(Copyright 1998 by Federal Document Clearing House, Inc.)

U.S. Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) Sponsor -- "Puerto Rico Self Determination Act"

Opening Statement before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Workshop on Puerto Rico Status
April 2,1998

As someone who has long been committed to giving the American citizens of Puerto Rico a chance to decide their own political destiny, I am enormously proud and honored to be here this morning. Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you for your commitment to the principle of self-determination for the people of Puerto Rico. By leading a committee trip to the island in 1997, when you met with leaders on all sides of this issue, and holding this workshop today, you have helped to educate members of the Senate and all Americans about the importance of Puerto Rico's future political status.

As we all know, the issue of Puerto Rico's political future is both complicated and controversial. But we must no longer use those facts to delay action, and 1998 is the most appropriate year to move forward. A century ago -- in 1898 -- Puerto Rico became part of the United States during the Spanish-American War. In the 100 years since then, the Caribbean island's long-term political status has been uncertain. There would no better way for us to commemorate this special anniversary than to give Puerto Ricans the same right that U.S. citizens in all fifty states enjoy - the right to choose their political destiny.

Though Puerto Ricans were granted citizenship in the Jones Act of 1917, that citizenship is less than complete. Puerto Ricans can only vote in Presidential elections if they are registered in a state or the District of Columbia. They have a delegate in Congress -- a position currently held by Congressman Carlos Romero-Barcelo -- who does not have voting privileges. This lack of political rights isn't due to a lack of communication.

Throughout their history as part of the United States, Puerto Ricans have expressed their desire to achieve fall political rights. They have on various occasions lot Congress know of their desire to be full participants in our democracy. But their actions speak even louder than their words. Puerto Ricans have contributed in all aspects of American life -- in the arts, in sciences, in sports and especially in service to the nation. Their record of service to this country speaks for itself. In World War II alone, 65,034 men and women from Puerto Rico served in the armed forces. In Vietnam over 60,000 served. The first United States solider killed in Somalia was Puerto Rican. One of the airmen shot down over Libya in 1986 was Puerto Rican and it was a soldier from Puerto Rico who sounded the alarm ---and saved lives- in the 1983 bombing in the marine barracks in Beirut.

Puerto Ricans have earned the right to decide their island's political destiny. Congress has a moral obligation to encourage them to exercise that right to self-determination. Along with Senator Larry Craig, Energy and Natural Resources Committee members Landrieu, Campbell, and Alaska, and other Senate Republicans and Democrats, I have introduced legislation -- the "Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act" -- to fulfill that obligation. Mr. Chairman, I want to emphasize that our legislation is not a statehood bill. It is not an independence bill. It is not a commonwealth bill. What it does is ask the U.S. citizen of Puerto Rico to choose their political fate in a fair and democratic vote.

As we approach the 21st Century, it is clear that out nation stands at a historical crossroads on a number of issues. This is especially true in our dealings with Puerto Rico. We look to the past and celebrate the United States' special association with this Caribbean island and its people. When we, look to the future, what we see is an increasingly active United States role in political and economic affairs of the Western Hemipshere.

Mr. Chairman, we would insult Puerto Ricans' contributions to the United States in the past and risk our opportunities for hemispheric leadership in the future if we continue to treat, the people of Puerto Rico as second class citizens. They deserve the chance to decide their political destiny. We owe them our most determined, respectful, and sensitive efforts in working to provide that chance.

Thank you again for convening today's workshop. I look forward to hearing what Governor Rosello and other elected representatives from Puerto Rico have to share with us today. Thank you.

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