager petitions for reforms to
the present status. And since 1989, Congress has repeatedly failed to
authorize a federally sponsored referendum, even when all Puerto Rican
political parties have unanimously endorsed such a petition.
Let us not pretend any longer! The reason for such inaction is the
unwillingness of the Congress, under a Democratic majority in 1991 and
under a Republican majority last year, to include statehood in a
federally mandated referendum.
The Congressional excuse for such inaction has always been the same:
that Puerto Ricans should take the initiative before Congress acts.
However, we have held two referenda -- in 1993 and in 1998 -- and Congress
still refuses to act.
In the 1993 referendum, the absolute majority of Puerto Ricans favored
sovereign nationhood, either through association, based on a bilateral
pact outside the Territory Clause, that could not be altered
unilaterally by Congress, or through independence. Moreover, the
absolute majority rejected statehood. And Congress refused to act.
In the 1998 referendum held last December, even though the inclusion of
a "None of the Above" column frustrated a majority mandate, an absolute
majority of the voters once again refused to vote for statehood.
As regards territorial status, all political parties in Puerto Rico
have rejected that alternative. The Puerto Rican voters have rejected
both statehood and territorial status, neither of which, contrary to
Independence, represents an inalienable right of the People of Puerto
Rico. But still US Congress has failed to act.
The US seems thus to be developing a new type of colonial policy in
flagrant violation of the will of the Puerto Rican people, It consists
of a systematic process of inaction, combined with public hearings and
hollow rhetoric regarding self - determination, which always ends up in
the continuation of territorial status by default. It is a colonial
policy attuned to public relations objectives of the late twentieth
But the time of antidemocratic strategies and attitudes is no longer
tolerable. It is no longer tolerable to hear the same excuses, nor to
ask Puerto Ricans to take the initiative. For that we have done.
The US exercises juridical, political and economic power over Puerto
Rico. Responsibility is a function of power and the US has failed to
fulfill its responsibility under both US and international law. The time
has come for the US to seriously face Puerto Rico's status and
decolonize the island.
What should Congress do in order to fulfill its juridical and political
obligation regarding Puerto Rico?
Since statehood and territorial status have been twice rejected by
Puerto Ricans in less than a decade, Congress should take "no" for a
final answer regarding both of those options. In light of these
realities Congress should formally declare its determination to
decolonize Puerto Rica and offer a choice between a sovereign, non
colonial, non territorial Free Associated State, on, the one hand, and
Independence, an inalienable right which therefore must always be
present as an option, on the other. There are various procedural
mechanisms to achieve this goal, ranging from Constituent Assemblies to
plebiscites, but the end result should be the achievement of sovereign
In the meantime, and as an urgent matter, the United States government
should manifest its good will and commitment to genuine self
determination by Ii crating the Puerto Rican political prisoners held in
federal prisons and announcing the definitive withdrawal of the US Navy
from the island of Vieques.
There is, of course, an alternative course of action. The administration
can continue its ambivalent discourse and conduct towards Puerto Rico.
Congress can continue its inaction. The Navy and its Commander in Chief
can persist in bombing Vieques, threatening its people, and damaging its
environment; and the US Government can imprison those of w who through
civil disobedience refuse to bow to injustice.
But whatever happens, rest assured that in the end colonialism will be
defeated and Puerto Rico will become a sovereign nation. It is up to you
to let the people of Puerto Rico and the world community know which side
you are on, colonialism or liberation.
Statement of Luis Vega-Ramos, Esq.,
President of PROELA
My name is Luis Vega-Ramos. PROELA is a civic organization that for
twenty-two years has advocated in Puerto Rican, federal and
international forums for the development of the current political status
within the context of a compact of free association. I am its president
and an attorney at law in Puerto Rico.
On December 13, 1998, the People of Puerto Rico voted in a status
plebiscite sponsored by the Government of Puerto Rico. As the results
of that plebiscite proved inconclusive, the United States now has the
duty to clarify the real options for Puerto Rico and to fashion a true
process of self - determination that fully meets the responsibilities
that Congress and the Administration have to the millions of U.S.
citizens that comprise the Puerto Rican Nation.
I. Vieques: Our First Duty
But before I present our views regarding last year's plebiscite, let me
bring to your attention an issue that evokes a sense of unity and
urgency among the People of. Puerto Rico. Last April 19, during a
military exercise on our island municipality of Vieques, an F-18
aircraft shot projectiles which took the life of one civilian, Mr. David
Sanes, and injured four others.
This is but the latest in a series of tragedies that for decades have
threatened the life, safety and quality of living of the residents of
Vieques. Some media outlets in the U.S. reported that this tragedy
occurred on the uninhabited island of Vieques. That is simply not true.
Vieques is indeed populated by around 8,000 souls. And, as U.S. citizens
and human beings, they have an inalienable right to life, liberty and
the pursuit of happiness. Those rights are being violated by the U.S.
Navy. This must stop at once.
We come to this committee, in solidarity with the people of Vieques, in
remembrance of the victims and as trustees of our future generations'
right to have Vieques back in our hands. We demand the swift, concrete
and unilateral withdrawal of the U.S. Naval forces from that embattled
island. We hope to persuade you into action in favor of this just and
urgent initiative. '
To further understand our position on defense and security issues, we
refer you to a document filed by our executive director last year, which
is part of the legislative record.
IL The 1998 Plebiscite: the Vote
Last year, the U.S. House of Representatives narrowly approved H.R. 856,
a bill that would have called for a plebiscite. This bill had the
strong endorsement of the pro-statehood government and of the
Independence party and the equally strong opposition of the Popular
Democratic Party, the pro-commonwealth party, and other sectors of our
political spectrum. The U.S. Senate, however, did not pass the bill.
In an unapproved "Chairman's Draft", this Energy Committee substituted
statehood for an offer of incorporated territory. That is, as you know
very well, the extension of federal taxation without the corresponding
Thus, the Government of Puerto Rico decided to call a vote on their own
terms. They defined the options as territorial commonwealth, free
association, statehood, independence and "None of the above." The
pro-commonwealth party was upset with both the definitions and the
process and chose the "None of the above" column. We represented free
association assuming all the risks of not following our party's line.
During the campaign, PROELA served as the official and legal
representative of the free association option contained on column number
two of the ballot. We were lawfully certified by Puerto Rico's State
Electoral Commission (SEC) as such and feel very proud to have been the
first organization in the history of Puerto Rico recognized as the
electoral trustee of free association. Being a civic organization and
not a political party in the island, we had to comply with special
requisites provided by law. We have done so to the full extent of what
As part of our campaign, we coordinated work with various other
organizations who support free association like Juventud Autonomista,
Acci6n Democratica Puertorriquena and Impulso Autonomista. We also had
the fortune of counting in our ranks with people of the caliber and
reputation of Miguel Lausell, Esq., Antonio Fernos, Ph.D., a renowned
constitutional scholar, Juan R. Ferndndez, Ph.D., the former University
of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras Chancellor, Judge Jose Antonio Casillas
(Ret.), Dr. Richard Machado, M.D., a prominent figure in the healthcare
sector, Dr. Enrique Vazquez Quintana, M.D., a former Secretary of Health
under the RosseIlo administration, and former Puerto Rican legislators
Marco Rigau and Juan Lopez-Hernandez.
We ran a civic and educational campaign. But the majority parties ran a
warm-up for the next gubernatorial election between Governor Pedro
Rosselló and San Juan Mayor Sila Calderon. Let me give you an example of
this. The main issue of the campaign was not the discussion of the
benefits and drawbacks of each of the options. Rather, it was whether or
not Governor RosseIlo and Mayor Calderon would meet, head to head, in a
televised debate. For weeks Governor RosselIo and Mayor Calderon danced
around each other, taunting and retreating. It became clear that there
was not going to be a debate, nor a serious discussion of the issues.
Instead, we had the first electoral skirmish between future political
In the end, Mayor Calderon handily won her preliminary battle with
Governor Rosselló. "None of the above" garnered more that 50% of the
votes. Statehood did not advance even one percentage point from the 46%
it got in 1993. As for us, in the partisan polarization that took place,
our support dwindled to a reduced core.
III. The 1998 Plebiscite: Its Meaning Succinctly stated, the December
vote means five things:
- no single option has a majority;
- 53% of the electorate clearly affirms Puerto Rican nationhood and
rejects assimilation (that is exactly the same proportion 12roduced by
the 1993 12lebiscite);
- the approach contained in 1998's H.R. 856 was also rejected by a
majority of voters;
- the pro-statehood governor suffered a sound defeat at the hands of
his likeliest contender, the mayor of San Juan; and,
- locally sponsored plebiscites are no longer respected as useful tools
for the solution of the status dilemma.
The political initiative from Puerto Rico, in terms of status, has
been given to the leaders of the pro-commonwealth party. Commonwealth,
free association and independence backers coalesced in the "None of the
above" column to reject what they perceived as imminent dangers. Now the
leaders of that coalition, if they wish to keep it together, must find a
common ground proposal.
Last October 15, the governing board of the Popular Democratic Party
approved a plan to develop commonwealth toward sovereignty, a bilateral
compact and international powers. Whether they call it as such or not,
it is a form of free association. Therefore, we endorse its inclusion in
any process as a form of sovereign autonomy.
IV. The Next Step: What should Congress do?
For Congress, the result of the plebiscite means one thing. Puerto
Ricans are not going to make a final determination on status until
Congress and the Executive Branch engage the issue and commit themselves
to responding to the people's will. Under the U.S. Constitutional
system, Congress can only do that by approving a federal statute. It has
yet to do that. We urge you to do it soon.
In order to avoid conflict and confusion with the upcoming electoral
year, we feel that no other process should be convened in Puerto Rico
until after the year 2000. However, that does not mean we favor inaction
until that time. Congress could still enact a process before the end of
this term and set it in motion after the electoral cycle. Thus, there
would be time and space to take on both the serious responsibility of
selecting a government and then selecting a status.
On a related matter, let me state that PROELA strongly opposes any
initiative to impose federal income taxes on the Commonwealth. That is a
proposal that is clearly rejected by an overwhelming majority of Puerto
The advocacy of federal taxation on Puerto Rico is but a ploy of those
who, unable to prevail in the ballot box, wish to surreptitiously impose
a specific status change without popular consent. Federal taxation is
nothing but concealed incorporation. And that, constitutionally
speaking, means the promise of eventual statehood. No one has voted for
that in Puerto Rico. Therefore, we will join forces with all sectors
and parties to combat this undemocratic and immoral strategy. We trust
you will see its transparency.
However, PROELA wholeheartedly welcomes the structuring of a process in
which a dialogue with the political leadership of Puerto Rico is held
and the viable political options can be clarified and set apart from the
unfeasible ones. It is our desire to support that process, as we have
done in the past, and to represent -- on equal footing with all other
options and their proponents -- the formula of free association between
Puerto Rico and the United States.
In setting up this process, we urge you to consider the proposal
submitted by the Mayor of Poncho, Hon. Rafael Corridor-Santiago, on a
February 10 letter to the President of the United States in which he
calls for a panel of constitutional experts of each option to be
convened to discuss matters with representatives of the Administration
and of the Congress. This might be a sound approach to a most difficult
issue. This committee should look into it.
We are now well into the first year of the second century of
Congressional unwillingness or inability to take the Puerto Rican status
issue by the horns and solve it. This committee has engaged the issue
very thoroughly on various instances during the last ten years. We all
know the hot potatoes, the trouble spots and the hard choices that need
to be made in order to solve the problem. Puerto Rico is a distinct
nation made up of U.S. citizens. Territorial options are unacceptable.
These realities clearly produce a limited set of options. In the end,
the real choice is between eventual statehood via incorporation or
Puerto Rican nationhood, via free association with the U.S. or
independence. Offer them, legislate a process and then set it in motion
on the year 2001.
Thank you very much.
Statement of Zoraida Fonalledas,
Republican National Committeewoman for Puerto Rico,
On Behalf of the New Progressive Party
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, my name is Zoraida
Fonalledas. I have been invited by Governor Pedro Rosselló to appear on
behalf of the New Progressive Party to review results of the status vote
held on December 13, 1998.
The Governor is an active leader in the Democratic Party, and I am the
Republican National Committeewoman from Puerto Rico. Yet, we have a
common belief that equal rights, political stability and economic
prosperity for Puerto Rico together represent a cause so just and so
urgent that it soon will produce bipartisan consensus throughout
America, and with bipartisan leadership from Congress we will achieve
full and final resolution of Puerto Rico's status.
As the mother of four children, I feel strongly that all the children of
Puerto Rico, as American citizens, deserve better than to grow up with
uncertainty about their future status and ambiguity about their rights
under the U.S. Constitution. Our young Americans also deserve the
economic opportunity that comes with political stability, and so we
simply must do better in our efforts to resolve the status question. If
we fail, confusion and bitter divisions among our people over
continuation of territorial commonwealth could become our legacy to the
As you know already, 50.3% of those who cast ballots in the plebiscite
voted for an undefined "None of the Above" default option on the ballot,
and one-tenth of I% voted for territorial commonwealth as it is under
current federal law. 46.5% voted for full equality of rights and duties
under statehood. The option of independence, and the separate option of
independence with a treaty of free association, received a combined vote
The "None of the Above" ballot option was included due to possible
complications under local court rulings. Voters who historically favored
statehood, independence or commonwealth instead used "None of the
Above" to express themselves on a variety of issues other than status :
from privatization of the phone company to the timing of the vote after
a hurricane and before Christmas, as well as the wish that Puerto Rico
could be Fantasy Island, where there would be no hard choices and we
could have all the benefits of statehood and independence without the
full responsibilities of either.
In the Puerto Rican tradition, it was a long and heated debate, but
without Congressional sponsorship it became another local partisan
political contest. Thus, the only clear result of this vote is that the
99.9% of the governed have withdrawn consent to territorial commonwealth
as it is under current federal law. That is a problem for Puerto Rico,
Mr. Chairman, but it is also a problem for the nation, because in 1950
Congress recognized the principle of government by consent based on
majority vote as the federal criteria for the legitimacy of commonwealth
as a form of self-government.
It took a hundred years to create the present confusion over the status
question. However, the immediate dilemma posed by the 1998 voting
results has its origin in the failure of Congress to respond fully and
decisively when the Legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico solemnly and
respectfully petitioned Congress in 1994 to implement an enhanced form
of commonwealth that received the highest number of votes in a
plebiscite conducted under local law in 1993.
Puerto Rico's petition, renewed in 1997 and 1998, also requested that
Congress, if it did not accept enhanced commonwealth, define the options
it is willing to consider to create a permanent political status for
Puerto Rico. Simply, our petitions ask Congress to level with us as
American citizens on a very fundamental question: Is Congress willing to
offer permanent union and irrevocable U.S. citizenship to Puerto Rico,
and if so, what are the terms under which that can be achieved in
accordance with the Constitution of the United States of America?
Historically, permanent union and guaranteed citizenship has meant
statehood, as in the case of Hawaii and Alaska. Separate sovereignty
and nationality meant independence, like the Philippines and Cuba.
But supporters of enhanced commonwealth tell the people there is another
way out of our dilemma. For decades now our people have been
propagandized, promised, and in too many cases persuaded, that Puerto
Rico is literally and legally a separate nation and no longer a
territory of the United States. According to the commonwealth party, in
1952 Congress deviated from two centuries of constitutional practice in
order to bind the U.S. and the sovereign nation-state of Puerto Rico in
a new form of permanent union. They argue that approval of the local
constitution 47 years ago changed the status of Puerto Rico to that of a
free associated state, with a separate nationality, but in a permanent
bilateral confederacy with America.
Will Congress agree that Puerto Rico has entered the union permanently
as a nation-state with a zone of sovereignty not subject to federal
supremacy? Does Congress recognize a separate Puerto Rican nationality
and citizenship with a so-called dual U.S. citizenship guaranteed
forever by federal law? Do you accept Puerto Rico's entry into
permanent union without the same burden sharing as the other states in
If so, are you prepared to offer this new form of statehood to
California, Texas, South Carolina or Hawaii? Does Congress accept the
permanent disenfranchisement of a population of 3.8 million U.S.
citizens, more than that of 25 states, as well as the creation of a
separate national sovereignty under the American flag?
We are calling on Congress to end its silence on these questions,
because Puerto Rico cannot send a clear signal to Congress until
Congress sends a clear signal to Puerto Rico. For too long Congress has
passively tolerated the myth of commonwealth as a status superior to
statehood. Whether it is on the ballot as it was in 1993, or when it
does not need to be defined because "None of the Above" is on the
ballot, the doctrine of commonwealth as a super status is misleading but
beguiling to many voters. Though it has been discredited in Congress,
until Congress ends its silence the myth will persist.
Congress must not be a party to a scheme to misled voters. You need to
confirm what commonwealth means under federal law to end the charade. It
was, therefore, out of determination rather than desperation that our
government scheduled a vote for December 13, 1998. We had to act despite
the risks because we will not simply resign ourselves to
disenfranchisement and disempowerment. That is not the American way. The
results of the vote, however, demonstrate once again that self -
determination can not succeed when the national government has the final
authority to define the choices, but the national government will not
end its silence.
The essence of Puerto Rico's status problem is that Congress has not
offered terms for status resolution to Puerto Rico, and Puerto Rico can
not get a response from Congress to the terms proposed in our
The record before you establishes that over 95% of voters in Puerto Rico
want permanent union and irrevocable citizenship like a state, but
around half of those voters have been led to believe this can be
achieved without accepting the full responsibilities of citizens in the
states. On the other hand, almost half the people in Puerto Rico who
also want permanent union and irrevocable citizenship want the real
thing -- statehood with all its rights and the responsibilities of our
Congress alone can restore legitimacy to the status process by setting
the terms under which Puerto Rico can become a state or an independent
nation. As long as those alternatives are available and the voters fail
to approve one or the other, then we have no one but ourselves to blame
for our disenfranchisement. But if Congress will not establish that
mechanism that empowers us to meet whatever terms and conditions you may
set for status resolution, then Congress as well is responsible for our
Since I personally stand with those who are ready for real permanent
union and irrevocable citizenship through statehood, let me say that I
fully recognize that in due course the terms for admission will have to
address issues of tax policy, language policy and budget policy as it
relates to federal programs and Puerto Rico's ability to pay its own
way. However, those same issues will have to be addressed in the event
The process we seek would have begun on December 13, 1998, if the Senate
and House had approved the draft Chairman's mark of H.R. 856 in the 105
th Congress. For all the reasons set forth above, we urge
re-introduction and adoption of federal status legislation at the
earliest possible time so the self - determination process can continue.
In closing, Congress must recognize that the current federal status
policy is not benign. Puerto Rico has been excluded from the economic
and political life of the nation by federal policies that are often
camouflaged as simple benevolence. We call upon Congress to at least
make it possible for Puerto Rico to take the road of integration and
inclusion if that is the will of the people, even if there are obstacles
and barriers we must overcome along the way.
Setting the standard for human dignity and equality worldwide, the
United States must begin at home by ending the last vestiges of
disenfranchisement and second class status among its own citizens. 60
years ago, my grandfather, Puerto Rican Senate President Rafael
Martinez-Nadal, expressed the need we have for status resolution
eloquently when he said " Statehood is not a question of dollars and
cents, but of a deep desire for liberty." That was more than 20 years
after he and the people of Puerto Rico became U.S. citizens, and 60
years later we are stalled on the road to liberty.
Meanwhile, the rising tide of fully enfranchised Hispanic Americans in
the fifty states will increasingly look to, and measure, the nation's
leaders by their commitment to equality and equity for all Americans. A
Puerto Rico populated by Hispanic Americans denied full and equal
participation in the American economy and full and equal access to the
American democratic systems will soon become an issue for other
Hispanics and all Americans.
That is why Congress should not wait until the dilemma grows worse in
Puerto Rico, or until this becomes a negative issue for America.
Resolution of Puerto Rico's status can be a positive experience for our
nation if Congress will assume leadership and exercise the power only it
has under the U.S. Constitution to define the choices and establish the
rules of the process through which Puerto Rico will become fully self-
As former Governor of Puerto Rico Don Luis Ferre recently stated, Puerto
Rico's culture is complementary to that of this great nation, and we
are part of the American tradition of pluralism. So instead of talking
about differences we should focus on what we have in common as
Because our highest duty as Americans and as Puerto Ricans is to pass to
the next generation a better life, those who insist that territorial
commonwealth is the best we can do, or that the status quo is the most
we deserve, are wrong. We can do better and we will. May God bless us
all in completing this quest for equality in America.