The Honorable Dan Burton

Testimony-H.R. 856

Puerto Rico Self-Determination

3/19/9 7


Thank you for the opportunity to testify today regarding H.R. 856, the "United States-Puerto Rico Political Status Act." As a senior member of the International Relations Committee, I am a co-sponsor of this bill. I have worked with Chairman Don Young and Subcommittee Chairman Elton Gallegly to help them put together a fair and balanced bill. This bill is based on complete and open dialogue with ah affected parties, and is the result of approximately thirty changes from H.R. 3024, which was introduced in the 104th Congress.

The status quo in Puerto Rico cannot be maintained.

The people of Puerto Rico have lived for far too long under a colonial status with second-class citizenship.

This is not a statehood bill for Puerto Rico, as some people seem to believe. It is not a pro-independence bill. It is not a pro-Commonwealth bill.

This is a balanced bill that allows the Puerto Rico people to exercise their right to self-determination It lets the people of Puerto Rico make and informed choice about their political future.

 It has been argued that the plebiscite in 1993 decided the issue—the Commonwealth option won by a narrow plurality. Unfortunately, the proponents of each of the different options promised the voters benefits that they simply can't deliver under U.S law and the U.S. Constitution.

 For example, the advocates of independence wrote on the ballot that all citizens of an independent Puerto Rico would be granted dual citizenship with the United States. This simply isn't true. That is a decision Congress mast make, and Congress isn't Likely to grant blanket dual citizenship.

 In addition advocates of continuing the Commonwealth status argued that Puerto Rican residents would enjoy first class, "Constitutional citizenship" and generous Federal benefits without paying federal taxes, that Congress could never alter. They promised that Puerto Rico would have veto power over any law Congress passed which affects Puerto Rico. Again this is not true. The citizenship that Puerto Ricans enjoy is not Constitutional -- it was created by Congress and can be altered by Congress. Be same is true of every Federal program in which Puerto Rico participates.

 As you can see, the advocates of some of these options were promising people the moon. Clearly Congress needs to step in to create a fair process based on legally valid definitions of the three options. That is exactly what this bill does. It establishes valid definitions of ah three options so the people of Puerto Rico can make an informed decision about their political future.

 We have compromised with all parties concerned by changing from a two-ballot format to a three-ballot format, thereby giving the citizens of Puerto Rico ah three options namely STATEHOOD, SEPARATE SOVEREIGNTY, and COMMONWEALTH, and giving the options equal positioning.

 I have concerns with this change, given the inherent legal differences amongst the three options The purpose of the previous, two-ballot format was to make certain the voters understood that two of the options were for a new and permanent status consistent with full self-determination.

 Those two options--statehood and separate sovereignty--would complete the decolonization process consistent with the commitments the United States made to the people of Puerto Rico and the United Nations when local constitutional government was established in 1952.

 The option to continue the current "commonwealth" structure official government vas presented separately on the ballot under H.R. 3024 because it is not a constitution ally- guarantee d or permanent status.

 Therefore, I am afraid it could be misleading to the voters to present the less-than-fully-self governing "commonwealth" option as a co-equal status the full integration or separate nationhood options.

However, Mr. Young listened, and then reached out to address the concerns of the political leaders of all parties in Puerto Rico as well as the concerns of his colleagues in Congress and granted the change from a two to three ballot format.

This example leadership and sign of good faith has not been reciprocated by opponents of this legislation. Disingenuousness deception, and in some cases outright falsehoods continue in their rhetoric and in their deeds.

 This is unfortunate because it only adds confusion to the issue. This confusion has disenfranchised voters and has delayed the process of Puerto Rican self-determination.

Since this legislation is designed to provide a process leading to full self-government for Puerto Rico, I have asked that a provision be put in place in this bill whereby the process towards self-government is ensured.

In the event that a referendum conducted under section four is inconclusive, or a majority vote to continue the Commonwealth structure as a territory is realized, then another referendum in four yens will take place.

This may appear to stack the deck against Commonwealth proponents; however, since their position denies the people of Puerto Rico self-rule, and since we are committed to keeping this process inclusive, it is only fair that the citizens of Puerto Rico be afforded the democratic opportunity of self-rule every four years.

If the backers of Commonwealth status maintain support in that particular four year period, then they will prevail and the Commonwealth Status will be upheld.

Mr. Chairman, I would like to end with the following observation. I have intentionally not publicly advocated for a particular outcome with respect to Puerto Rican status. My strong belief in a free people exercising their right to self-determination remains unwavering.

The complexities of the history and uniqueness of the Island of Puerto Rico do not change that fundamental belief The citizens of Puerto Rico should have their day at the ballot box without duress and without my impediment to their ability to act out their own collective will.

The Puerto Rican people also have a great responsibility in understanding their options and choosing the option they most agree with. They need to understand that there is no free lunch. If they choose independence, the United States will deal with them as a partner in peace and a strong ally.

 If they choose statehood, we will add another star to our flag and welcome them officially as an equal partner into the greatest union known in the history of mankind. But keep in mind, with that benefit comes a great responsibility.

 If the Puerto Rican people choose to maintain Commonwealth status, turning away from self-rule, we as a Congress will maintain the supreme administrative control of the Island.

 These are the options for the citizens of Puerto Rico to choose from. We as a Congress must facilitate the process in a fair manner. That is exactly what H.R. 866 seeks to accomplish, and is why I am a strong supporter and co-sponsor of the measure.

 Mr. Chairman, Congress needs to act on this legislation immediately. Implementation of whatever option that is chosen by the citizens of Puerto Rico, will take many years. In addition, the 1993 plebiscite clearly indicates that the Congress should help forward this process forward.

 Thanks again, Mr. Chairman for affording me the opportunity to testify today before you and the Resources Committee.

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