SENATE ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES COMMITTEE
Senator Frank Murkowski, (R-AK), Chairman
S. 472, PUERTO RICO SELF-DETERMINATION ACT
APRIL 2, 1998
Rossello, Governor of Puerto Rico
Acevedo Vila, President, Popular Democratic Party (PDP)
Senator Ruben Berrios
Martinez, President, Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP)
Hon. Governor Luis
Ferre, New Progressive Party (NPP)
R O C E E D I N
(Senator Murkowski): -- we're just able to get started now. It's
my intention to proceed as rapidly as possible, and I would call
the Honorable Governor of Puerto Rico, the Honorable Pedro
Rossello, and the Honorable Carlos Romeros- Barcelo. Let me just
make a short statement relative to the importance of this
As you know,
I've always supported the application of self-determination for
Puerto Rico. The process of how that's achieved, of course, is a
rather extensive one, and suggests that now that the matter is
before the Senate inasmuch as the House has passed its bill, we
have an obligation to initiate a process.
Now, what we
have done here is to initiate a workshop. The workshop will be
recorded and the purpose of that is to familiarize members of the
Senate with this particular issue and the prevailing attitudes of
the people of Puerto Rico. The last time this committee addressed
this issue, I think was in 1989 to '91, Chairman Bennett Johnson
from Louisiana chaired the committee at that time. It's my
understanding there were eight hearings held, three of which were
held in Puerto Rico and five here in Washington, D.C. There are
many members of the committee that were not on the committee at
that time and, as a consequence, the necessity of the Senate
visiting the issue in detail is appropriate and necessary.
House action was a very close vote, it was 209 to 208, and the
realization of the situation in Puerto Rico is unique inasmuch as
in its territorial structure the citizens of Puerto Rico of
course are American citizens. Unlike other areas that have been
considered for statehood, Puerto Rico has never been
incorporated, and the Constitution does not fully apply. Unlike
other areas, it's my understanding the Philippines, as an
example, when they
were formerly a
possession of the U.S., Puerto Rico -- the United States citizens
have been citizens for some 80 years. So there are several
consistencies, several inconsistencies, associated with this
issue. I'm not going to go through the entire statement, other
than to indicate a willingness and an obligation by the United
States Senate to address the issue of self-determination.
We have, among
the witnesses here today, a governor who will speak as governor
of Puerto Rico. We will also have a statement from the party
representatives. It's my understanding with the witness list --
it's buried here somewhere -- that we have spokespersons, and I
will introduce them now, in Panel One, the Honorable Berrios
Martinez (phonetic), President of Puerto Rican Independent Party;
the Honorable Anabel Acevedo Vila, President of the Popular
Democratic Party; and the Honorable Luis A. Ferre, of the New
So in the
interests of time I would ask the Honorable Carlos Romero-Barcelo
to introduce the Governor of Puerto Rico. Excuse me, I apologize.
Senator Craig. Excuse me, you were here first?
(D-LA): Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Just briefly. I'm
sorry for the delay. We were voting earlier this morning, but I
want to join the Chairman in welcoming you, Governor, to the
committee, and to the representatives of all three of the parties
from Puerto Rico, to acknowledge my predecessor there, Senator
Bennett Johnston, and the great work that he's done on this issue
for many, many years, to say how proud I am to support your
efforts for self-determination, how strongly I support
Puerto Rico in their effort to do that.
I'm a co-sponsor
of the bill and, so, anxious to hear the workshop today and look
forward to working with you in every way to move this legislation
forward. Thank you.
Thank you, Senator Landrieu. Senator Craig.
SENATOR CRAIG (R-ID):
Mr. Chairman, thank
you. Let me also welcome our guests and those who will testify
Chairman, I especially want to thank you for holding the workshop
on the issue of political self-determination for the territory of
Puerto Rico. I also want to recognize Bennett Johnston in
the audience today. Senator Johnston was one of those who wakened
me to this issue some years ago as I began to study it and
develop a better understanding of it.
This is an issue
that I believe needs to be addressed by this committee and by
Congress as a whole. That was why I introduced S-472 as a way for
the 33.8 million U.S. citizens who live on the island of
Puerto Rico as an opportunity for them to speak for themselves
about their political future. On March 17th, 1997, with my
partisan co-sponsorship, I introduced the legislation to resolve
the status of the U.S. citizens living in America's largest, most
populous, and, for over one hundred years in 1998, longest-held
I know that some
of my colleagues and, indeed, citizens in the fifty states
question the need for Congress to take up this question. The most
common reaction is that we should let Puerto Ricans decide the
issue for themselves. The problem with that approach is that two
parties are involved in this decision: Congress, this Congress,
because of the plenary power expressly vested in it by the
territorial clause of the Constitution, Article IV, Section
3, Clause 2, and the other party, people of Puerto Rico, who have
U.S. citizenship but are not yet fully self-governing.
failed to approve legislation to provide a status resolution
process in 1991, the Puerto Ricans conducted a status vote and
the commonwealth option was defined on the ballot in
favorable to its approval. To the point that it promised a lot
more than Congress could have approved. Even with a ballot
definition that would significantly enhance the current status,
the existing commonwealth relationship received less than a
majority of the vote, so there is a serious issue of legitimacy
of the current status, a status that is less than equal and less
than fully self-governing, especially given the USs
assertion to the UN in 1953 that Puerto Rico was on the path
This is why the
legislature of Puerto Rico passed Concurrent Resolution 2 on
January 23, 1997, requesting Congress to sponsor a vote based on
definitions it would be willing to consider if approved by
voters. This legislation provides the framework for resolution of
the Puerto Rican status question through a three-phased
decision-making process that will culminate no sooner than the
second decade of the next century. It is a process that respects
the right of the residents of Puerto Rico to become
self-governing based on local self-determination and, at the same
time, recognizes the United States also has a right of
self-determination in its relationship with Puerto Rico.
resolution of status for Puerto Rico should take place in
accordance with the terms of a transition plan that is determined
by Congress to be in the national interest. Acceptance of such a
congressionally- approved transition plan by the qualified voters
of Puerto Rico in a free and informed act of self-determination
will be required before the process leading to change of the
present status quo. S-472 creates an even-handed process that
will lead to either separate sovereignty or statehood, depending
on whether Congress and the residents of Puerto Rico approve the
terms of implementation of either of these two options for full
the status quo commonwealth is also an option of the plebiscite
ballot. However, the existing unincorporated territorial status,
including the commonwealth structure of local government, is not
a constitutionally-guaranteed form of self-government. Thus,
until full self-governance is achieved for Puerto Rico, there
will be a need for periodic self-determination procedures.
there is more to my statement but I recognize the time and the
patience of this audience, and so let me ask unanimous consent
that the balance of my statement become a part of the record.
Let me also say that it is important that everyone understand
that this legislation and issue is about a process, not about a
result. It is about a process that is constitutionally fair and
morally fair. It is fair to the Congress, to the citizens of the
Union, and the citizens of Puerto Rico. It does not guarantee any
outcome. It does not bind any future Congress. That is, I
believe, as it should be. And so I think it is important
that this Congress move toward consideration of this legislation.
Thank you very much, Senator. Let's start now -- there's no other
members, which gives us a little break and an opportunity to
proceed with the hearing.
Romero-Barcelo, would you please introduce the governor, Governor
ROMERO-BARCELO: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Senator Landrieu and
Senator Craig. Thank you very much for the opportunity to be here
today, and as the sole representative in Congress for the people
of Puerto Rico, albeit disenfranchised, it is my privilege today
to introduce the Governor of Puerto Rico. As a student, the
governor was an outstanding student. In Notre Dame he graduated
with magna cum laude, bachelor of science, then Yale University
in the School of Medicine, cum laude as a degree of medicine.
Then, later on, in the University of Puerto Rico he had a
master's degree in public health magna cum laude. And he was an
outstanding surgeon -- pediatric surgeon, in Puerto Rico.
Now, since he
got involved in politics, he's been extremely successful. One of
the elections in '92 where he won by the largest margin in the
last twenty years before that election. In the elections in 1996,
by the largest margin in the last 34 years. So that he received a
strong mandate during the past election, and one of the main
issues at that election -- one of the principal issues, not only
by our party, the New Progressive Party, but also by the
opposition, was the fact that we had a bill pending that would be
revised again in Congress to have a referendum held in Puerto
Rico to choose between the three options -- historical options
that we had before us: Commonwealth, independence, or statehood.
In spite of that being an issue in the election, the overwhelming
victory of the governor, it was two-thirds in the House -- over
two-thirds in the House, over two-thirds in the Senate, and I won
by the largest margin in the last 20 years for any Resident
Commissioner to Congress.
So our party is
a coalition of -- the New Progressive Party is a coalition of
Democrats and Republicans, and here we'll -- later on, you'll
have the founder of the party, Luis Ferre, testifying before this
committee, who is the oldest person in the -- as the State Chair
of the Republican Party, and he held that position for the
The governor has
had successful administration and introduced a lot of changes and
a lot of the reforms, and it is indeed my pleasure here to
introduce the Governor of Puerto Rico, Dr. Pedro Rossello.
Thank you very much, Congressman, we appreciate your introduction
and we welcome the Governor. I do want to remind the audience
that this is a unique day. We have about 70 amendments pending on
the floor of the United States Senate, we're going to be in all
day and probably most of the night. We have a break now, and I
have no idea how long that break is going to occur before voting
starts again, so we've indicated to all the panel that we'd like
to keep the presentations to about 15 minutes or
thereabouts, so I have abbreviated dramatically my opening
statement, but it will be entered into the record and I would
look forward to the Governor's testimony.
GOVERNOR ROSELLO: Thank you very much,
Senator Murkowski, Chairman -- Senator Landrieu, Senator Craig as
members of the United States Senate Committee on Energy and
My name is Pedro
Rossello. Since 1993 I have been Governor of Puerto Rico. My five
years in office are a small fraction of the one hundred years
that Puerto Rico has been a United States territory. A century
should be a cause for a celebration, but this is a sad centennial
to commemorate because Puerto Rico has the painful distinction of
having subsisted longer, over 500 years, and with the largest
population, than any other community on earth without ever having
exercised or enjoyed any form of true political sovereignty.
We, the people
of Puerto Rico, have been involved in a long and laborious
struggle for self-determination almost as long as that of Hawaii,
which struggled for statehood from 1853, when King Kamehameha
ordered his foreign minister to begin negotiations, to 1959, when
it became the 50th state of the Union. And we are fast
approaching Oklahoma's record territorial period of 104 years
state. So we are extremely heartened by the passage of HR-856,
the United States Puerto Rico Political Status Act, which
constitutes a major milestone on the road to self-determination.
At best, it heralds a breakthrough, a turning point, the end of
the beginning and the beginning of the end, for the record
disenfranchisement of 3.8 million United States citizens.
States House of Representatives took an historic leap forward on
March 4th and it was right and fitting that this should happen at
last one hundred years after Puerto Rico became a United States
territory. Today, I am immensely grateful to Chairman Murkowski
and this committee for so expeditiously initiating Senate
evaluation of this most fundamental issue.
S-472 and its
counterpart in the House, HR-856, both reflect a bipartisan
commitment to the most basic principles of human rights and civic
justice, a commitment that likewise enjoys the emphatic support
of the President of the United States and his administration. We
trust in God that the Senate will recognize its historic
responsibility and will act decisively to keep the momentum
going, to ensure that a conclusive self-determination process for
the 3.8 million United States citizens of Puerto Rico will
commence in this centennial year of 1998.
have the opportunity, together with the Congress and our people,
to bring an end to half a millennium of ignominious political
inferiority, four centuries under a Spanish monarch and now one
full century under the greatest democracy every created by the
human race, a democracy that should find it untenable and
repulsive to keep a large number of its citizens bereft of their
basic citizenship rights. On our shoulders, all of us in this
room bear the aspirations, the frustrations, and the legacy of
literally generations of Puerto Ricans and mainlanders alike who
have endeavored, against all manners of adversity, in the hope
that one day their efforts would bear fruit.
It is imperative
that the United States Senate act now, before the 105th Congress
adjourns, because it would be disheartening in the extreme if, as
in the past, those who wield the ultimate power and the authority
were to fall back on the excuse that, "The clock simply ran
out on us, sorry, try us again in the next Congress." We
have heard that excuse much too often in the past.
citizens in Puerto Rico nurture the great hope that this Congress
will earn the distinction of shouldering responsibilities, its
responsibilities, a responsibility which our nation's legislative
branch has never totally accepted before, dating all the way back
to the 1899 Senate ratification of the Treaty of Paris during the
tenure of the 56th Congress. In tribute to past generations and
in solidarity with the future generations, let us examine,
through this senatorial process of dialogue and discussion, the
principal issues which we trust will be thoughtfully and
thoroughly addressed now, during 1998, in a spirit of brotherhood
and patriotism by all of our fellow citizens in Congress.
These are issues
that must be understood and placed in context if the Senate and
the House are to come to agreement on the enactment of a viable,
definitive, Puerto Rico self-determination legislation.
Thirty-seven times since the original thirteen colonies founded
this republic, a thorough public examination has taken place as
one territory after another labored through its own process of
self-determination. As we, the people of Puerto Rico, come under
that scrutiny, we are aware that the issues and concerns being
raised with respects to our own efforts are all not new. Issues
concerning the economic impact of our status choices, the place
of our language and culture within the diversity of our nation,
and the ramifications of a status change on the current political
balance of our national parties, issues that were raised and
resolved in the discussions surrounding virtually every territory
-- every other territory, that face the critical juncture that is
now before us.
American history, the struggle for statehood has rarely been
easy. So we, the people of Puerto Rico, are not discouraged in
the lightest by the obstacles that we encounter along our rocky
road to civic equality. On the other hand, neither do we take
those obstacles lightly. One may describe our attitude -- one way
might be this. We must cut out this territory stunt(?), we have
had too much hot atmosphere, soothing syrup, and other poor
nourishment from Uncle Sam. What we want now is a statehood
sandwich, buttered on both sides.
This chance may
not come again in the life of the present generation. "A few
years will make no difference," say those who oppose us.
Such persons either know nothing or care nothing about the
history of the statehood fight. It has been the longest struggle
-- years and years of evasion, attack and neglect by Congress.
The only opposition remaining exists under the leadership of an
itinerant demagogue who secretly sends lying telegrams to
Washington and who occupies the evenings informing us that our
women carry on the practices of saloon bums and that our boys and
girls are going to hell.
distinguished members of this committee, might be one way to
describe our attitude. Interestingly enough, though, those words
are not mine, nor are they the words of any other Puerto Rican.
Instead, the words I just read to you are a direct quote from the
Albuquerque Morning Journal. Those words were published in
January, 1911, during the climactic final months of a 62-year
crusade for New Mexico statehood. And we must all say that
perspective is priceless.
It works wonders
in helping a person cope with bouts of indignation and outrage,
like when some itinerant demagogue insults the memory of Puerto
Rico's four posthumous recipients of the Medal of Honor, not to
mention the over 2,000 Puerto Ricans who have made the ultimate
sacrifice for the nation.
Like when some
itinerant demagogue discredits his own people by claiming that
our women have children only to receive welfare benefits, I might
remind you of the saloon bums reference I just read, or that our
children are incapable of learning or speaking English -- and I
quote again, "Our boys and girls are going to hell." Or
like when some itinerant demagogue insults the memory of our
fallen defenders by proclaiming, loudly, that the people of our
island are not Americans. By definition and by conviction, every
citizen of the United States is an American, and he who does not
feel that way has the right, the right to renounce his
But we try to
keep our cool amid such demagoguery. And when we are making that
attempt, it always helps to be able to recall a comment that was
made at just about the same time that Puerto Rico was coming
under the United States sovereignty. Almost exactly a century
ago, Tammany Hall politician, George Washington Plunkett, praised
muckraking author, Lincoln Stephens, for writing that New York,
where most of the elected officials were, and I quote,
"Irish," was less corrupt than Philadelphia, even
though the latter was governed mostly, and I quote again,
"by Americans." Fascinating, isn't it?
Who, exactly, is
an American, and what, exactly, constitutes patriotism. Puerto
Rico has public buildings that bear the names of fierce advocates
of independence from the United States, and that is true.
Nationalist, Pedro Campos, for example, has a school named after
him. But I ask you, does that render us unworthy of statehood?
Well, if so, then where does that leave the great
states of the
former confederacies, many of whom are members of the Southern
Governance Association, which I have the privilege of chairing
this year. After all, the deep south is inundated with statues
and structures, not to mention cities and towns, that bear the
names of men who are remembered best for their leadership role
they played in waging war against the United States of America.
is indeed precious, so let me wrap this up with one final
historic footnote. This one takes us all the way back to the
United States' very own crusade for self-determination, the
Spirit of '76 and the Revolutionary War. Guess who fought the
British. Guess who was on the same side as the Yankee Doodle
Dandies of the thirteen rebellious colonies. It is quite a
remarkable little story. From 1766 to 1803, the expanse of North
American territory, known as Louisiana, was governed by
And when the
Founding Fathers issued their Declaration of Independence,
Governor Bernardo Galvez (phonetic) of Louisiana sent money, gun
powder, rifles and other desperately-needed material to American
General George Rogers Clark in the Ohio Valley and to a certain
General in Virginia, by the name of George Washington. By 1779,
Spain had formally declared war against Great Britain, and
Governor De Galvas did his part by raising an army of 7,000
Spanish subjects. That fighting force captured five British forts
in the Mississippi River Valley. Grateful Americans later named a
city after the Spanish governor, the City of Galveston, Texas.
But who fought
the British? Well, as by now you surely have guessed, the Spanish
army that contributed to the arduous but ultimately triumphant
quest for United States' self-determination included troops from
the loyal Caribbean colony of Puerto Rico.
May God bless
patriotic Americans, however you define them and wherever they
may be. May God bless everyone throughout this nation, including
everyone on the United States "Island of Enchantment,"
who is engaged in this noble crusade after one hundred years of
American territorial solitude for a community that now
encompasses 3.8 million United States citizens. And may God guide
this committee and this Senate as it confronts its historical and
constitutional responsibilities of providing for a fair and
definitive process of self-determination for the people of Puerto
Rico. I thank this committee for the privilege of addressing them
Thank you very much, Governor, it was a very, very powerful
statement and I think it certainly represents your conviction
relative to your particular view --
You must have
some fans out there, as well, of your particular view.
ROSELLO: They're all cousins of mine.
All cousins, okay. Nothing like a big, happy family.
joined by Senator Graham, from Florida, and if you have an
opening statement -- we have concluded our opening statements, as
you probably have guessed. I'm going to defer, after you, to
Senator Landrieu, who was first, and Senator Craig and I will ask
my questions last, and I'm going to have to be excused for a
minute to take a call outside, so in my absence Senator Craig
will act as chairman.
(D-FL): Mr. Chairman, I have an opening statement which I would
like to file for the record, in deference to the time
constraints. I would just -- I will echo the comments of the
governor that this is a historic moment in which our nation is
being tested. One of those tests is our own sense of national
vision. We have had a history, as the example of New Mexico
illustrates, in which we have been reluctant to add new peoples
who might be, in some ways, unlike ourselves, to our nation. But
every time we've done that, we've added to the strength of the
The issue before
us today is not whether Puerto Rico will be added as a state to
the United States of America, will become the 51st star, but
whether the people of Puerto Rico should be given the respectful
opportunity at self-determination, a principle that is as
fundamental as our own Declaration of Independence. So I
appreciate the outstanding statements that have been made today
on behalf of the cause of self-determination, and I am optimistic
that those messages will be heeded by prompt and affirmative
action on this legislation.
Senator Graham, thank you very much. Let me also say that Senator
Graham is a co-sponsor of S-472, as many of you know, and has
been strongly supportive of moving this legislation forward, and
I thank him for that.
Now let me turn
to the Senator from Louisiana, Senator Landrieu.
LANDRIEU: Thank you. Governor, it was an extraordinary statement,
and very well delivered and quite powerful in your comments about
various historical points along the way.
Let me just say
briefly that, because we are a political system, there are many
times when we act in political ways, which is quite natural and
parochial. But there are times when that kind of way is not
sufficient, because of the principles that are at stake. I think
we are at that time here.
I would urge my
Senate colleagues to think of this issue in that way. There are
greater principles of which we all, regardless of our parties,
stand for, that are all well-represented in the arguments that
you've laid out, so I hope we can move quickly and that this year
would not pass and that we could end it with great joy and
celebration and be true to everything that we preach every day
here on the floors on both sides.
But let me ask a
question about, in your opinion --- I hope that this doesn't
happen, but if Congress fails to act this year, what do you think
the outcome would be if, by any chance, we would fail to act in
ROSELLO: I think, first of all, it would be fair to say that this
would be a great disappointment to the people of Puerto Rico. We
have gone at this for a hundred years. We go into cycles of --
the last one was mentioned earlier before from 1989 to 1991, and
we at the end of a cycle keep getting the message that maybe
there was not enough time. I think the people of Puerto Rico
would not understand a message again that after so many years of
discussing and so many years of dialoguing about this issue that
the Senate of the United States cannot get itself to act on this
The reality of
the case is that Congress has to enter, has to be an integral
part of this process, as was mentioned by Senator Craig. It is
not one-sided. It needs collaboration from both sides. And the
fact is that there's a strong message to this Congress that the
situation has changed in Puerto Rico. Always, we labor under the
concept that there should be an approval by the governed for its
government. And in Puerto Rico, that has changed. We have a
situation where none of the alternatives have a majority. And it
is at this point where it is absolutely necessary.
If Congress does
not act, particularly if the Senate does not act, then I would
ask what would be the response if in any one of your states you
had a similar situation, where more than 50 percent of the
population, of the electorate, says that they're not in agreement
with the way they're being governed. And so this is, to a certain
extent, something that from your experience in each one of your
states would probably constitute a constitutional crisis. That is
why it is so important.
What will the
people do in Puerto Rico if Congress does not act? I think that's
a very difficult question to answer. I can tell you for creation
that there will be a sense of disenchantment, a sense of being
run around for a long time, and I think the Senate has before it
a historical opportunity to exert, for the first time, its
constitutional responsibilities, not to shirk away from that
responsibility but to act at this present time. One hundred years
after the Stars and Stripes came to Puerto Rico, this is a moment
not for further discussion, for further dialogue, this is a
moment for action and that's what the people of Puerto Rico
LANDRIEU: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Senator, thank you very much. Governor, again, welcome and thank
you for that very powerful statement. And the response that you
just gave to the Senator for Louisiana I think expresses the
frustration that Puerto Ricans have over this issue, and partly
reflects my frustration, that we have a responsibility here in
the Congress to allow this process to move in a way that not only
sets the parameters by which the Congress would respond but also
sets parameters by which Puerto Ricans can respond in an
I was fascinated
and frustrated by the debate by some of my colleagues in the
other body, as I listened to this issue develop on the floor of
the House. Fascinated by statements that I knew were false or at
least dramatically shaded to present an image that I didn't
understand because I didn't think it existed. About Puerto Rico.
For the record, would you give us some of the changes that are
occurring in Puerto Rico, some of the reforms that you're
instituting, that are critical to the citizens, that are very
consistent with what this Congress has talked about and, in fact,
moved on over the last several years, that I think demonstrate
the continuity of relationships and understanding between Puerto
Ricans and citizens of the 50 contiguous -- or not so contiguous
ROSELLO: Yes, Senator Craig, and let me start by thanking you for
your leadership in this matter that's very important to the
people of Puerto Rico. You certainly have stood on the principle
as to how we should resolve this century-long quandary that we've
had, both in Puerto Rico and in the United States.
maybe will be defined as going through a very significant change
of redefinition during this decade of the '90s. Among those
redefinition are, first, the first bill that I submitted to our
legislature, a law that I signed within a month of having been --
having taken the oath as governor of Puerto Rico, was to
establish English as an official language in Puerto Rico. And
maybe I can make some history about that, too.
Puerto Rico is
the first jurisdiction that has had English as an official
language, dating all the way back to 1902. Before the first state
ever established English as an official statement, which was in
1920, the State of Nebraska. Since 1902, except for a brief
period of some years where English was removed for a couple of
years as an official language, under the previous administration,
I had the privilege of reinstituting English as an official
language to Puerto Rico. English is the official language used in
federal agencies in Puerto Rico, it is the official language that
is used in the U.S. Courts, and, as I said, at the state level it
is co-equal with Spanish as an official language.
In the area of
health, we have instituted a major health reform that will have
as its goals, and which we will reach of having everybody in
Puerto Rico covered by private health insurance by the year 2000.
We have instituted a very aggressive tax reform, which has
resulted in lowering in approximately 20 percent the tax rates in
Puerto Rico. We have instituted a new economic model for Puerto
Rico, which is less dependent on historical crutches and which
has created over 150,000 new jobs in Puerto Rico over the past
five years, and again, instituted a reform in education that has
led to an establishment of community schools, a statewide choice
program for students so they can choose the school of their
choice, and all of these changes are part of what we feel is the
central element of redefinition in Puerto Rico during this decade
of the '90s, which is the empowerment of people, the empowerment
is being done, area by area, but there is no question that the
final empowerment in a democratic society is its power to vote.
Puerto Rico does not possess that power at the present time.
Congress has absolute powers over the territory of Puerto Rico
under the U.S. Constitution and also under the terms of the
Treaty of Paris. Until Puerto Rico participates fully, our
society will not be fully empowered.
And so maybe,
Senator Craig, the overbearing view of what's happening in Puerto
Rico is, yes, this is a very intense, very controversial, much
discussed period in Puerto Rico that is redefining the course
Puerto Rico is following in many areas, be it tax reform, be it
educational reform, be it health reform, be it the way we treat
our people in terms of allowing them to develop power within
their communities, and also, yes, at this moment, defining
whether Puerto Rico will be empowered as in any democratic
society to elect its own representatives and to have a voice in
those bodies that make the ultimate decision over our citizens
and our people.
Well, Governor, thank you very much. I thought it was important
for the record that we record some of those reforms, because I
think they are valuable and important, and I think the citizens
of the United States beyond Puerto Rico need to hear that in many
instances you lead in a variety of the areas that are now issues
of importance here before this Congress and before citizens of
the other states. Thank you very much.
ROSELLO: Thank you, sir.
Governor, I'd just like to ask a single question, which is
somewhat of a follow-up to the question that Senator Landrieu
asked, and that is, what will be the impact of the decision by
this Congress on whether to grant to the citizens of Puerto Rico
the opportunity of self-determination. The United States, after
having spent most of its history looking towards Europe and, in
recent years to some degree, looking towards Asia, is now, for
the first time, seriously engaged within the hemisphere. In a
matter of days, the president will go to Santiago, Chile, for the
second Summit of the Americas, as an example of the increasing
momentum of our hemispheric relationships.
I know that you
are a well versed and highly respected figure within the
hemisphere as well as within Puerto Rico and the United States.
Could you give me your assessment, based on that knowledge, of
what would be the effect on attitudes towards the United States
if we were to deny the people of Puerto Rico the right to take a
vote on their own political future?
ROSELLO: Senator, I think that you very ably have focused that
this is not just an issue that's important to Puerto Rico and
maybe to this Congress in a very narrow sense. But that it's
important to other communities and other populations. Within the
United States I think this is an important issue for Hispanic
populations throughout the United States. I think the issue of
empowering Puerto Rico to make a decision is something that every
Hispanic throughout the nation feels, maybe from a very personal
perspective. So when we're discussing this, we're also have to be
aware of what message is going out to those communities that in
their own lives have a very dramatic sense of what being
disenfranchised is all about.
When we look at
the wider community within our hemisphere there is also an
important message here. The message as to whether Hispanics that
share 400 or 500 years of heritage, that share a common language,
will be allowed, within this American democracy, to participate
fully in taking a decision and making a decision about their own
self-determination. If the message were one that is negative, I
think that would be taken as a slap in the face to all those that
share with Puerto Rico a long history, a common heritage, that
the United States is not willing to open its democracy to
everyone, but that it has some exclusions, some areas where it is
not fully exercised.
So I think
you're absolutely right in maybe opening up the scope of the
importance and the significance that this issue has, not just for
the 3.8 million U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico to which I think
this is a central concern, but also the position that the United
States will take in terms of its own populations of Hispanic
Americans and also to all those Hispanics that live in the
countries in our hemisphere that share a history and a language
with Puerto Rico throughout our Latin American republics.
Thank you, Governor.
Thank you very much, Senator. Governor Rossello, I too have
experienced the disenfranchisement associated with living and
growing up in a territory. While we were American citizens, of
course, we had other restrictions. We had to actually have an
identification card with a picture, almost like a passport, to
leave Alaska to enter the United States. We paid federal income
In order to feel
good, some of us protested and wrote about representation -- you
know, "Taxation without representation." It made us
feel good, but didn't reduce our tax liability. So I can
appreciate the frustration associated with the resolve on the
issue of self-determination. I'm particularly sensitive to it.
A few questions.
In your opinion, the necessity of Congress becoming involved with
this issue before a clear expression in Puerto Rico of what a
majority of the population wants, either statehood, independence,
or the status quo. You have kind of touched on it.
I'd like you to
go over it very briefly one more time, because what has happened
here, of course, with this House bill, is the plebiscite has
been, all right, you know, here's the congressional action that's
been taken in the House, and these are the choices, it's up to
the other body and ultimately the Congress to dictate which
choice, and then the assumption is that it will become a reality.
And you've had referendums, we had referendums in Alaska. Hawaii
What it does, of
course, it takes the onus off the Congress and the Senate by,
"Well, what is the will of the people?" Now, we've done
a different switch here and some members feel a little
uncomfortable about it.
ROSELLO: I think that was the message we heard in the process
that took place from 1989 to 1991. As a response to that, the
people of Puerto Rico took action. They celebrated a referendum
in 1993. As a result of that referendum, we're in the state that
we are. There's no majority option that has the favor of the
people of Puerto Rico. As a result of that referendum, our
legislature, in 1997, asked Congress to set the stage for a
plebiscite or a referendum that would have valid options before
the people of Puerto Rico.
Senator, I am --
I don't want to over-emphasize this, but for a hundred years,
yes, we've had plebiscites, but never has Congress been in the
process for defining options to the people of Puerto Rico that
are valid. That has been the missing ingredient. In 1993, I
submitted a bill to our legislature that allowed every political
party to define its own formula. I say, in retrospect, that was a
grave mistake. Because in trying to be fair, we essentially were
not fair to the people of Puerto Rico who had presented before
them some options that even history -- the history after that
shows that were not valid, or could not be validated by the
So what we're
saying now, the big difference is that Congress has to be fair to
the people of Puerto Rico by telling them exactly what is valid,
what is not valid, what is possible and what is not possible. You
know I advocate for statehood. But if Congress says here that
statehood is not an option, I want the people of Puerto Rico to
know about that. And so, the big difference is that I don't think
Congress or the Senate can shirk its responsibilities any more.
It is now the
moment, after multiple attempts, all of the people you will hear
here today probably know what each other is going to say. We've
discussed it so much. It is a time for action. And I urge the
Senate not to maybe hide behind excuses that will prevent action.
An action that again has to be a honest message to the people of
Puerto Rico, "If you want self-determination, these are the
valid options. You define them." You might define something
that I don't like for the formula that I propose, but it is --
and I'm saying it up-front, it is the responsibility of Congress
to define validly, to speak honestly, to the people of Puerto
Rico. I don't think it's fair, I don't think it's adequate, to
say, "We will keep discussing ,this for a hundred more
You know, the last time the committee addressed the issue,
Governor, we became entangled in political battles relative to
the party interests as we tried to fashion the definitions, and
you've referred to the difficulty of the definitions. And the
effort then was to try and compliment the three parties on what
they would accept, and we got mired down. And you know, you've
indicated that it's up to the Congress to define the terms.
find that a little ingenuous because, you know, the people have
to be able to express their preference and, you know, our ability
to dictate the terms and conditions of Puerto Rico's
self-determination without a referendum I think is something that
several members have expressed to me a concern, and I've
discussed it personally with you relative to that, but, on the
other hand, you've had them before and nothing's happened. So I
don't mean to suggest that your point of view isn't valid and
your frustrations aren't real, and that Congress does have an
obligation, but that does not eliminate the difficulty associated
with defining the ultimate self-determination of Puerto Rico.
You know, the
devil's always in the details, and the Congress and the Senate
body and this committee certainly don't have divine guidance in
defining what's in the best interests of the people of Puerto
Rico, so I just leave you with that observation, because I think
it puts all of us in a position of, well, you know, how do we
define and be totally objective in a mandate that sets your own
ROSELLO: Well, Senator, I think I recognize the difficulties. But
I'm sure that you were elected not to take out the easy route
from controversial issues, but to really tackle them. The truth
of the matter is that the House process allowed the political
parties to submit their input. And I think the Senate should do
the same. But ultimately, if I came to you with a definition for
statehood that said that Puerto Rico as a state would have four
senators, I'm sure that decision would be easy for you to say,
"No, Puerto Rico --"
Well, if they were all Republicans we might be ...
ROSELLO: Well, that's a new perspective and I'm sure we could
reach an agreement on that.
You think maybe we could arrange that? I don't know (inaudible)
ROSELLO: We could arrange that.
MR. : What I
think is that the proportion -- I think that the proportion of
Senators should be the proportion of the members of the Senate as
they vote on this self-determination bill.
All right, please proceed with your response, Governor. I think
we've pretty well exercised that this is a political issue, as
ROSELLO: Sure, it's a political issue, I think it's valid
that we discuss it. And I think it's something that is not new or
unique for Puerto Rico. When Alaska came in, Senator, you know
that that was a significant part of the discussion, what would be
the future in terms of political parties for Alaska. There was a
deal so that Hawaii could come in with Alaska so that you could
maintain the balance. I must say those that were forecasting at
that time were totally wrong, 180 degrees wrong. And so I think
that that has to be discussed. But I say that maybe we don't have
that ability to be very accurate as to what will happen in the
I do feel that
the political balance will in a large extent depend on how the
political parties address Puerto Rico and address the Hispanic
community. And, to the extent that one or the other political
party appears as to be supportive or one or the other political
party appears not to be supportive, that certainly will have an
impact. So I agree that this is an issue that has to be
discussed, it has to be discussed the fear that some states have
of losing seats to Puerto Rico and the House when Puerto Rico
comes in with a significant six-member delegation.
So yes, these
are issues that we should discuss but, again, bottom line what
I'm saying, these are valid issues, we should discuss them, but
this should not end with a message that we have, "We need
more time to discuss this." We've had an awful long time to
discuss this. The arguments are the same, the issues are the same
for the 37 states that came in after being territories, or on one
or two occasions after being independent republic. Those are the
same issues discussed over and over, and sometime you will have
to take the bull by the horns and decide to take action, and
that's what I'm urging this committee and what I'm urging this
Senate to do.
Thank you very much, Governor. I again want to thank you for
your excellent, again, very powerful presentation, and we will
count on your office and your development bank for assistance in
providing further information and I would excuse you now and call
the next panel and --
ROSELLO: Thank you. Thank you very much.
Carlos, thank you as well.
For the members
of the Governor's party, if they want to watch the balance of the
presentations, we can make arrangements. We have some seating in
the back, and I'm going to ask the staff go out and corral the
Governor's party if he so wishes. We'll proceed now with Panel
Number One that will consist of the balance of the statements
that are to be taken at this workshop. The Honorable Anibal
Acevedo Vila, the President of the Popular Democratic Party, that
is the PDP. And the next gentleman will be a Senator, the
Honorable Ruben Barrios Martinez, Puerto Rican Independence
Party, known as the PIP, and our good friend, the Honorable
Governor Luis Ferre, who represents the New Progressive Party,
the NPP. And ...
We would call on
Representative Acevedo Vila first, the President of the Popular
Democratic Party, and again, I would encourage your statements to
be within the fifteen minute allowable. Please proceed.
MR. ACEVEDO VILA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman,
and good afternoon.
Please identify again, your democratic party represents the
consensus as we know it, of the status quo?
Okay. Not necessarily the status ---
VILA: Not necessarily.
You can elaborate and highlight that a little bit for us.
VILA: Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee.
My name is Anibal Acevedo Vila (phonetic), President of the Pro
Commonwealth Popular Democratic Party. I'm going to summarize my
written statement and ask that it be included in the record
been supported by a majority of the people in all three status
plebiscites, held in 1952, 1967, and most recently, in 1993. The
most recent public polls show -- taken in Puerto Rico from last
year showed 45 percent support for commonwealth and 36
percent for state, and that was last year. Therefore, on the
status issue I speak on behalf of the majority of the people in
Although this is
not a hearing on any specific bill, I must convey to you that the
democratic principles of fairness and inclusion were now adhered
to during the process in the House regarding HR-856, which you
know passed the House by only one vote on March 4th. The problem
with that legislation and also with the Senate counterpart,
S-472, are numerous. Among them, it does not present a level
playing field for choosing among the status options being debated
in Puerto Rico. Second, the definition within this legislation
are not based on the adequate studies in term of the economic and
cultural consequences of a change of status in Puerto Rico, and
third, it does not reflect a proper and just understanding of
what commonwealth status stands for and its potential for further
Both bills are
totally unacceptable to the Popular Democratic Party and the
majority of Puerto Ricans. Both claim to be self-determination
bills. They certainly are not. They are statehood bills disguised
inside a self-determination mask. Senate majority leader, Trent
Lott, has brilliantly summarized the major flaws of HR-856 in a
letter he recently sent to a member of the House in Puerto Rico.
I'm quoting from Senator Lott. "I'm concerned that the
language of HR-856 does not clearly provide a workable option for
the citizens of Puerto Rico. The definition of commonwealth in
the bill will conceivably take away existing rights of Puerto
Ricans, including the guarantee of American citizenship. Further,
the commonwealth definition will in effect return Puerto Rico to
the status of a territory without many of the self-governing
rights clearly afforded Puerto Ricans. Given a choice --"
and I'm quoting from Senator Lott -- "given a choice between
that definition of commonwealth and statehood, Puerto Ricans
would have no real option and the choice will be more one of
statehood versus independence." Clearly, this bill denies
access to the ballot of half of the population in Puerto Rico
that believes in commonwealth.
The last time
this committee entertained this issue, as the chairman has
acknowledged, was back in 1991, when a bill that had the support
of the three political parties in Puerto Rico -- and that's very
important, because there was no controversy when they got to the
definitions at that time -- the three political parties were
supporting that bill. Nevertheless, it was defeated at the
mark-up because of the opposition to statehood. After that, a
local plebiscite was called in 1993 by the Statehood Party -- now
in power. Yet, commonwealth won again, but now they want to
change the rules and said, because there is not a majority, there
was not a mandate for a commonwealth. Having been defeated by the
people in Puerto Rico, statehood has moved to the House and
convinced some members to present a bill crafted to assure a
statehood victory. That bring us today here. We have not had a
response from the Senate on the will of the people freely
expressed in favor of enhanced commonwealth in 1993.
Nevertheless, the House approved, by one vote, a divisive and
coercive bill sponsored by the losers concerning the status issue
in Puerto Rico.
long history shows that full autonomy has been by far the status
formula preferred by the people of Puerto Rico. It was like that
under Spanish ruling back in 1897, one year before the
Spanish-American War. Spain granted the autonomic charter to the
island. Under it, Puerto Rico had full voting rights in the
Spanish parliament, were full-fledged Spanish citizens. Their
charter could not be amended without our consent. There was a
common market where Puerto Rico could devise its own tariff, and
Spanish commercial treaties could not bind Puerto Rico without
its consent. All these political rights were taken away after the
invasion in 1898. The struggle for autonomy did not end, and
In the first
half of this century, the status discussion centered on the
traditional alternative of statehood and independence. In the
late '30s, it was evident that there was a deadlock on the
island, with no clear mandate for any of the traditional
alternatives. Autonomy was again the only way out. Commonwealth
was created as a flexible alternative, appealing to the majority
of the people with elements that make it resemble maintaining
some independence by harmonizing the fact that we are a people, a
nation, with our own identity, history, and culture. With the
preservation of the permanent bond of the U.S. citizenship,
commonwealth represents an alternative to the extremes of
complete integration and total separation. It is this flexibility
under commonwealth that has strengthened our identity as a
distant society while, at the same time, fulfilling our
responsibilities as U.S. citizens. This flexibility has also
nurtured our economic development.
A starting point
for any process of self-determination for Puerto Rico should be
the recognition of our 500 years of existence as a people and the
uniqueness of the present relationship. Public Law 600 was
enacted on July 3rd, 1950, by Congress, authorizing Puerto Rico
to draft and adopt its own constitution, and I quote from the
bill -- from the law, "Fully recognizing the principle of
government by consent, this act is now adopted in the nature of a
compact." The Constitution was approved by the people of
Puerto Rico and it was approved by Congress in Law 447, which
reiterated that it was a compact.
Based on these
actions, United States government made the following solemn
representation to the United States in 1953, and I'm quoting,
"The previous status of Puerto Rico was that of a territory
subject to full authority of Congress of the United States in all
governmental models." The previous constitution of Puerto
Rico was in fact a law of the Congress, which was called an
organic act. Congress only could amend the organic act of Puerto
Rico. The present status of Puerto Rico is that of a people with
a constitution of their own adoption, stemming from their own
authority which only they can alter or amend. The relationship
previously established by a law of Congress which only Congress
could amend have now become a provision of a compact of a
bilateral nature, whose term might be changed only by mutual
On November 27,
1953, the General Assembly of the United Nations approved
Resolution 7488, which specifically declares that under the
compact, and I quote from the United Nations resolution,
"The people of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico have been
invested with attributes of political sovereignty which clearly
identify the status of self-government obtained by the Puerto
Rican peoples as that of an autonomous political entity."
That's the same resolution that has been attacked by the Fidel
Castro government since 1960 in the United Nations.
States promised, and the United Nations acknowledged, that Puerto
Rico was entitled to further develop the autonomy it had just
obtained. Establishment of commonwealth was a significant step on
our quest for greater autonomy but it was not the last stop and
that is why we are here. The current status of Puerto Rico needs
development, not demolishment. Any process of self-determination,
to be valid, must include the aspiration of the majority which
believe in full autonomy and democratic commonwealth. That
development should -- of commonwealth should give the island more
flexibility, with new powers and tools to stimulate economic
development. There is a theory that makes way into the two bills
pending before this Senate, stating that it's not possible to
have a non-colonial bilateral relationship based on a compact
that can be only altered by mutual consent with U.S. citizenship.
That theory is against history, legal precedents, and should be
unacceptable to you.
that full autonomy and U.S. citizenship are not mutually
exclusive concepts. In the case of Puerto Rico, citizenship has
always been the bond for a permanent union entirely disassociated
from statehood. That principle was clearly outlined by President
Taft in 1912, in his state of the union address advocating in
favor of granting U.S. citizen to all Puerto Ricans, and I quote
from his statement. "I believe that the demand for
citizenship is just, but it must be remembered that the demand
must be, and in the minds of most Puerto Ricans, is entirely
disassociated with any thought of statehood. I believe that the
aim to be striven for is the fullest possible allowance of legal
and fiscal self-government with American citizenship as the bond
between us." In other words, a relation analogous to the
present relation between Great Britain and self-governing
colonies of Canada and Australia.
have entered into binding compacts with formerly-dependent
territories, and some stipulate that the citizens of such
territories shall continue to be citizens of the former
administering nation. The United States Constitution is not such
a strangely constricting document that it allows only two
de-colonizing formulas: admission to the Union or independence
without a shared citizenship. It is most difficult to envision
any perceptive court accepting the bizarre argument that the
United States Constitution limits the sharing of U.S. citizenship
besides the members of the Union to dependent people only, thus
condemning the nation to remain as one of the few colonial powers
in the world should such dependent people desires to hold on to
their status as a U.S. citizen.
change the assumption that you can have autonomy and U.S.
citizenship at the same time now would confront Puerto Ricans
with a conscious dilemma having no precedent in American history.
A closer look at Puerto Rico's reality will clearly show --
Maybe if you could kind of summarize a little --
VILA: Okay, yeah.
THE CHAIRMAN: --
bit, because we're trying to -- we might start voting any time,
and I want to make sure everybody is heard from.
VILA: I will summarize, but I would like to make this last point
Sure, go right ahead. Go ahead and finish your point.
VILA: Yeah. Puerto Ricans, when you ask Puerto Ricans which one
is our nation, the majority, the overwhelming majority will say
Puerto Rico. On the latest poll, 62 percent responded that Puerto
Rico was their nation, and only 25 percent said it was the United
States. But in the same poll, when you ask the about the U.S.
citizenship, 75 percent said U.S. citizenship is a critical, is
very important to them.
have a super majority that wants to preserve those values
represented by the existing national identity and U.S.
Someone may say
that's a contradiction. It's not our fault. It was the United
States that invaded Puerto Rico, it was the Congress granted U.S.
citizenship back in 1917, it was Congress that granted
commonwealth back in 1952, so now we have this Puerto Rico.
That's the reality of Puerto Rico. We are a nation, we are a
people, but we cherish and we're proud of our U.S. citizenship.
The only way you can harmonize those two principles is through
commonwealth. That's the reason why autonomy and commonwealth
represents the majority of the people of Puerto Rico. Thank you,
Thank you very much for that statement, very fine statement. I
appreciate -- what we're going to do is we're going to hold
questions until the balance of the panel has been heard from. The
Honorable Ruben Barrios Martinez, please proceed. We welcome you
to the hearing.
MARTINEZ: Thank you, Mr. Chairman and
members of the committee. I have provided the committee with
copies of my written statement, which I request be made part of
the record of these proceedings --
MARTINEZ: The status options and definitions to be offered in a
future referendum constitute the most fundamental issue this
Senate will have to face in any legislation dealing with
U.S./Puerto Rico relations. I will thus address my remarks
directly to that issue, and leave other matters for the question
and answer period.
I will not beat
around the bush. I will go to the point. I am absolutely
convinced that the principal obstacle in this Senate to approval
of status legislation for Puerto Rico is that profound reluctance
of a large number of Senators to enact a bill that would include
the statehood alternative. I fully understand --
MARTINEZ: To enact a bill that would include the statehood
MARTINEZ: Yes. I fully understand this reluctance. I understand
it because I believe that it would be reckless on the part of the
U.S. to attempt incorporation into the Union of a Latin American
nation with its own historical, linguistic, and cultural
identity, and whose primary loyalty is to Puerto Rico, not to the
United States. The U.S. is a multi-national nation state. It's
not a multi-national nation state, nor I believe does it aspire
to be one. "E pluribus unum" is written right there
behind you, and that's what the United States wants. Not a
multi-national nation state, but E pluribus Unum. Simply
statehood, statehood of Puerto Rico entails grave dangers for the
future of the American federation.
MARTINEZ: As a Puerto Rican, furthermore, I cannot conceive
of statehood as a truly decolonizing alternative. The right of
the people of Puerto Rico to rule themselves in their own nation
is an alienable right -- inalienable right, excuse me. For me, as
for hundreds of thousands of Puerto Rican, statehood cannot
eliminate our right to independence. That is to say, our right to
secede from the Union. Is the U.S. willing to risk a Caribbean
Quebec or a tropical Northern Island? It is my contention,
however, that it is precisely those Senators, many of whom I
believe are not here today, who are reluctant to support the
inclusion of statehood and whose opposition to referendum bill
will doom it to failure, the ones who have most to lose by
inaction or postponement. To them I say, the best time to stop
statehood, if it should be stopped, is now. Tomorrow may be too
That is why, as
president of the Independence Party, the party most vehemently
opposed to statehood, firmly believe that a referendum on
statehood should be held as soon as possible. The reasons are
simple and powerful.
First, a refusal
by this Congress, by this Senate in particular, to approve a
federally-sponsored referendum may lead to the Puerto Rican
legislature to enact a local plebiscite law, where the incentives
for truth in advertisement as to the status alternatives may be
lacking. The result of such local plebiscite may very well
confront this Congress next year with a statehood petition
sustained by an artificially large majority.
Second, even if
such a locally-sponsored plebiscite did not materialize this
year, as dependence and federal funds increases in Puerto Rico
and as colonialism continues to generate even more statehooders,
an irrational statehood bandwagon in Puerto Rico will in all
likelihood develop in the not distant future. Such a wave may
then coincide with an equally irrational bandwagon in the United
States, where electoral pandering for the Hispanic vote may
confuse cultural diversity with the promotion of
multi-nationalism. Inaction by the Senate now will stimulate such
developments. The possibility of a statehood petition simply will
not go away. This may be the last clear chance of this Senate to
avoid being overtaken by events. In light of these
considerations, I propose the following guidelines to be followed
in any referendum legislation. These guidelines have been
formulated so that they can be acceptable to all Senators,
particularly those who oppose statehood.
should require what a Washington Post editorial recently called
"a healthy majority." Or better still, what Senator
Lott has called "a substantial consensus." In my
judgment, the moral, historical historical legitimacy of such a
requirement is self-evident.
guideline, a statehood alternative must be accompanied by a clear
expression of a sense of the Senate that before Puerto Rico could
be favorably considered as a state, English will have to become a
true language of common understanding in Puerto Rico.
statehood alternative should also anticipate the economic and
financial criteria that would be applied to determine statehood
for Puerto Rico would constitute an unacceptable burden on the
guideline, the option of colonialism as it appears in the Young
Bill, for example, should be eliminated from any Senate bill.
This commonwealth option, because of its colonial nature, is
demeaning to Puerto Rico and the United States. Moreover, it is
supported by no one in Puerto Rico. Extreme care must be
exercised so that this commonwealth definition that appears in
the House bill is not substituted by another colonial definition.
Only a clearly-defined, separate Puerto Rican sovereignty
alternative will avoid this pitfall. As regards commonwealth,
contrary to what the president of the PDP states, this is not the
moment to waste time or energy in rearranging the deck chairs of
It is true, it
is true, the government of Fidel Castro combats present
commonwealth as colonial. So does the House of Representatives of
the United States, by approving the Young Bill recently.
option of independence must be further strengthened in any bill.
Six, the option
of free association as an intermediate alternate form of separate
sovereignty must be carefully defined and detailed. Under this
option of free association, the possibilities of either dual
citizenship or other analogous reciprocity arrangements regarding
citizenship must be creatively addressed.
It is my
conviction than a plebiscite designed along the lines that I have
suggested will result in a victory for separate sovereignty. That
is, the sum of the goals for independence and those for free
association. Under those conditions, the Puerto Ricans themselves
will say no to statehood and opt for separate sovereignty. Yet,
even if statehood were to prevail by an unhealthy majority, the
Senate will have wisely exercised political foresight by openly
anticipating the criteria with which any pro-statehood vote would
be judged. If such a majority vote for statehood were considered
to be insufficient, a second vote between the two forms of
separate sovereignty -- independence and free association --
could then be held. In any case, the Gordian knot of colonialism
and subordination would have finally been cut. That should be the
goal of both the United States Senate and the Puerto Rican
people. Thank you very much.
Thank you very much. We've been joined by Senator Thomas. Do you
have a statement that you care to make?
No, thank you, I just . . .
We're very pleased to have with us the former governor of Puerto
Rico, the Governor Luis Ferre. We look forward to your
presentation and please proceed, Governor.
GOVERNOR FERRE: Mr. Chairman, members of
the committee, I have submitted a full statement of my remarks
I will then make a summary in order to save some time. And at the
same time, I want to submit a chart, which will go together with
May I ask that you come as close to the microphone as you can,
and move the microphone to you, it'll move.
That's fine. Thank you.
I am -- my name is Luis A. Ferre, I am a former Republican
governor of Puerto Rico, as well as the current state chairman of
the Republican party, as well as the founding chairman of the New
Progressive Party, a coalition created in 1967 for the purpose of
seeking statehood for Puerto Rico. I am, of course, a very young
man, burdened with 94 years of experience.
THE CHAIRMAN: I
should have Senator Strom Thurmond to introduce you.
I have to compete with him.
THE CHAIRMAN: It
would have been our only senior colleague that could have
properly done that. Please proceed, Governor.
Thank you. It is in this last capacity and by delegation of our
party chairman, Governor Rossello, that I have the privilege of
appearing before you today. I wish to congratulate and thank
Chairman Murkowski for so expeditiously scheduling this first
workshop. Puerto Rico's self-determination is a subject of
paramount importance to our great nation. How we handle it can
burnish or soil our luster as the greatest democracy in history.
I address you today as an American, as a Republican, and as a
Puerto Rican. I would --
I was born in
Ponce Puerto Rico in 1904. My life has spanned the 20th century
and virtually the entire history of Puerto Rico and its
relationship to the United States.
Americans have a
great deal to be proud of. In this century, we have perfected the
fairest, most stable and most prosperous democracy in history. We
have the right to approach very careful any process which might
result in the incorporation of another four million citizens as
full partners. Legitimate questions have been raised regarding
the process of self-determination for Puerto Rico. I have the
Are we rushing
into the process? This hardly is the case. Puerto Rico has been a
part of this country for a hundred years. Furthermore, the House
of Representatives has held extensive hearings in Washington and
in Puerto Rico since 1995, and the Senate also has done so. In
this statehood bill, not at all. This bill initiates a process of
self-determination and does nothing more. If the commonwealth
option wins this referendum, nothing changes. If either statehood
or independence win, a lengthy process of confusion(?) is
triggered, only Congress decides it. And under such
circumstances, a change of status will take place.
legislation does not favor statehood. On the contrary. If any
option is favored, it is commonwealth, since that is the status
that prevails if no option wins a majority in the referendum.
There is a clear need for Congress to act. A referendum was held
in Puerto Rico in 1933, in which each party was allowed to define
-- pardon me, 1993 -- in which each party was allowed to define
its own option. Even under these circumstances, which gave an
unfair advantage to commonwealth, less than 50 percent of the
voters supported the status quo; as you will see by this chart,
it's only 48 percent. We have, therefore, a constitutional
crisis in Puerto Rico that can be summarized as follows.
percent of the voters demand changes. Over 95 percent of the
voters, those favoring statehood or commonwealth, favor permanent
union with United States, but do not support the current system.
Clearly, Puerto Rico is no longer being governed with the consent
of the governed. As a territory, Puerto Rico does not have the
authority to fix this problem on its own. For that reason, our
legislature has petitioned Congress to set in motion the
self-determination process that we are discussing here today.
language in Puerto Rico? Contrary to campaign of misinformation
that is underway, the majority of Puerto Ricans are proficient in
English. It is our policy on the island to ensure that everyone
speaks English. In fact, English has been official language of
Puerto Rico since 1902, longer than any other jurisdiction under
the United States.
We developed our
own educational system, and our political institutions gear those
in cooperation into the mainstream of America, retaining those
unique qualities of our cultural identity which would enrich the
quality of life in our nation. As a result, the present
generations of Puerto Ricans are comfortably engaged in athletic,
professional, educational, artistic and political activity in the
50 states. Some have achieved distinction as public servants,
such as Admiral Rivero, former commander in chief of Naval Forces
in Southern Europe, and ambassador to Spain. Admiral Nangas,
former commander of the Mediterranean Fleet, Dr. Antonio Morillo,
former surgeon-general of United States, and Judge Juan
Torruellas, chief judge of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
And all the
while, Puerto Ricans have treasured their association with the
United States, cherished their American citizenship, and loyally
done their duty. A duty which in Puerto Rico meant the highest
rates of volunteer enlistment in our armed forces, the service of
more than 200,000 Puerto Ricans in wars during this century, over
2,000 of our soldiers killed in action, and the award to four of
them of them Congressional Medal of Honor. And I had the honor of
having my grandson participate in the Gulf War.
Puerto Rican are
and always will be Americans. What will statehood cost? Of all
the status options that are before this committee, commonwealth
has proven over a 40-60 year period, that it will be never be
self-sufficient. In fact, over the last ten years the cost of
commonwealth exceeds $64 billion, while new economic studies
which have been submitted to the committee show that statehood
would save the taxpayer between 2.1 and 2.7 billion a year,
and more as the Puerto Rican economy reaches its full growth,
which is expected to be 29 billion by 2025.
question before the American people, therefore, is whether we as
a nation should support the expensive status quo or let the
people of Puerto Rico have the opportunity to consider a new
status that ends this subsidy. What about apportionment? Some
have voiced a concern about which state might lose seats in the
House if Puerto Rico became a state. The answer is, none will.
Nothing in the Constitution prevents the House from increasing
its size to accommodate new members from Puerto Rico. Allow me
now to speak briefly as a Republican.
I know many in
my party are apprehensive about a process that might result in
two Democratic Senators and six representatives. At the risk of
upsetting my Democratic friends let me say Republicans have
nothing to fear. Puerto Rico has had an active Republican party
since 1902. The birthday of the party's founder, Dr. Jose Celso
Barbosa, is an official holiday on the island. Currently,
Republicans hold the balance of power in our legislature, and
among our Mayors and we have come a long way to implement a
Republican agenda, as the governor has explained to you. In the
government we have today, out of the legislature there are 24
members of the -- there are 29 members of the House that are
Republican, and 23 Democrats. In the Senate, there are 14 members
who are Republicans and 13 Democrats. And the mayors, there are
46 municipalities that are Republican and 32 Democrats. So you
see that in Puerto Rico, the Republican party controls the
elected members of the government, and therefore there's no way
to think that there's going to be a Democratic control like some
people think of our delegation in Congress. It will be as, I
imagine, divided between two parties.
With respect to
cost, I've already covered that area. And governing Republicans
hold, as I -- just (inaudible).
Puerto Rico has
always been fertile ground for the Republican party. In Puerto
Rico we Republicans have made historic changes. In conclusion,
let me speak as a Puerto Rican. As an American (inaudible).
What we want is
simply to enjoy all of the rights and privileges of American
citizens while, at the same time, to assure all of the inherent
duties and responsibilities. We just want to be equal under the
law, and we are ready, able and eager to assume those
responsibilities. It is impossible, Mr. Chairman, to expect this
change to come from Puerto Rico. Congress, and only Congress can
properly define the options available to Puerto Rico and put into
place a process of full implementation.
And it is time
to act, Mr. Chairman. We hope 4 million Puerto Rican Americans
and the attention of our nation are now focused on the historic
process that is underway here in Congress. The eyes of the world
will soon follow, as America debates extending the right of
self-determination to 4 million of our citizens after such a long
wait. Congress has steered this republic to extraordinary
accomplishments during our 222 years of increasing greatness. I
have no doubt that it will do the right thing here once again.
And let me tell
you. For a hundred years we've been under the American flag. We
were brought in under the American flag by American troops that
landed in Puerto Rico. We were very friendly to those troops. We
received them with our open arms. There was no shot fired by
Puerto Rican against an American when they came into Puerto Rico
in 19 -- 1898. I know this because having lived so long I
remember exactly stories of all the people who lived through all
this period. So Puerto Ricans were completely decided to be free
of Spain, but they didn't want to be a colony of any other
country. And we were accepted by the Americans to come to Puerto
Rico with open arms because they promised us at that time that we
were going to be equal to them in the enjoyment of the rights of
a republic and in equality, and we expected to become a state of
the union from the very beginning. That is why the Puerto Ricans
have always wanted American citizenship and have all the time
fought to maintain our line of union with the United States.
In 1917, we were
able -- we were given the U.S. citizenship. Since then, we've
been U.S. citizens. But U.S. citizens without the full rights.
And that is all we are now fighting for. Puerto Ricans are U.S.
citizens, but we want them to have all the rights of all the
other citizens. There is no more room in this world for
second-class citizens. There's no more room in this room for
people who are subject to the authority of one body in which
there is no representation from them. We feel that Congress
should now respond to this question and give Puerto Rico the
chance to say which way it wants to have its authority, its
sovereignty. Sovereignty as a state of the union, or sovereignty
as a republic.
intermediate case, which is not subject to the Constitution
acceptance, you will have to decide upon. But we cannot go on
fooling the people of Puerto Rico. I have been fighting the party
that has been now calling for commonwealth for 60 years. Since
1938. I became a Republican, in '38 I came to Washington to
testify before the Senate, against the Tydings Bill for
independence of Puerto Rico, and since then I've been coming back
and back and back to assure that Puerto Rico becomes a state of
the Union. That is what we have been looking for, that is what
the people of Puerto Rico and the majority want to have, and that
is why they want to have American citizenship and there is no
reason why we should try to evade the issue and let the
commonwealth group dominate the election by having -- by
promising something that they cannot deliver.
wants equality. There are 2 million Puerto Ricans in the mainland
who are doing very fine job in many ways. We have to have that
equality in order to be able to enjoy our citizenship and to do
our country the best as we want to do. We have fine people today,
Puerto Rico -- when you compare Puerto Rico in 1898 and Cuba, we
were the same. We started out the same. But we said no, we want
to pick our American citizenship association, the Cubans wanted
independence and they got independence. The citizens wanted
independence and they got independence. A hundred years later,
the experiment has shown who were the wise ones, our grandparents
were the wise ones. They said, "No, we want to continue
under the American --"
Thank you very much, Governor. Your presentation has given us the
knowledge of 60 year of your commitment towards Puerto Rican
self-determination and your particular view relative to
statehood. We're honored to have you with us and are most
appreciative of your statement and your point of view.
questions, gentlemen. First, for Mr. Acevedo Vila, one of the
concerns that we've discussed earlier and it was discussed with
the governor, is the issue of definitions. Which ones do we use.
In your presentation you indicated you didn't like the definition
in the House bill. I understand that there are other factions,
perhaps within your own party who disagree with that definition,
some want a treaty of union, that means different things to
different people, others want something akin to free association.
How do you sort through these alternatives and not become
involved in the internal party politics associated with this
issue, because the definitions could move very broadly, into
virtually any party position.
VILA: Well, the problem with the House bill and the Senate
counterpart is that the premises are unacceptable because the
premises are if you want to keep U.S. citizenship there are only
two alternatives. Either be a colony or a state. And that goes
against history, that goes against legal precedence, and that's
not what the people of Puerto Rico obtained in 1952 and that's
not what they want right now. So once we change the premises and
we accept that having an autonomous commonwealth with U.S.
citizenship as one of the elements of that relationship, we're
willing to come forward and sit down and draft our definition for
development of commonwealth with more powers to the people of
Puerto Rico, especially those directed for more economic
development for the island. But the problem is that we cannot
work with those two bills because the premises are really
are bills to make the decision between statehood and
independence, and you heard my two colleagues here basically
saying that. That the alternatives should be statehood and
independence only. So if there is the political will from this
committee to work out a real self-determination process where you
recognize that you can have a fully autonomous and democratic
commonwealth, I can assure you that my party will be the part of
that process, and I can assure you that we're going to win that
plebiscite. Because that's what the people of Puerto Rico wants,
that's what really fit its reality, its aspirations. You know,
there is not commitment here with statehood. You have heard
everybody saying that they are not asking you to make a
commitment with statehood. They just want to put on the ballot(?)
their aspiration for statehood. We're asking for the same. To put
on the ballot our aspiration for a fully autonomous and fully
democratic commonwealth, and the problem with the bills is that
there's no space for us on that, for that alternative.
Looking at the past referendum that we've seen in Puerto Rico,
there's been a decline in the percentage for the current status,
in my reading. What do you see as the reason for that decline? Or
do you acknowledge that there is a decline?
VILA: A decline for commonwealth?
VILA: Two main reasons. The first one, that plebiscite was called
by the statehooders, they established the rules of that, so they
decided the best moment for them and we beat them. But secondly,
I have to be honest. Because United States have not fulfilled its
commitment with Puerto Rico to fully develop commonwealth. If we
get a fully democratic and fully autonomous commonwealth, I can
assure you that it will get the support of the vast majority of
the people, because it's the only alternative that can harmonize
those two principles I was discussing before, the fact that we
are a people with our own history and own culture and our own
identity but, at the same time, that we cherish U.S. citizenship.
The only way you
can harmonize that is through commonwealth and its development,
but it has been, you know, we had a plebiscite in '67, nothing
happened in Congress. We had a plebiscite in 1993, nothing
happened. We have the attempt back in 1991, nothing happened. And
unless we get that commitment from Congress that we can develop
commonwealth to its fullest potential, which goes with what's
happening in the world. You know, there are two trends that you
see in Europe and all around the world, first is the
reaffirmation of nationalities. You have it in Canada, you have
it in the former Yugoslavia, you have it in former Soviet Union,
but at the same time economic and political inter-dependence. And
that's what we have -- we want to develop through commonwealth.
Well, we've heard, time and time again, the reflection on the
referendum and nothing happens but, you know, I would remind you
that in many cases states have expended 30 years, I think in the
case of Alaska in the process, referendums have been kind of an
investment in the future, and so I don't necessarily believe in
discounting the merits of a referendum because that's an
expression of the views of the people, as opposed to hybrid that
we have before us here, which puts more of the obligation on
Congress, which is neither good or bad but it's just a reality
that some members don't feel very comfortable with, and that's
evidenced by I think many members who simply would not like to
address the question or necessarily see it resolved for various
reasons, some of which may be a lack of sensitivity, there's a
political concern, there's the language issue, and just various
others that I think can only be addressed and resolved through a
process of communication and understanding, which is the point of
this workshop today, and I think one of the hopefully lasting
contributions of the Senate process.
Let me briefly
-- I just have two more questions, but
VILA: May I make a comment on --
VILA: I want to make sure we want a process. We are for
self-determination. The process that was discussed in this
committee back in 1989 was under the leadership of our party. We
want a process, but we want a fair process. And I agree with you,
we have won some plebiscites, we haven't get what we want but
we're going to keep fighting for what we want. But when -- and
you make the analogy with Alaska and I heard the governor saying
the same thing in some way, Luis Ferre, but there's -- you know,
they have never won a plebiscite. That's very important for you
to understand. Statehood has never won a plebiscite. We are the
one who's been winning. So in a way it's our struggle, the one
that has to be heard here in Congress.
You've made your point very well. Although it's getting closer
The question --
makes a race. Berrios Martinez. Relative to the insular case,
essentially what we've done is put Puerto Rico and the
territories in limbo until Congress decides either to dispose of
the territory, as we did with the Philippines, where they
proceeded with their independence, or extend the Constitution to
prepare the territory for eventual statehood. To what extent do
you see the current debate in Puerto Rico being a product of
Congress not having decided which way federal policy should go?
MARTINEZ: To a very large extent. Congress has, throughout this
century, adopted a policy of persecution against independence
forces and of dependence of Puerto Rico on welfare payments that
makes inevitable the yearning for participation in a political
body which determines how many food coupons we have, and that
guarantees that we're not persecuted for political beliefs since
we're not for independence. That's the logic of many people in
Puerto Rico. So Congress, because of geopolitical reasons, have
always during the century maintained a colonial status in Puerto
Rico under different names.
Now, you cannot
square the circle. You cannot make a colony a non-colony. You are
either a colony or a territory or you are not. They are ways to
get away from that juridically even if not sociologically or
politically, statehood might be a juridical solution to that
problem. But from the separate sovereignty point of view there is
independence and there is also free association. To insist that
the present commonwealth is a satisfactory way out of statehood
is to avoid the whole issue. The present commonwealth is the
problem. Besides, it breeds statehooders. So inevitably it will
lead to a statehood position. So therefore, so therefore Congress
better take action soon. Soon. I mean soon, especially those who
oppose statehood, because if not then we'll only have other ways
out which nobody wants. And then people would be drawn into
syndromes which we don't to be drawn into.
That's why I
mentioned Northern Ireland, that's why I mentioned Quebec. Let's
face the issue and let's solve the issue. And when we solve the
issue, we won't have a colonial problem any more, but you can't
beat around the bush of colonialism any more. You know, the only
thing colonialism Puerto Rico do is like the man who's destined
to the electric chair. He prays so the lights go off. That's what
they're praying for, for this Congress not to do anything about
it, so they may win the next election. But ultimately they'll
have to be converted into statehooders if they want to vie for
power in Puerto Rico. The only way to alter that relationship is
to alter the conditions which have made out of Puerto Rico a
colony on the way to statehood. The United States has to ask
itself whether it wants Puerto Rico on the way to statehood or
not. For my part, I will tell you that I will always struggle for
independence, under colonialism, under statehood, or under
heaven's authority, I will always struggle for independence.
Thank you very much. You've left us with an interesting
relative to your statement that the administration of Puerto Rico
would increase net federal revenues -- of course, we've got
others who claim just the opposite -- wouldn't it make sense for
Congress to consider the extension of the Internal Revenue Laws
to Puerto Rico as well as federal programs with whatever
modifications may be made so that the fiscal cost issue is no
longer significant, because I've heard from members a
recollection that at one time a resident commissioner published a
document entitled, "Statehood is for the Poor,"
inasmuch as our sensitivity is for those unfortunate, the
political association of using poor to influence them under the
implication that they would receive welfare benefits and so forth
that might not be -- self-determination as something that I think
concern many members.
Well, I think there has been a misunderstanding of what the
present commissioner has said. But statehood is for the poor,
because statehood is a thing that gets you out of being poor. It
gets you out of being poor by giving you the tools to work
yourself out. It is not by giving you give-outs. That is the
error that has taken place. Puerto Rico has been used by the
government of the gentlemen who now represent the minority to
have to live in handouts. And when you live on handouts, you
don't learn how to work yourself.
Now, we feel
that Puerto Rico should not be dependent on handouts, but should
be given the tools that other states have had to grow. Other
states have had what tools? They are sovereign, because they're
part of Congress, and being part of Congress then they can see
that the legislation that is prepared will be able to give Puerto
Rico the opportunity to grow into a more prosperous community.
The Puerto Ricans have shown they are hard working. We have
learned -- we have more university students than France, for
example. Because Puerto Rico has been very much interested in
educating our youth. But Puerto Rico needs the tools of having
two Senators and six members of the House and be able to vote for
the president so as to stimulate its economy.
Now, let me tell
you why I'm saying this, and I'm going to make a joke. In
1950-something, we had -- I came in 1938 to testify before the
status commission to object reduction of our sugar quotas in
order to benefit Cuba. And at that time I met Ben Dorfman, who
was the economist -- chairman of the commission. And he's, after
the meeting I had a chance to meet with him, and he said,
"Puerto Rico cannot bear the cost of statehood. It will
never be able to bear the cost of statehood."
"You're wrong. If we're given the opportunity to do our own
job, do our own work, wit the tools that other states have, we
will. And I'm going to tell you one thing, Mr. Dorfman, you come
to me to my home and I'll show you a farm where I have ten cows
and one bull. And you," I said, I said, "You will --
and I will ask you. How many units do I have there? And you, if
you are an accountant, you'll say, well you have eleven
units." I said, "No, we have 21. I have ten cows, ten
calves, and one bull." That is the economist who believes
that economy can grow. It doesn't have to depend strictly on the
arithmetical sum. And that is how Puerto Rico can grow.
The state of the
union grew the same way. For example, New York was not a rich
state originally. New York became a rich state when the Erie
Canal was opened. The Erie Canal, they diverted all the flow of
goods from the lakes through New York. So Puerto Rico has many
opportunities to grow with new ideas, with new -- with developing
its climate as a tourist center, and many more things that we
have not been developing because we were given the chance to have
a few jobs through the 1936 legislation which helped the big
investor from the mainland in Puerto Rico, they made a lot of
profit but they didn't help Puerto Rico to develop itself. So now
we want to stop that, we want to have Puerto Rico to have the
tools that New York has, that Florida has, that Alaska has to
develop itself, and that's the way we look at it.
Thank you very much, Governor. I'm going to turn the committee
chair over to Senator Craig and the order of Senators for
questioning for the balance of the agenda would be Senator Craig,
Senator Graham, and Senator Thomas, and I'm going to have to
excuse myself, gentlemen. I want to thank you for your very
candid statements of your individual positions, and I think that
we have accomplished what we intended to do here, and that's have
a better understanding of the points of view of the three party
officials as well as your governor.
Mr. Chairman, before you --
before you leave, first I would like to echo the comments that
have been made by several of the participants already of
appreciation of your holding this workshop, which I think has
been very constructive and has helped to illuminate some of the
important issues surrounding this issue. I would encourage you to
continue this process in an expeditious manner so that we will be
able to make a decision and will not be consigned to those poor
souls who make decisions by indecision. If this process is going
to reach a result that would allow the people of Puerto Rico to
have a voice during this very significant one hundredth
anniversary year, we will have to make that opportunity possible
on a reasonably early date, and so I would urge that we continue
the momentum of this workshop towards that goal of an early
determination, yes or no, but no decision by indecision.
Thank you, Senator.
Mr. Chairman, thank you very much. Why don't I turn back to
Senator Graham for any questions he might have at this time.
Thank you very much, Senator. I was listening to a man that I
have admired greatly and have had the privilege to work closely
with some of his relatives who came to my State of Florida. I was
reminded that it was in 1513 that Ponce de Leon left Puerto Rico,
looking for the Fountain of Youth. He didn't find the Fountain of
Youth, he did find Florida --
No, he found -- he discovered the United States, and he was a
Puerto Rican who discovered the United States. It was a Puerto
And I might say that we point out to some of our friends from
Massachusetts that it was the Ponce de Leon Welcome Wagon that
greeted the Puritans when they arrived -
But I believe that the Fountain of Youth is in existence in
Puerto Rico, and we are very honored and benefited to have
Governor Ferre share his sense of history and his perspective of
the future with such eloquence.
I would like to
ask what I sense is maybe a defining difference in this
legislation. As I understood Governor Rossello, he said that he
felt that the definitions of the options that the people of
Puerto Rico should have before them should be those definitions
that this Congress was in fact prepared to grant to the people of
Puerto Rico. He said that if the Congress was not willing to
grant statehood, we should not make that one of the options.
your comments, Mr. Acevedo, as saying that you think the
definitions ought to be aspirational, what the people of Puerto
Rico would like the alternatives to be or what the political
parties who represent various factions within
would like the definitions to be. Have I properly understood a
difference in how we should approach the questions of how to
present the options and define those options?
VILA: With all due respect, no. My comment was made with regard
to the two bills pending here. The two bills pending are not
self-executing bills. And you have heard many people here, and
even some members, saying this is not a statehood bill, we just
want to give the opportunity to the people of Puerto Rico, but
Congress can reject statehood after it wins down in Puerto Rico.
So then it's just an aspiration. And I'm saying you should give
the same treatment to commonwealth. Or future commonwealth. The
I'm for the
self-executing bill. I don't have any problem with that. That was
the process that was started back in 1989 to make a
self-executing bill, but I bet you won't have the votes because
of the statehood option. But we don't have any problems to have
it self-executing bill and put up in there the development of
commonwealth, a new commonwealth for the future, put over there
statehood, and put over there independence. So when the governor
said that only that that Congress is willing to give should be
put on the ballot, he's not talking about these two bills pending
here. That's the double-talk. You know.
They say that
sometimes but then, when somebody said, "Well, I'm against
statehood," they said, "Well, just give us the
opportunity to vote and then you can vote against statehood when
a petition formally comes, so you have to make a decision."
Are there aspirations or is that a commitment from Congress. If
it's a commitment, make it self-executing. We don't have any
problem with that.
Well, I might say my own feeling is the decision that I want to
make, and I would urge my colleagues to make, is that we are
prepared to give to the people of Puerto Rico the opportunity to
decide their political future. And that we accept the legal and
moral responsibility of being prepared to execute on whatever we
have given the people of Puerto Rico the opportunity to select as
their political future. So I think it's important that we define
each of the options, whether they be one, two, three or more, in
a form that we are prepared, legally and morally, to fulfill. And
that to me should be the test of how we define what the options
that will be made available to the people of Puerto Rico should
VILA: I fully agree with you, but then that means that everyone
voting for this bill in a way is voting for statehood eventually.
No, well, or independence.
VILA: Or independence or --
Or for a continuation --
VILA: Or a new commonwealth, I agree with you.
Or continuation of the commonwealth relationship as the Congress
defines that relationship to be.
VILA: I fully agree with you and that's what we're asking for.
Now, do you accept the starting point that I have just stated,
which is that what we are essentially proposing to do here is to
give to the people of Puerto Rico the opportunity to decide their
political future, and we as the representatives of the current 50
states of the United States are saying that we will execute as
the people of Puerto Rico indicated is their desire. Do you
support that principle of self-determination followed by faithful
VILA: If you provide for self-execution, it will have no chance
of passing the U.S. House --
I'm not proposing the path today that was tried so ably a few
years ago by our former colleague, Bennett Johnson and others,
that there be a fully self-executing bill. But I'm saying that
the linkage of execution is one of legal and moral obligation,
that we should not engage in a fraud and tell the people of
Puerto Rico, "You can vote on these options but if you vote
for option X or Y, we are going to disregard your vote and not
VILA: If the definitions are correctly defined, the answer to
your question is yes. The problem is with the definitions. For
example, you have to tell the whole truth regarding statehood,
what it means to you. You have to tell the whole truth regarding
independence, what it means to you. And you will have to tell the
whole truth regarding commonwealth. And then the matter starts
getting complicated because the commonwealth people have a
problem with the sovereignty notion. They insist that the
commonwealth as it is now is not a territory nor is it colonial.
The House of Representatives, together with the whole world and
President Fidel Castro and myself, insist that it is a territory
under the sovereignty of the United States, so that's the first
question somebody here must ask the PPD. Are we speaking about
Puerto Rican sovereignty or American sovereignty when you define
commonwealth or whatever name you want to tag on it. That's the
question that should be asked.
Once that --
once that question is asked, then we can solve the problem the
way you pose. And I hope the question is asked starting today,
because if not, we'll be prolonging this issue as you asked the
chairman not to do, and then we'll be hoping -- some will be
hoping that the lights will go off so we won't be electrocuted in
the electric chair. See? And we have to avoid that. We have to
face this issue. We've been discussing it for years and years,
for a hundred years, but then we have to come to gripes with the
problem and resolve the issue of sovereignty. That's why under
separate sovereignty option or the Puerto Rican national
sovereignty option, however you want to call it, you have two
alternatives, independence and something different. It's called
people in Puerto Rico are starting to promote within the Popular
Democratic Party, because they realize that the days of the
colony are over, even though they insist it is not a colony, but
it is and everybody in the world knows it is. It's like the old
story of the king that was naked. He said, "Look what
beautiful clothes I have," and everybody knew he was naked.
It's about time to stop that -- it's a hundred years of bull, and
you have to stop a hundred years of bull.
I was referring
to Governor Ferre's -- the ten cows and one bull, it's enough
bull. That's what I mean.
(Dias): One bull
is usually enough.
Mr. Chairman, one last question. The suggestion was made, and I
read the Washington Post editorial that made the same, that a
majority vote, 50 percent plus 1, would not be a sufficient
expression of opinion to alter the current relationship between
the United States and Puerto Rico. I would be interested in your
comments as to what numerical statement do you think would be
sufficient to change the status quo of relationship between the
United States and Puerto Rico, whatever that change might be.
VILA: The question is addressed to me. If the alternative that
wins is separate sovereignty, either under independence or free
associated states, or some of both, then there's an inalienable
right to independence. That's a right of the Puerto Rican people.
Once the Puerto Rican people express that right, the United
States is bound to obey with 51 percent. But, of course, if what
you're going to enter is into a marriage or something worse than
a marriage, then you have to have the acceptance of both parties.
And then the
United States logically will ask, as the Washington Post asked
for, a healthy majority or for a general consensus, because that
has been the rule, more or less, historically in the United
States. If you want to join the family, we better make sure you
don't want to leave the day after tomorrow then things are not so
good as they are today. So you will have to pick a number. I
could make suggestions, but it will have to be a healthy majority
or a general consensus, like Senator Lott said. What number would
Well, you can
define it through sense of Congress resolution in the bill of law
itself, but you will have to --- but I'm sure you won't accept
51 percent. I'm sure Puerto Rico will not come into the U.S.
with a 51 percent margin, because the United States would have to
be out of their minds to accept a nation, a Latin American nation
who are 49 percent of the people are against statehood. You
fought the Civil War once, you don't want to go through that
again. So it's definitely in your best interests to ask for a
healthy or a substantial consensus.
Governor Ferre, do you have any comments as to what would
represent a sufficient expression of opinion by the people of
Puerto Rico to warrant an alteration of the current political
relationship with the United States?
Well, I think that the people of Puerto Rico have been trained in
these one hundred years to look forward to becoming an integral
part of the United States on an equal footing with the rest of
the nation. And that is our position. We think that Puerto Rico
can afford statehood. Statehood is not expensive. Statehood is
simply the enjoyment of sovereignty and freedom. And anything
that stops freedom is bad. Anything that helps freedom is good.
That's the way we look at it. We're going to be free when we are
a state of the Union. As a community, of course. We are free as
citizens. But as a community, we are going to be free when we are
a state of the Union, and that's what we're looking for.
Being free as a
state of the Union, then we will be able to stimulate our economy
with all the resources that come with the freedom to think and to
Senator, thank you very much. Gentlemen, I have enjoyed a great
deal your testimony and your reactions, and I mean that most
sincerely. Because Mr. Martinez, if he were an Idahoan, I would
say, "Gee, I find that very emotion out in my state."
Even though we've been a state for over a hundred years, I still
have a few out there that would say, "Let's be
independent." And mean it. But also recognize the tremendous
value they have in their citizenship.
VILA: You want me to --
No, not really. And I don't mean that critical at all by my
reaction, just simply to say that, you know, in a nation of free
people, freedom and independence is innate. And we don't like
controls and we don't like structures. But we also find great
security in them at a time when we need security. And so it's
always in the eye of the beholder, and in my citizens of the
State of Idaho, who are U.S. citizens like you, there are a good
many that say, "Let's become an independent nation."4
In fact, that issue is not foreign at all to us. We're only a
hundred years into this business of being a state, under what
you've mentioned. And so I'm simply saying I'm not surprised by
truly a novice to the issue, compared to you. And your comments
are extremely valuable for the committee. And I thank you for
being here and for giving those.
MR. VILA, I can
and will, for only briefly, take issue with you. You quote from a
letter to a Mr. Rodriguez from our majority leader, in your
opening statement. I'm a part of the leadership team here in the
Senate, and Trent Lott is a good friend and we don't always agree
and I don't agree with some of this statements in the letter. And
here is a three and a half page explanation that's going to him
that quotes case law and fact, and there are some facts here that
cannot be denied.
I have the
privilege of being a citizen as a result of our Constitution
because my state was a state before I was born. All of you are
citizens by law, not by Constitution. You are citizens by a
permissive act of the Congress of the United States. We could not
take your citizenship away from you once you became that. We
could choose, if you became independent, to say from this day
forward children or grandchildren yet unborn would no longer be
citizens, and that would be a reality. And we have that power.
But we do not have the power, and I think the Constitution is
rather clear, to deny to those who are now citizens that they
would someday in the future be non-citizens. I think that's a
reality, and I think that the case law and the interpretation of
law clearly bears that out. And that would not be the intent of
this Congress or any future Congress.
matter how hard you try to define what S-472 is or is not, it is
not a statehood bill.
Now, while we
can agree or disagree on definitions, and that's the job of this
committee to sort those out and clarify them if there are
misinterpretations that need to be interpreted in a different
way, or language that needs to be clarified so that there are no
misinterpretations, but what we are talking about is a process, a
relatively lengthy process, in which certain things come forward
and go forward. And one of them is a prescription of those kinds
of things that Puerto Ricans would have to accept or could deny.
Even after a vote for statehood, if it were to occur. And a
majority finally said, "We want statehood." That does
not mean that statehood is automatic or would be automatic. It
means that a process would go forward and this Congress, and I
humbly must say I have the power to prescribe what the
prescription is. And the walk begins. I know. We just went
through a centennial in my state and I reviewed all of the
procedure and the law under which Idaho became a state. It was
not automatic. We had to walk the walk, and the old phrase goes,
"Talk the talk."
And in the end,
and in the end, Congress could deny us that right, or we could
have denied it to ourselves if we had chosen not to be. Now,
that's the reality of the process, and it's gone on for a long
while. And while I understand the great emotion and the great
appreciation for differences, what cannot happen here is a
misinterpretation of a constitutional process. Because the
Constitution will bear itself out. And I can't shape the
Constitution. I can appreciate a frustration about commonwealth,
because you are a territory. It was legislative action that
created the uniqueness --
reality of the law. And whether this Congress and this country
has lived up to the prescription with the legislation prescribed
a state of being under territorial status, which is the
constitutional pinning, which was commonwealth, then that's
reality and we can all debate that.
What we probably
can't get to is something new or different, something rarefied
that is yet to be defined or something that is creative beyond
where this country has never gone before. And I suspect that is
something that is near impossible to do.
While I am
willing to work with all Puerto Ricans to accomplish a process
that is clear and definable, in the end it will not be Puerto
Ricans that say, "This is the way we will accept the
process." It is the Congress. That's reality. To gain 51
votes in the Senate, is to gain votes based on what the Senate of
the United States will accept the process to be, as it was true
in the House.
And that means,
if we're smart, and I trust we are, then we'll work very closely
with you to get that done. And then, if it is fair, a reasonable
process will go forward in which Puerto Ricans can make informed
and appropriate decisions. That's my goal. And I believe that's
the goal of the legislation. And I would hope we could accomplish
that as we work this issue through. But I thank all of you a
great deal --
VILA: Senator --
VILA: May I react?
SENATOR CRAIG: I
will ask -- I will certainly allow you to respond, but I must ask
your brevity because I've got to get to another meeting in five
VILA: Okay. With regard to your statement on citizenship, you
have said that we cannot be deprived of the citizenship we have
right now. That under independence Congress can decide whether or
not the next generation will no longer be U.S. citizens. I don't
have any problem with that. The problem is that on HR-856 it
implies that under commonwealth the next generation can be
deprived of U.S. citizenship. So apparently we are in agreement
on that issue. And when I make the statement --
VILA: -- about --
Let me suggest this --
VILA: And when I make the statement about the citizen --
It implies that it's constitutionally wrong. And therefore it
wouldn't bear up.
VILA: But we have to clarify, because that's what
SENATOR CRAIG: I
VILA: -- goes down there.
There will be no dispute in that as there is a frustration there.
VILA: So on that issue I was making reference to the --
VILA: -- to the House bill. Your bill says nothing about
citizenship, and I think that's an issue has to be addressed and
I understand maybe we're going to have a workshop on that on that
And then with
regard to what happened in 1952, we believe that Congress offer a
compact to the people of Puerto Rico and it was accepted. I have
the case law cited on by brief. But we don't want this process to
be a trial on what happened in 1952. We want to look to the
SENATOR CRAIG: I
VILA: And we think it's possible to have a relationship based on
the will of the people of Puerto Rico, a relationship of our
close association with the United States, with U.S. citizenship
as a bond that has not to be under the territorial clause. That's
our belief, that's the belief of our people, that what we want --
we don't want colonialism. That's the reason I - statement.
Nobody is for the definition of commonwealth that is on that
bill. Because that's colonialism. We're against it. We're not for
that. But we firmly believe that we can craft a definition for
the future of our new commonwealth, enhanced commonwealth, fully
democratic commonwealth, with those elements I have been
mentioning in term of recognizing that the ultimate power to
enter into this relationship resides on the people of Puerto
Rico. And that we can get into this special relationship with
U.S. citizenship as one of the bonds for our relation. That's
what we are asking for. We don't want a trial on the 1952
process, but on the other hand, if we see something that goes
against our belief --
SENATOR CRAIG: I
don't anticipate that we'll have a trial on the 1952 process,
Yes. Mr. Martinez.
MARTINEZ: I was waiting for just one word, sovereignty, but it
wasn't mentioned. But I'll go ahead and say what I want to --
VILA: May I --
MARTINEZ: If you define --
Well, let me suggest that I believe my State of Idaho is a
sovereign state amongst a group of sovereign states that form a
Senator, I was -- all right, Senator. I think there is a very big
difference which I must point out for the record between Idaho,
Nebraska, with all due respect, and Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is a
Latin American nation. Statehood is for Americans, whether they
live in Idaho or Nebraska. The difference between Nebraska and
Idaho --- it might be great, but it is in the order of Coca Cola
and Pepsi Cola, they belong to the same grid. Puerto Ricans are
Puerto Rican nationals in the historical, political sense of that
word. And when you go into the Puerto Rican issue you cannot
judge the Puerto Rican issue as if you were dealing with Idahoans
or Ohians. It's with Latin Americans who live in Puerto Rico who
happen to be, by imposition, American citizens. It's a different
nation. And you are not a nation of nations, but E pluribus Unum,
and that difference should be borne in mind. And we don't want
sovereignty like Idaho, we want sovereignty like a sovereign
republic. Not like Idaho, which is a residuary sovereignty or
much less a theoretical bull- sovereignty of commonwealth.
Well, I thank you very much for that. Maybe I should not have
compared you with an Idahoan but with a New Mexican.
May I remark --
That's not Coca Cola, that's not --
No. No, no. Your comparison with Nebraska and Idaho is a valid
one. But I must tell you that if I were a Senator serving from
the State of New Mexico I would not be elected in New Mexico
because I don't speak Spanish.
MR. Berrios: But
New Mexico --
And that's the character and the uniqueness of what was once a
But, New Mexico is Dr. Pepper. It's a beverage also.
Oh, all right. Okay.
MR. Berrios: We
are so different.
Maybe I'll let you win this debate. Yes, Governor.
What I wanted to mention, Mr. Senator, is that we heard the words
of our good colleague, Mr. Barrios, but with all that eloquence
that he can use he has not convinced more than 4 percent of
Puerto Ricans to be independent.
So you can see
that the importance is who have the vote and the vote is of those
who want to continue to be part of the United States.
With the help of U.S. troops and the FBI, it's easy to win an
election. But to get 4 percent is a miracle.
Governor, I can read and I can count, and I had already noted the
Of course, Mr. Senator, what I would like to just mention is that
the beauty of our democracy is that after we become a state of
the Union, my colleague can continue to talk about independence.
Sure. Well, thank you all very much. The privilege of being
chairman is that I get the last word. And I will do that by
thanking you all, and especially the panel, for your
forthrightness and your concerns, and let me say that this
workshop stands adjourned, the record will remain open for two
weeks for any additional material that the participants may want
to make a part of the record.
Thank you all
very much for attending.
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