Thursday, May 6,1999
9:30 a.m. - SH-216

Hearing To Consider The Results Of The December 1998 Puerto Rico Political Status Plebiscite

The Honorable Frank H. Murkowski (R-AK), Chairman

The Honorable Pedro Rosselló, Governor of Puerto Rico


The Honorable Aníbal Acevedo-Vilá, President, Popular Democratic Party (PDP)

The Honorable Rubén Berrios Martínez, President Puerto Rico Independence Party (PIP)

Luis Vega-Ramos, President PROELA

Zoraida F. Fonalledas, New Progressive Party (NPP)

Opening Statement of The Honorable Frank H. Murkowski (R-AK), Chairman

The Governor is here to present the results of the plebiscite.

Representatives of the three political parties and the organization certified to represent Free Association are here to discuss the results.

This is not a hearing to discuss the pros and cons of any individual status.

We have an obligation to our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico to assist them in their debate over political status without dictating how to proceed or unfairly limiting their aspirations.

I remember the debates in Alaska over status and the frustration we felt when it appeared that Washington didn't care what we thought or what we wanted.

That will not happen in Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, or the Northern Mariana Islands while I am Chairman.

It does not matter whether the subject is the Constitutional issues of status in Puerto Rico or the control of an exotic species in Guam. I intend to see that this Committee, this Congress, and the Administration pays attention to the needs and legitimate aspirations of our fellow citizens.

A locally conducted plebiscite on future political status is one of the most important exercises of local self-government and popular democracy. It deserves our attention.

I am interested in knowing what occurred in Puerto Rico and why.

I am also interested in knowing what each of the witnesses believes the next step should be and how we can be of assistance without becoming involved in the internal politics of Puerto Rico between or within the various political parties and organizations.

Given that next year is a general election at the federal level and in Puerto Rico, I am not inclined to confuse those debates with status nor to subject the very important issues involved in status to election politics. If particular issues or questions could be resolved, or at least illuminated, through a workshop or other forum, I am willing to entertain suggestions.

I do want to congratulate the residents of Puerto Rico who participated in the plebiscite. As an historical note and by way of comparison, when Alaska went to the polls in 1946 on the issue of status, less than 17,000 persons participated - about 23% of our population at that time. In this plebiscite, 7 1% of the eligible voters participated - about 40% of the population. 7 1 % of the eligible voters turned out. However each of the status advocates may interpret the results, the voter turnout in this plebiscite and others, and in the general elections in Puerto Rico, sets an example of participatory democracy for the rest of this nation.

As I stated, this hearing is not on the merits or demerits of individual status options and I would encourage Members and witnesses to focus on the plebiscite itself and this very -important exercise of local self-government.

Statement of The Honorable Pedro Rosselló, Governor of Puerto Rico

Mr. Chairman, and other distinguished members of the United States Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources:

MY NAME IS PEDRO ROSSELLÓ. Since 1993, 1 have been Governor of Puerto Rico. As Governor, I last appeared before this Committee on April 2, 1998, during a workshop on The United States-Puerto Rico Political Status Act.

Many of you will recall that the chief Senate sponsor of that bill was the Honorable Larry Craig of this Committee, and that a companion measure had been approved by the House of Representatives on March 4, 1998.

Many of you will likewise recall that, during the 105th Congress, The United States-Puerto Rico Political Status Act never emerged from this Committee nor reached the Senate floor.

That omission had the effect of aborting an initiative which had come closer than any before it to laying a firm, fair foundation for the resolution of a century-old American dilemma.

It is an American dilemma to which this Committee has devoted a prodigious amount of time - especially during the past ten years.

It was exactly ten years ago that the leaders of all three Puerto Rico political parties issued a unanimous appeal to The White House and Congress. Those political leaders requested substantive action that would permit the people of Puerto Rico to make an informed decision on our ultimate civic destiny.

This Committee -- under the leadership of then-Chairman J. Bennett Johnston Jr. of Louisiana and then-Ranking Republican James A. McClure of Idaho -- grappled earnestly with that complex topic for the better part of two years.

Although no legislation emerged from those diligent efforts, the endeavor definitely did help set the stage for the unprecedentedly constructive Puerto Rico status bill that the House passed last year as H.R. 856.

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, therefore, has made a very significant contribution to the arduous Congressional process of addressing and surmounting the challenges posed by what has accurately and succinctly been described as "American democracy's unfinished business."

And today, Mr. Chairman, I am grateful to you and to the Committee for building upon that legacy by holding this hearing. In SPEAKING As GOVERNOR, I must commence my presentation by placing the December 13, 1998 Puerto Rico political status plebiscite within its proper historical context.

When I first stood for election to the governorship, in 1992, the tripartite status initiative of 1989 through 1991 was fresh in the collective memory of the Puerto Rican people. Moreover, our voters had not been formally consulted on political status since 1967.

Accordingly, I promised that -- if elected -- I would ask our Legislative Assembly to take immediate action on a status-plebiscite bill.

And so it was that we held a plebiscite in 1993.

However, that venture turned out to be futile in two important respects.

First, and most obviously, it proved futile because no political status option polled an absolute majority of the votes; therefore, it failed to satisfy the fundamental democratic precept regarding "government by consent of the governed."

But there was a second futility factor, as well; a factor that was more subtle than the first, but no less important. Indeed, had it not been for this second factor, there probably would have been an absolute-majority winner.

Factor #2 entered the picture because, in a good-faith attempt to preserve the unanimous consensus that had been instrumental in launching the 1989 self - determination quest, my administration made a point of inviting Puerto Rico's three political parties to define for themselves the political status options that they would endorse in our 1993 plebiscite.

Regrettably, that good-faith gesture resulted in the inclusion on the ballot of a "commonwealth" definition that was utterly unrealistic. And when I say "utterly unrealistic," I do so in the context of parameters that this very Committee clearly stipulated during its extensive examination of the subject from 1989 through 1991.

Undaunted by that Congressional record, the proponents of 66commonwealth" campaigned in 1993 on behalf of a definition which they literally proclaimed was a "best-of-two-worlds" solution to the status dilemma; a solution that would have imbued Puerto Rico with many of the benefits of U.S. statehood and many of the prerogatives of independence, while exempting Puerto Rico from most of the responsibilities inherent in both of those options.

The 1993 "commonwealth" ballot definition, in other words, amounted to a "wish list." It was both politically unattainable and Constitutionally inadmissible.

So it is that the 1993 plebiscite failed in its objective. Although "commonwealth" ostensibly won that plebiscite (polling 48.6% of the vote, slightly ahead of U.S. statehood's 46.3%), it is worth noting that nobody from the "commonwealth" party had the audacity to come up here to the Nation's Capital afterward and argue for Congressional enactment of that party's "best-of-two-worlds" platform. Instead, what happened was that the Legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico adopted a concurrent resolution which formally requested that Congress respond to the outcome of our 1993 status consultation.

The 104th Congress, upon convening in January 1995, acknowledged our legislature's petition: that Congress held hearings and drafted a bill, which got the ball rolling on a process that culminated in last year's House passage of The United States - Puerto Rico Political Status Act.

And it was that comprehensive measure which provided the framework for what ought to have been a "foolproof' plebiscite in 1998.

UNDER The United States - Puerto Rico Political Status Act, this nation could have converted the historically-clouded 100th anniversary of America's unilateral seizure of Puerto Rico into an inspiring occasion for undiluted celebration; this Nation could have observed that centennial by empowering our territory's electorate to make a dignified, meaningful choice among destiny-options delineated for that express purpose by Puerto Rico's Constitutionally-designated overseer -- namely, this institution: the United States Congress.

However, in the absence of that legislation, the 1998 centennial observance unfolded against a different backdrop altogether. And consequently, a shadow fell over the celebration.

We went ahead with our commitment to hold a plebiscite. But, lacking the empowering impetus of a Federal mandate, we were unable to employ a foolproof -- or "fail-safe" -- format.

Why? Because a 1993 Puerto Rico Supreme Court edict obliged us to offer our voters a fifth -- undefined -- alternative, in addition to the options that were defined in H.R. 856.

More than 71% of Puerto Rico's eligible voters participated in the plebiscite on Sunday, December 13, 1998. And in February 1999, 1 delivered -- to the President of the United States, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Majority Leader of the Senate -- copies of the official Puerto Rico State Elections Commission document that certified the outcome of the plebiscite. I understand that each of you has had access to those data, and I am confident that they will be analyzed in detail by the panelists from whom you will be hearing shortly.

To MY MIND, We the People of Puerto Rico dispatched two forceful and unequivocal messages by means of our most recent plebiscite. The first of those messages was irrefutably transmitted "loud and clear."

A total of over 1.5-million persons cast ballots. Of that total, exactly 993 voters marked their ballots in favor of our current status as a territorial "commonwealth."

This means that, for every 1,577 persons who participated in the plebiscite, only one person manifested support for the status quo; and that level of support equals considerably less than one-tenth of one percent.

Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, I respectfully submit that this single fact speaks volumes.

During this hearing, it is safe to assume that a variety of interpretations will be offered regarding the significance of the plebiscite outcome.

I would urge, however, that - in evaluating those interpretations - you keep foremost in your minds this one salient fact.

Because whatever else our plebiscite may have signified, it indisputably constituted a virtually-unanimous rejection of the status quo.

Our people's massive disapproval of the status quo underscores their contempt for what my predecessor has described as a "democracy deficit" that afflicts Puerto Rico's current status.

In the July/August 1998 edition of FOREIGN AFFAIRS magazine, former Governor Rafael Hernandez-Colon published an article entitled, "Doing Right by Puerto Rico: Congress Must Act-99 In that article, this lifelong advocate of "commonwealth" status made the following affirmation about the political status debate on our island: "All factions do agree on the need to end the present undemocratic arrangement, whereby Puerto Rico is subject to the laws of Congress but cannot vote in it."'

So there you have it. The political status with which Puerto Ricans must contend today, and with which we have had to contend -- in one guise or another -- for the past 100 years, is a political status that We the People of Puerto Rico emphatically reject as an alternative for the future. And that categorical rejection could not have been more firmly articulated than it was on December 13, 1998.

Now let us move on to the second forceful and unequivocal message that emerged from our recent plebiscite.

This second message pertains to the need for a responsible, conscientious definition of the fifth ballot-option that was vacuously denominated, "NONE OF THE PRECEDING."

I readily concede that many voters selected that option for reasons having nothing whatever to do with political status.

Nevertheless, it must not be ignored that one of our two principal political parties urged voters to mark their ballots in favor of "NONE OF THE PRECEDING" - while simultaneously urging that the people of Puerto Rico be granted an opportunity to vote on a certain specifically-defined option that had been excluded from the ballot because it was not incorporated into H.R. 856, the bill which had been approved earlier that year by the U.S. House of Representatives.

Both H.R. 856 and our plebiscite ballot had defined fully the meanings of U.S. statehood, independent nationhood, and free association under separate sovereignty, as well as the current territorial "commonwealth" arrangement.

But absent altogether was the option being supported by this major political party that was urging our electorate to vote in the blank, empty fifth column.

For precisely that reason, a high priority of this 106th Congress should be to examine thoroughly the legislative viability and the Constitutional validity of this additional alleged option -- this "stealth option" -- which was surreptitiously promoted during our latest plebiscite via the "NONE OF THE PRECEDING" column on our ballot. I respectfully invite this Committee to take a hard, close look at this 11fifth column" alternative - an alternative which was formally embraced by the Governing Board of Puerto Rico's Popular Democratic Party on October 15, 1998, and which was presented to our people as that Party's blueprint for "developing" the "commonwealth" status.

Take a hard, close look at what this "NONE OF THE PRECEDING" "stealth option" promises to the Puerto Rican people.

  • Observe that it calls for "a compact that cannot be invalidated or altered unilaterally"; a compact that entails "recognition that Puerto Rico is a nation," and which establishes that Puerto Ricans "constitute a specific nationality distinguishable from that of any other nation."

  • Observe that this option stipulates that "Persons born in Puerto Rico are Puerto Rican citizens by birth," while likewise stipulating that "People born in Puerto Rico will continue to be citizens of the United States by birth and this citizenship will continue to be protected by the Constitution of the United States and by this compact and will not be unilaterally revocable."

  • Observe that these dual citizens are to "be protected by all the rights, privileges and immunities granted by the Constitution of the United States and the Commonwealth."

  • Observe how this compact would guarantee that the "Federal programs that provide social and education assistance directly to Puerto Rico's residents -- such as the Nutritional Assistance Program, Pell Grants and educational loans, among others -- will continue and will be guided by applicable Federal and State regulations."

  • Observe that, under this "fifth column" format, "the United States is committed to providing the Commonwealth an annual block grant adjusted for inflation," as well as "the creation of special incentive programs for investment in the island"; and nowhere is there any mention of making any contribution through the payment of Federal taxes.

  • Observe also, however, that "The Commonwealth will have control over international trade" and "To that effect, it will have the capacity to enter into -- among others -- commercial and tax agreements with other countries." Furthermore, "The Commonwealth will be able to enter into international agreements and belong to regional and international organizations... And what about the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico? On that score,

  • Observe that -- under this Popular Democratic Party proposal -- "The Federal Court will have jurisdiction over matters that arise from provisions of the Constitution of the United States and of the Federal laws that apply to Puerto Rico, consistent with this compact and not in violation of the dispositions of the Constitution of Puerto Rico." Finally,

  • Observe too that this compact contemplates the creation of "a specific agreement regarding the applicability of legislation approved by the Congress of the United States after the adoption of the compact and which the people of Puerto Rico desire to have made applicable to Puerto Rico."

All of the. above items are contained in the "other option" that was presented to the Puerto Rican people as a reason for endorsing the ballot column labeled "NONE OF THE PRECEDING."

All of the above items were duly ratified by the Popular Democratic Party Governing Board, two months before our people went to the polls. And this "compact" is the only Puerto Rico destiny option that has yet to be studied and declared legitimate by Congress and by judicial precedent.

Accordingly, I respectfully submit that -- in addressing "American democracy's unfinished business" -- this Committee should place a high priority on scrutinizing this "other option," which has been officially endorsed by the leadership of Puerto Rico's pro-"commonwealth" political party.

OUR NATION'S MOST BASIC CIVIC VALUES demand that neither this Committee, nor the Senate, nor the Congress as a whole shirk the Constitutional duty to "make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory and other property belonging to the United States," as set forth in the Constitution's Article AM Section 3, Clause 2.

On December 24, 1998, THE WASHINGTON POST analyzed last year's plebiscite in an editorial. Several key passages from that essay merit repeating:

"The biggest vote, 50.2% [sic]o, went to a 'none of the above' catch-all category supported in good part by pro-commonwealth voters who were indulging a best-of-both-worlds fantasy definition of commonwealth (many privileges, few obligations) that Congress would never approve."

"The plebiscite was a flop. It measured only erratically, not conclusively, the sentiment on the island."

"But it is not only the Puerto Ricans who have been unable to get their act together. Congress is at similar fault."

"Here lies the fault that must be remedied. Congress must select and fairly define the Puerto Rican status choices it would be prepared to accept."

'... [N]othing less will satisfy the obligation to convert an imperial property into a place of dignity for American citizens who are equal in rights to all others.91

I totally agree

A day later, Christmas Day, THE NEW YORK TIMES weighed in with an editorial of its own. Here is some of what THE TIMES had to say:

"The only clear message from the recent plebiscite in Puerto Rico is that the question of the island's political future remains deeply divisive. Congress's failure to sponsor orderly balloting that would give the island's 3.8 million voters a meaningful say about their political status has not helped.'

"Much of the debate has focused on what is possible under a commonwealth status."

"Congress can reduce the confusion by crafting a referendum with input from Puerto Rican leaders on all sides that accurately reflects the options available. 'None of the above' does not move Puerto Ricans any closer to defining their future." I agree.

Now, once more, let me quote a passage from last summer's FOREIGN AFFAIRS article by my immediate predecessor:

"It is morally unacceptable, unfair, and harmful to Puerto Rico and the United States for Congress to relegate the issue to business as usual - that is, do nothing, wait for a Puerto Rican initiative, play with it for a while but take no action, wait for the next initiative, and repeat the cycle. Such insensitivity undermines Puerto Rico's capacity for self-government, inflicts considerable hardship on its society, and drains the U.S. Treasury."

Again, Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, I agree with those declarations by Rafael Hernandez-Colon, who served as a pro-"commonwealth" Governor of Puerto Rico.

Last but not least, former United States Attorney General Dick Thornburgh has carefully scrutinized the results of our 1998 plebiscite; and the following sentences are excerpted from essays that Mr. Thornburgh has written on the topic.

"Suggestions that a large but indecipherable vote for 'None of the Above' constitutes approval of the status quo border on the absurd...

'... [O]nly Congress can define terms for statehood, separate nationhood or continuation of the current status so that informed self - determination is possible."

"Territorial history demonstrates that the recent vote in Puerto Rico was but one step in a larger self - determination process for which Congress is ultimately responsible. For example, in the territory of Wisconsin the vote for statehood was 25% in 1842, 30% in 1843, and 22% in 1844. After each of those setbacks, pro-statehood leaders petitioned Congress to set the terms for admission so a more informed vote could occur oust as Puerto Rico's elected leaders are doing). Once Congress responded by defining the terms for admission, the pro-statehood vote in Wisconsin soared to 83%, resulting in admission."

Mr. Thornburgh goes on to cite an analogous situation in the territory that eventually became the State of Washington. There, statehood polled 47% of the vote in 1869 and 30% in 1871. Not until after Congress defined the terms for self - determination did a 60% majority opt for statehood.

In conclusion, there is one more paragraph by Mr. Thornburgh that should be quoted in its entirety.

"So instead of being puzzled because elected statehood leaders in Puerto Rico are asking Congress to act on the basis of the recent plebiscite, let's remember that America became the greatest nation in the history of the world by empowering people with the tools for informed self - determination. Sooner or later Congress will have to do the same for Puerto Rico, and the sooner the better for Puerto Rico and the nation as a whole."

To that I can only add, Amen.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee.

Statement by Hon. AnÍbal Acevedo-Vilá, President of the Popular Democratic Party

Chairman Murkowski and honorable members of this committee, thank you very much for your invitation to testify before you on this hearing "to consider the results of the 1998 Plebiscite ". My name is Aníbal Acevedo-Vilá, Minority Leader of the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. I am also the President of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP), the long-standing defender of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. In the ballot of the December 13th 1998 political status consultation there was no Commonwealth option as we know it, therefore the PDP asked voters to reject all the status alternatives and vote for the option titled "None of the Above." As you know, our position prevailed and we obtained an absolute majority of the votes. We won the plebiscite and therefore hold the mandate on behalf of the People.

In order to assist this committee in reviewing these results, it would be useful to divide my presentation into five concise aspects. First, why we had the vote? Second, analyze the plebiscite ballot and why supporters of Commonwealth chose the "None of the Above" option. Third, a campaign analysis. Fourth, a study of the results. And fifth, where do we go from here?

But before getting into my remarks on this issue, it is my duty as President of the Popular Democratic Party and as citizen of Puerto Rico to call your attention to the current situation in the island of Vieques, a small island off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico. Vieques is a municipality of Puerto Rico. More than 10,000 Puerto Ricans live there. Of the island's total 33,000 acres, the U.S. Navy owns approximately 22,600. For many years the United States Navy has been conducting maneuvers with live ammunitions in Vieques, right next to the civilian population. These actions have continuously put in danger the lives and property of the people of Vieques. As recent as two weeks ago the life of a young civilian worker of the base was lost because of a misfired bomb.

I am a strong believer in the common defense between Puerto Rico and the United States but the people of Vieques are paying too high a cost for our common defense. The common goals of Puerto Rico and the United States have always been for the benefit of both nations but the use of live munitions has to stop once and for all and the eventual devolution of lands to the people of Vieques should start as soon as possible. That is the consensus of all sectors in Puerto Rico. The civil rights of the people of Vieques must be protected. I request the intervention of this Committee in order to find a prompt solution to this situation.

1. Why we had the vote?

I will be brief on this issue, since I believe that this committee is well versed on the reasons why the Governor of Puerto Rico wanted to have a status plebiscite in Puerto Rico.

Suffice it to say, the Governor decided to call his own vote once it became clear that the Congress would not enact pro-statehood legislation authorizing a plebiscite. Moreover, the Governor was in desperate need to "fabricate" an electoral mandate for statehood in order to force statehood legislation in Congress.

While some individuals have blamed Congress for not enacting legislation, I do not believe Congress can be blamed for its judgment.

No legislation was enacted because supporters of statehood were more concerned with getting a bill tilted toward their option than with obtaining a bill that would provide a workable framework for a democratic vote and an all-encompassing solution to this issue. As a result, the House of Representative was sharply divided on the bill written by Chairman Don Young, since it passed with the smallest margin, one vote, and the Senate was never able to generate the necessary consensus. Faced with efforts to get this committee to reinterpret the law and the Constitution, several members of this committee openly questioned why it was necessary for the Congress to approve the proposed legislation. As a result, there was no congressional legislation enacted.

2. The plebiscite ballot

When the Governor announced that he would organize a vote under the laws of the Commonwealth, we in the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) were doubtful of the usefulness and intentions behind this vote, but we, nevertheless, accepted the challenge. Unfortunately, the pro-statehood majority in the Legislative Assembly excluded us from the process of drafting the ballot. Notwithstanding our exclusion, as part of the legislative process on the enabling law, I suggested in my testimony before the Puerto Rico House of Representatives that Column One include a more accurate and less biased description of Commonwealth. I suggested that it at least included the words in the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to the effect that "the political power of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico emanates from people and shall be exercised in accordance with their will, within the terms of the compact agreed upon between the people of Puerto Rico and the United States of America." This description had already been adopted by the people of Puerto Rico and approved by the U.S. Congress (both House and Senate) and the President, but the pro-statehood majority indicated that they would not support this language. Again, we had no choice but to vote for "None of the Above," since we were completely excluded from the drafting process.

Supporters of Commonwealth were faced with a ballot in which our preferred option was not included. Additionally, the misleading definition of Commonwealth, under Column One, contained several legally inaccurate statements, which made it intolerable.

On the issue of citizenship, pro-statehood forces wanted to be able to claim in their propaganda campaign that the citizenship of Puerto Ricans was at risk, unless people voted for statehood. They were able to make this false claim by writing a description of Commonwealth, which failed to recognize that our citizenship is protected by the U.S. Constitution.

Even the Young Bill, which was so biased against Commonwealth, recognized Constitutional protections for our U.S. Citizenship. The description under Column One also failed to recognize that our relationship with the United States is based on mutual consent, therefore impeding unilateral changes to our compact. In addition to these legally inaccurate statements, the description of Commonwealth under Column One was also written using fundamentally biased language, worse than the one included in the Young Bill (H.R. 856) which at least recognized the participation and the possibility of equality in all Federal programs and the sovereignty of Puerto Rico over matters not ruled by the Constitution of the United States.

It is common knowledge that each and every one of the status options can be described in numerous different ways, but for the process to work, each option must be described fairly. Imagine that the PDP had controlled this process and had included the following description of statehood on the ballot: " Puerto Rico loses all existing international identity separate from that of the United States in order to become a State of the Union subject to the uniform application of all federal laws, including the full imposition of the federal income tax system, by a Congress in which Puerto Rico will have less than 1.5% of the voting power and where more than 90% of the members do not speak Spanish and represent districts with populations that are culturally different from that of Puerto Rico and with a geography that is different from that of Puerto Rico." That is certainly not a very appealing description of statehood. It is admittedly biased against statehood, yet it is 1 00% accurate as a matter of fact and laws. The description of Commonwealth under Column One was biased against Commonwealth and it also was legally inaccurate. Accordingly, we had no alternative but to support the option titled "None of the Above."

While the PIDP has always maintained our interest and belief in developing the Commonwealth status, as I indicated before, we were not permitted to present voters in the "petitions" ballot with a proposal for development of Commonwealth. Accordingly, our next best option was to support what we have under Commonwealth right now. We could do that only with a vote for "None of the Above."

3. The campaign

The first issue that must be mentioned with regards to the campaign is the unfairness in terms of financial resources. Supporters of statehood wrote the law authorizing the vote in a manner that purposely denied the PDP access to public funds to support our campaign. All other political parties and groups were given $666,000 in public funds for their campaigns. We did not receive a single cent from public funds. In the end, based on reports filed with the State Elections Commission and on an analysis of ads broadcasted on television, supporters of statehood spent between $13 and $15 million in their campaign. Supporters of the fifth column and the PDP spent only between $3 and $4 million in support of a vote for "None of the Above."

In spite of this five to one (5:1) funding disadvantage, it is unquestionable that the people of Puerto Rico understood what was a stake and received our message more favorably.

Some statehood advocates have complained that another vote is necessary because voters were somehow confused-, and that voters need further clarification of the options. I strongly reject such a condescending attitude toward voters. And I believe that this Committee should not be a part of such an insult to the intelligence of our voters. The fact is that if voters were confused, which I do not think is the case, statehood advocates only have themselves to blame because of their demagogue campaign issues. Television ads constantly aired by the statehood forces gave voters a highly distorted view of statehood, as the following quotes from their televised campaign illustrate:

(a) One ad proudly proclaimed the laughable notion that as a State of the Union Puerto Rico would be able to maintain its separate Olympic representation in competition against Team USA. The ad said "Hong Kong is part of China and continues to participate in the Olympics. With Statehood we will continue to keep our Olympic team." Some statehood advocates might argue that this is a trivial issue, but this particular TV ad was shown over and over the campaign. Obviously, the pro- statehood strategists thought this was an important issue.

(b) Several ads proclaimed that statehood would be an economic bonanza for Puerto Ricans as a result of additional federal welfare benefits paying less taxes and the "bonus" that everyone would receive with the Earned Income Tax Credit. The most visually stimulating of these ads is the one in which a never-ending river of dollar signs is seen flowing from Washington to Puerto Rico. Another of the ads said: "With statehood you will pay less taxes than what you pay now. If you are a head of a household and earn $12,000 you will pay $99. And will receive an Earned Income Tax Credit of $2,195." On economic issues, statehood proponents failed miserably in showing how Puerto Rico would continue to prosper if it became a state. Simply put, they had no economic plan other than "more welfare" and the perpetuation of dependency.

(c) Several ads were almost militant in their conviction that under statehood everything will continue "in Spanish." One of them said: "With Statehood we will remain what we are. We enter the nation with our language and our culture stronger than ever. Speaking Spanish... Statehood. Your language. Your culture. Your future."

(d) The " Statehood in Spanish" theme was but one form of expression of the general tone of the statehood campaign, which was proudly Puerto Rican nationalistic. In these statehood ads the American flag was completely absent; the Puerto Rican flag was always flying proudly on its own. The very same statehood advocates who come here to Washington and deny that Puerto Ricans have a separate national identity aired these ads. What better example than this to show that we are a different nation. (See Annex A for a transcript of some of these ads.)

Clearly, those quotes demonstrated that the statehood leaders knew that the statehood that they try to sell here in Washington - with Puerto Ricans eager to assimilate - is neither popular nor acceptable in Puerto Rico. In spite of this double speak, the people of Puerto Rico were either not fooled or they simply decided that they are not interested in statehood even if it is all in Spanish, with less taxes and more welfare benefits.

Even though statehood lost, it would be useful if the members of this committee ask themselves "what if statehood had won?" What would be your reaction to a majority vote for a Puerto Rican state with its own Olympic team and a population with no desire to give up Spanish as its language of government and commerce? Also consider that people would have voted for statehood on the basis of promises of millions more in welfare benefits, a threat that U.S. citizenship would be at risk if they do not vote for statehood and with a Puerto Rican nationalistic campaign that ignored the Stars and Stripes.

Fortunately, this is only hypothetical. But it would be useful if the members of this committee publicly remind pro-statehood advocates that Congress would not look favorably upon a statehood petition based on such a false representation of the rights and responsibilities of becoming a state.

The campaign in favor of "None of the Above," centered on the fact that the Commonwealth in which we have lived over the last 46 years, was not included under any of the ballot options, accordingly, voters who support Commonwealth had to vote for "None of the Above." We also reached out to voters who wanted to defeat statehood and to reject the one-sided and imposed nature of the process that led to the vote; these are votes who agree with us that any process to resolve Puerto Rico's political status must be based on a consensus.

While it is true that some of the people who voted for "None of the Above" are not necessarily supporters of Commonwealth, any suggestion that they did not know what they were voting for is simply absurd. While one could argue that voters might not understand the implications of options they have not lived through like statehood or independence, most Puerto Ricans have lived under Commonwealth their entire lives.

Consequently, it stands to reason that those of us who voted for "None of the Above" chose not to make any of the petitions on the ballot. The absolute majority vote for "None of the Above" is a clear rejection of statehood. Furthermore, voters under stood perfectly well that by rejecting these status alternatives in the ballot, the Commonwealth relationship - as we know it - would continue. That is a fact which nobody can dispute. Any further attempts to psychoanalyze voters would certainly serve no purpose other than to indulge the complaints of losers in a democratic event.

4. The vote results

While today it is universally understood that statehood lost, some supporters of statehood still do not want to accept the truth. On the night of the vote, statehood leaders held a victory rally and refused to concede defeat. They were bolstered by a puzzling written statement from the White House, which after stating that "a majority of the vote was not for any of the options," it went on to state that "among the rest, the overwhelming majority supported statehood." That would be the same as saying of the 1996 presidential election: "aside from the majority vote, among the rest the overwhelming majority supported Bob Dole." In spite of these disturbing post-election distortions of the outcome, people quickly understood that statehood had lost and that the people of Puerto Rico had found a way to confirm their support for Commonwealth.

That was the message conveyed to the American people by virtually all newspapers that editorialized on this issue. Of 34 American newspapers that wrote editorials on this vote, not a single one accepted the statehooders claim that statehood had won. Furthermore, the vast majority of these editorials accepted that Commonwealth continued to be the preferred choice of Puerto Ricans and that the U.S. should have no problem with that. (See attachment B)

As I stated above, I do recognize that some of the people who voted for "None of the Above" are not necessarily supporters of Commonwealth, but instead voted with us to reject the whole process that led to the vote and to defeat statehood. Accordingly, I am not here to argue that this vote is a mandate the development of Commonwealth. I am here, however, to make sure that this committee understands that the people of Puerto Rico were unambiguous in their rejection of statehood specially when the Governor continues to show a lack of respect to the will of the people and insist, so shamelessly, that statehood won.

The truth is clear. For the second time in five years, the people of Puerto Rico have rejected statehood in two plebiscites called by and organized by the statehood party.

5. Where do we go from here?

While I believe that the vote results are clear, I recognize that the status issue has not been resolved. Those of us who support Commonwealth have an unfinished agenda to develop Commonwealth.

What should Congress do? In light of the undeniable fact that the people of Puerto Rico have repeatedly rejected statehood and independence, Congress should concentrate on an agenda to develop Commonwealth in a way that will benefit both Puerto Rico and the United States. While I recognize the difficulty of moving forward on the development of Commonwealth while the Governor of Puerto Rico is against Commonwealth,

I am more than willing to sit down with any Member of Congress who is interested in pursuing that course.

What would not be acceptable is for Congress to try to push another plebiscite at this time. A recent public opinion poll published in El Nuevo Dia revealed that 82% of the voters in Puerto Rico either do not want another plebiscite ever again or do not want one in the near future. Only 15% of the voters want another plebiscite soon. Even the Resident Commissioner, Carlos Romero, recognized, in an article of May 3 published in El Nuevo Dia, that there is no environment in the House or the Senate to approve another status plebiscite.

It also would be unacceptable for Congress to pursue agendas intended to push Puerto Rico into either statehood or independence, since they have both been consistently rejected by the people of Puerto Rico. If Congress is interested in helping Puerto Rico bring resolution to this divisive issue, Congress should recognize that Commonwealth is the only option with the potential for reaching a greater consensus in Puerto Rico. Congress has the responsibility of respecting the democratic processes of Puerto Rico and the established consensus between the majority of Puerto Ricans, by concentrating their energies and ours in the development of Commonwealth.

I appreciate this committee's interest in Puerto Rico's political relationship with the United States. While, in the past, I have had differences with Chairman Murkowski over issues of legal interpretation, he has always conducted his hearings in a fair manner. I am confident that consistent with a recognition of the right to self - determination, any action by this Committee will respect the will of the people of Puerto Rico.

Testimony of Senator Rubén Berrios Martínez, President of the Puerto Rican Independence Party

Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee:

The day after tomorrow, Saturday May 8, in an act of civil disobedience, former Senator Fernando Martin, Vice president of the Puerto Rico Independence Party and myself shall violate federal law by trespassing into federally restricted military target practice areas in the island municipality of Vieques, Puerto Rico. Such action is the first step in a broader strategy of civil disobedience designed to force the US Navy to permanently discontinue its abusive military maneuvers, bombings and target practice, and get out of Vieques.

The US Navy, through its occupation of 26,000 of the 33,000 acres of Vieques has jeopardized the life, health, safety and tranquillity of the 9,000 Puerto Ricans living there, and has strangled Vieques' economic development for over half a century. In recent weeks, in what can at best be regarded as negligent disregard for the human rights of Puerto Ricans in Vieques, US Navy bombs have been responsible for the death of one civilian and for having wounded several others. Needless to say, the recent developments have sparked indignation among all sectors of Puerto Rican society.

In the same spirit in which we defied the Navy's abusive behavior in the island municipality of Culebra in 1971, leading to our imprisonment and the subsequent withdrawal of the Navy from that island, we stand ready today to again defy the Navy's abusive practices with the moral force of militant non-violence, even at 1he price of personal liberty. But the tragedy of Vieques is not an isolated incident in the history of US colonialism in Puerto Rico. On the contrary, the problem of Vieques is at the heart of the problem which brings us before this Committee - Puerto Rico's colonial status.

The main reasons fair the US invasion of Puerto Rico in 1898 were geopolitical and military, and the US Navy has always been a crucial factor in the determination of US policy towards Puerto Rico.

Throughout this century its attitude has always been to oppose change and to support the status quo.

We are here today because in the dawn of the 21st century Puerto Rica is still a territory of the US. And Puerto Rico is a territory because the US government and the US Congress have failed to fulfill their constitutional duty to dispose of the territory, as well as their legal obligation under international law to decolonize Puerto Rico.

Since 1953, Congress has refused even meager petitions for reforms to the present status. And since 1989, Congress has repeatedly failed to authorize a federally sponsored referendum, even when all Puerto Rican political parties have unanimously endorsed such a petition.

Let us not pretend any longer! The reason for such inaction is the unwillingness of the Congress, under a Democratic majority in 1991 and under a Republican majority last year, to include statehood in a federally mandated referendum.

The Congressional excuse for such inaction has always been the same: that Puerto Ricans should take the initiative before Congress acts.

However, we have held two referenda -- in 1993 and in 1998 -- and Congress still refuses to act.

In the 1993 referendum, the absolute majority of Puerto Ricans favored sovereign nationhood, either through association, based on a bilateral pact outside the Territory Clause, that could not be altered unilaterally by Congress, or through independence. Moreover, the absolute majority rejected statehood. And Congress refused to act.

In the 1998 referendum held last December, even though the inclusion of a "None of the Above" column frustrated a majority mandate, an absolute majority of the voters once again refused to vote for statehood.

As regards territorial status, all political parties in Puerto Rico have rejected that alternative. The Puerto Rican voters have rejected both statehood and territorial status, neither of which, contrary to Independence, represents an inalienable right of the People of Puerto Rico. But still US Congress has failed to act.

The US seems thus to be developing a new type of colonial policy in flagrant violation of the will of the Puerto Rican people, It consists of a systematic process of inaction, combined with public hearings and hollow rhetoric regarding self - determination, which always ends up in the continuation of territorial status by default. It is a colonial policy attuned to public relations objectives of the late twentieth century.

But the time of antidemocratic strategies and attitudes is no longer tolerable. It is no longer tolerable to hear the same excuses, nor to ask Puerto Ricans to take the initiative. For that we have done.

The US exercises juridical, political and economic power over Puerto Rico. Responsibility is a function of power and the US has failed to fulfill its responsibility under both US and international law. The time has come for the US to seriously face Puerto Rico's status and decolonize the island.

What should Congress do in order to fulfill its juridical and political obligation regarding Puerto Rico?

Since statehood and territorial status have been twice rejected by Puerto Ricans in less than a decade, Congress should take "no" for a final answer regarding both of those options. In light of these realities Congress should formally declare its determination to decolonize Puerto Rica and offer a choice between a sovereign, non colonial, non territorial Free Associated State, on, the one hand, and Independence, an inalienable right which therefore must always be present as an option, on the other. There are various procedural mechanisms to achieve this goal, ranging from Constituent Assemblies to plebiscites, but the end result should be the achievement of sovereign nationhood.

In the meantime, and as an urgent matter, the United States government should manifest its good will and commitment to genuine self determination by Ii crating the Puerto Rican political prisoners held in federal prisons and announcing the definitive withdrawal of the US Navy from the island of Vieques.

There is, of course, an alternative course of action. The administration can continue its ambivalent discourse and conduct towards Puerto Rico.

Congress can continue its inaction. The Navy and its Commander in Chief can persist in bombing Vieques, threatening its people, and damaging its environment; and the US Government can imprison those of w who through civil disobedience refuse to bow to injustice.

But whatever happens, rest assured that in the end colonialism will be defeated and Puerto Rico will become a sovereign nation. It is up to you to let the people of Puerto Rico and the world community know which side you are on, colonialism or liberation.

Statement of Luis Vega-Ramos, Esq., President of PROELA

My name is Luis Vega-Ramos. PROELA is a civic organization that for twenty-two years has advocated in Puerto Rican, federal and international forums for the development of the current political status within the context of a compact of free association. I am its president and an attorney at law in Puerto Rico.

On December 13, 1998, the People of Puerto Rico voted in a status plebiscite sponsored by the Government of Puerto Rico. As the results of that plebiscite proved inconclusive, the United States now has the duty to clarify the real options for Puerto Rico and to fashion a true process of self - determination that fully meets the responsibilities that Congress and the Administration have to the millions of U.S. citizens that comprise the Puerto Rican Nation.

I. Vieques: Our First Duty But before I present our views regarding last year's plebiscite, let me bring to your attention an issue that evokes a sense of unity and urgency among the People of. Puerto Rico. Last April 19, during a military exercise on our island municipality of Vieques, an F-18 aircraft shot projectiles which took the life of one civilian, Mr. David Sanes, and injured four others.

This is but the latest in a series of tragedies that for decades have threatened the life, safety and quality of living of the residents of Vieques. Some media outlets in the U.S. reported that this tragedy occurred on the uninhabited island of Vieques. That is simply not true. Vieques is indeed populated by around 8,000 souls. And, as U.S. citizens and human beings, they have an inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Those rights are being violated by the U.S. Navy. This must stop at once.

We come to this committee, in solidarity with the people of Vieques, in remembrance of the victims and as trustees of our future generations' right to have Vieques back in our hands. We demand the swift, concrete and unilateral withdrawal of the U.S. Naval forces from that embattled island. We hope to persuade you into action in favor of this just and urgent initiative. '

To further understand our position on defense and security issues, we refer you to a document filed by our executive director last year, which is part of the legislative record.

IL The 1998 Plebiscite: the Vote

Last year, the U.S. House of Representatives narrowly approved H.R. 856, a bill that would have called for a plebiscite. This bill had the strong endorsement of the pro-statehood government and of the Independence party and the equally strong opposition of the Popular Democratic Party, the pro-commonwealth party, and other sectors of our political spectrum. The U.S. Senate, however, did not pass the bill.

In an unapproved "Chairman's Draft", this Energy Committee substituted statehood for an offer of incorporated territory. That is, as you know very well, the extension of federal taxation without the corresponding political representation.

Thus, the Government of Puerto Rico decided to call a vote on their own terms. They defined the options as territorial commonwealth, free association, statehood, independence and "None of the above." The pro-commonwealth party was upset with both the definitions and the process and chose the "None of the above" column. We represented free association assuming all the risks of not following our party's line.

During the campaign, PROELA served as the official and legal representative of the free association option contained on column number two of the ballot. We were lawfully certified by Puerto Rico's State Electoral Commission (SEC) as such and feel very proud to have been the first organization in the history of Puerto Rico recognized as the electoral trustee of free association. Being a civic organization and not a political party in the island, we had to comply with special requisites provided by law. We have done so to the full extent of what was required.

As part of our campaign, we coordinated work with various other organizations who support free association like Juventud Autonomista, Acci6n Democratica Puertorriquena and Impulso Autonomista. We also had the fortune of counting in our ranks with people of the caliber and reputation of Miguel Lausell, Esq., Antonio Fernos, Ph.D., a renowned constitutional scholar, Juan R. Ferndndez, Ph.D., the former University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras Chancellor, Judge Jose Antonio Casillas (Ret.), Dr. Richard Machado, M.D., a prominent figure in the healthcare sector, Dr. Enrique Vazquez Quintana, M.D., a former Secretary of Health under the RosseIlo administration, and former Puerto Rican legislators Marco Rigau and Juan Lopez-Hernandez.

We ran a civic and educational campaign. But the majority parties ran a warm-up for the next gubernatorial election between Governor Pedro Rosselló and San Juan Mayor Sila Calderon. Let me give you an example of this. The main issue of the campaign was not the discussion of the benefits and drawbacks of each of the options. Rather, it was whether or not Governor RosseIlo and Mayor Calderon would meet, head to head, in a televised debate. For weeks Governor RosselIo and Mayor Calderon danced around each other, taunting and retreating. It became clear that there was not going to be a debate, nor a serious discussion of the issues. Instead, we had the first electoral skirmish between future political foes.

In the end, Mayor Calderon handily won her preliminary battle with Governor Rosselló. "None of the above" garnered more that 50% of the votes. Statehood did not advance even one percentage point from the 46% it got in 1993. As for us, in the partisan polarization that took place, our support dwindled to a reduced core.

III. The 1998 Plebiscite: Its Meaning Succinctly stated, the December vote means five things:

  1. no single option has a majority;
  2. 53% of the electorate clearly affirms Puerto Rican nationhood and rejects assimilation (that is exactly the same proportion 12roduced by the 1993 12lebiscite);
  3. the approach contained in 1998's H.R. 856 was also rejected by a majority of voters;
  4. the pro-statehood governor suffered a sound defeat at the hands of his likeliest contender, the mayor of San Juan; and,
  5. locally sponsored plebiscites are no longer respected as useful tools for the solution of the status dilemma.

The political initiative from Puerto Rico, in terms of status, has been given to the leaders of the pro-commonwealth party. Commonwealth, free association and independence backers coalesced in the "None of the above" column to reject what they perceived as imminent dangers. Now the leaders of that coalition, if they wish to keep it together, must find a common ground proposal.

Last October 15, the governing board of the Popular Democratic Party approved a plan to develop commonwealth toward sovereignty, a bilateral compact and international powers. Whether they call it as such or not, it is a form of free association. Therefore, we endorse its inclusion in any process as a form of sovereign autonomy.

IV. The Next Step: What should Congress do?

For Congress, the result of the plebiscite means one thing. Puerto Ricans are not going to make a final determination on status until Congress and the Executive Branch engage the issue and commit themselves to responding to the people's will. Under the U.S. Constitutional system, Congress can only do that by approving a federal statute. It has yet to do that. We urge you to do it soon.

In order to avoid conflict and confusion with the upcoming electoral year, we feel that no other process should be convened in Puerto Rico until after the year 2000. However, that does not mean we favor inaction until that time. Congress could still enact a process before the end of this term and set it in motion after the electoral cycle. Thus, there would be time and space to take on both the serious responsibility of selecting a government and then selecting a status.

On a related matter, let me state that PROELA strongly opposes any initiative to impose federal income taxes on the Commonwealth. That is a proposal that is clearly rejected by an overwhelming majority of Puerto Ricans.

The advocacy of federal taxation on Puerto Rico is but a ploy of those who, unable to prevail in the ballot box, wish to surreptitiously impose a specific status change without popular consent. Federal taxation is nothing but concealed incorporation. And that, constitutionally speaking, means the promise of eventual statehood. No one has voted for that in Puerto Rico. Therefore, we will join forces with all sectors and parties to combat this undemocratic and immoral strategy. We trust you will see its transparency.

However, PROELA wholeheartedly welcomes the structuring of a process in which a dialogue with the political leadership of Puerto Rico is held and the viable political options can be clarified and set apart from the unfeasible ones. It is our desire to support that process, as we have done in the past, and to represent -- on equal footing with all other options and their proponents -- the formula of free association between Puerto Rico and the United States.

In setting up this process, we urge you to consider the proposal submitted by the Mayor of Poncho, Hon. Rafael Corridor-Santiago, on a February 10 letter to the President of the United States in which he calls for a panel of constitutional experts of each option to be convened to discuss matters with representatives of the Administration and of the Congress. This might be a sound approach to a most difficult issue. This committee should look into it.

We are now well into the first year of the second century of Congressional unwillingness or inability to take the Puerto Rican status issue by the horns and solve it. This committee has engaged the issue very thoroughly on various instances during the last ten years. We all know the hot potatoes, the trouble spots and the hard choices that need to be made in order to solve the problem. Puerto Rico is a distinct nation made up of U.S. citizens. Territorial options are unacceptable.

These realities clearly produce a limited set of options. In the end, the real choice is between eventual statehood via incorporation or Puerto Rican nationhood, via free association with the U.S. or independence. Offer them, legislate a process and then set it in motion on the year 2001.

Thank you very much.

Statement of Zoraida Fonalledas, Republican National Committeewoman for Puerto Rico, On Behalf of the New Progressive Party

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, my name is Zoraida Fonalledas. I have been invited by Governor Pedro Rosselló to appear on behalf of the New Progressive Party to review results of the status vote held on December 13, 1998.

The Governor is an active leader in the Democratic Party, and I am the Republican National Committeewoman from Puerto Rico. Yet, we have a common belief that equal rights, political stability and economic prosperity for Puerto Rico together represent a cause so just and so urgent that it soon will produce bipartisan consensus throughout America, and with bipartisan leadership from Congress we will achieve full and final resolution of Puerto Rico's status.

As the mother of four children, I feel strongly that all the children of Puerto Rico, as American citizens, deserve better than to grow up with uncertainty about their future status and ambiguity about their rights under the U.S. Constitution. Our young Americans also deserve the economic opportunity that comes with political stability, and so we simply must do better in our efforts to resolve the status question. If we fail, confusion and bitter divisions among our people over continuation of territorial commonwealth could become our legacy to the next generation.

As you know already, 50.3% of those who cast ballots in the plebiscite voted for an undefined "None of the Above" default option on the ballot, and one-tenth of I% voted for territorial commonwealth as it is under current federal law. 46.5% voted for full equality of rights and duties under statehood. The option of independence, and the separate option of independence with a treaty of free association, received a combined vote of 2.8%.

The "None of the Above" ballot option was included due to possible complications under local court rulings. Voters who historically favored statehood, independence or commonwealth instead used "None of the Above" to express themselves on a variety of issues other than status : from privatization of the phone company to the timing of the vote after a hurricane and before Christmas, as well as the wish that Puerto Rico could be Fantasy Island, where there would be no hard choices and we could have all the benefits of statehood and independence without the full responsibilities of either.

In the Puerto Rican tradition, it was a long and heated debate, but without Congressional sponsorship it became another local partisan political contest. Thus, the only clear result of this vote is that the 99.9% of the governed have withdrawn consent to territorial commonwealth as it is under current federal law. That is a problem for Puerto Rico,

Mr. Chairman, but it is also a problem for the nation, because in 1950 Congress recognized the principle of government by consent based on majority vote as the federal criteria for the legitimacy of commonwealth as a form of self-government.

It took a hundred years to create the present confusion over the status question. However, the immediate dilemma posed by the 1998 voting results has its origin in the failure of Congress to respond fully and decisively when the Legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico solemnly and respectfully petitioned Congress in 1994 to implement an enhanced form of commonwealth that received the highest number of votes in a plebiscite conducted under local law in 1993.

Puerto Rico's petition, renewed in 1997 and 1998, also requested that Congress, if it did not accept enhanced commonwealth, define the options it is willing to consider to create a permanent political status for Puerto Rico. Simply, our petitions ask Congress to level with us as American citizens on a very fundamental question: Is Congress willing to offer permanent union and irrevocable U.S. citizenship to Puerto Rico, and if so, what are the terms under which that can be achieved in accordance with the Constitution of the United States of America?

Historically, permanent union and guaranteed citizenship has meant statehood, as in the case of Hawaii and Alaska. Separate sovereignty and nationality meant independence, like the Philippines and Cuba.

But supporters of enhanced commonwealth tell the people there is another way out of our dilemma. For decades now our people have been propagandized, promised, and in too many cases persuaded, that Puerto Rico is literally and legally a separate nation and no longer a territory of the United States. According to the commonwealth party, in 1952 Congress deviated from two centuries of constitutional practice in order to bind the U.S. and the sovereign nation-state of Puerto Rico in a new form of permanent union. They argue that approval of the local constitution 47 years ago changed the status of Puerto Rico to that of a free associated state, with a separate nationality, but in a permanent bilateral confederacy with America.

Will Congress agree that Puerto Rico has entered the union permanently as a nation-state with a zone of sovereignty not subject to federal supremacy? Does Congress recognize a separate Puerto Rican nationality and citizenship with a so-called dual U.S. citizenship guaranteed forever by federal law? Do you accept Puerto Rico's entry into permanent union without the same burden sharing as the other states in the union?

If so, are you prepared to offer this new form of statehood to California, Texas, South Carolina or Hawaii? Does Congress accept the permanent disenfranchisement of a population of 3.8 million U.S. citizens, more than that of 25 states, as well as the creation of a separate national sovereignty under the American flag?

We are calling on Congress to end its silence on these questions, because Puerto Rico cannot send a clear signal to Congress until Congress sends a clear signal to Puerto Rico. For too long Congress has passively tolerated the myth of commonwealth as a status superior to statehood. Whether it is on the ballot as it was in 1993, or when it does not need to be defined because "None of the Above" is on the ballot, the doctrine of commonwealth as a super status is misleading but beguiling to many voters. Though it has been discredited in Congress, until Congress ends its silence the myth will persist.

Congress must not be a party to a scheme to misled voters. You need to confirm what commonwealth means under federal law to end the charade. It was, therefore, out of determination rather than desperation that our government scheduled a vote for December 13, 1998. We had to act despite the risks because we will not simply resign ourselves to disenfranchisement and disempowerment. That is not the American way. The results of the vote, however, demonstrate once again that self - determination can not succeed when the national government has the final authority to define the choices, but the national government will not end its silence.

The essence of Puerto Rico's status problem is that Congress has not offered terms for status resolution to Puerto Rico, and Puerto Rico can not get a response from Congress to the terms proposed in our Legislature's petitions.

The record before you establishes that over 95% of voters in Puerto Rico want permanent union and irrevocable citizenship like a state, but around half of those voters have been led to believe this can be achieved without accepting the full responsibilities of citizens in the states. On the other hand, almost half the people in Puerto Rico who also want permanent union and irrevocable citizenship want the real thing -- statehood with all its rights and the responsibilities of our U.S. citizenship.

Congress alone can restore legitimacy to the status process by setting the terms under which Puerto Rico can become a state or an independent nation. As long as those alternatives are available and the voters fail to approve one or the other, then we have no one but ourselves to blame for our disenfranchisement. But if Congress will not establish that mechanism that empowers us to meet whatever terms and conditions you may set for status resolution, then Congress as well is responsible for our disenfranchisement.

Since I personally stand with those who are ready for real permanent union and irrevocable citizenship through statehood, let me say that I fully recognize that in due course the terms for admission will have to address issues of tax policy, language policy and budget policy as it relates to federal programs and Puerto Rico's ability to pay its own way. However, those same issues will have to be addressed in the event commonwealth continues.

The process we seek would have begun on December 13, 1998, if the Senate and House had approved the draft Chairman's mark of H.R. 856 in the 105 th Congress. For all the reasons set forth above, we urge re-introduction and adoption of federal status legislation at the earliest possible time so the self - determination process can continue.

In closing, Congress must recognize that the current federal status policy is not benign. Puerto Rico has been excluded from the economic and political life of the nation by federal policies that are often camouflaged as simple benevolence. We call upon Congress to at least make it possible for Puerto Rico to take the road of integration and inclusion if that is the will of the people, even if there are obstacles and barriers we must overcome along the way.

Setting the standard for human dignity and equality worldwide, the United States must begin at home by ending the last vestiges of disenfranchisement and second class status among its own citizens. 60 years ago, my grandfather, Puerto Rican Senate President Rafael Martinez-Nadal, expressed the need we have for status resolution eloquently when he said " Statehood is not a question of dollars and cents, but of a deep desire for liberty." That was more than 20 years after he and the people of Puerto Rico became U.S. citizens, and 60 years later we are stalled on the road to liberty.

Meanwhile, the rising tide of fully enfranchised Hispanic Americans in the fifty states will increasingly look to, and measure, the nation's leaders by their commitment to equality and equity for all Americans. A Puerto Rico populated by Hispanic Americans denied full and equal participation in the American economy and full and equal access to the American democratic systems will soon become an issue for other Hispanics and all Americans.

That is why Congress should not wait until the dilemma grows worse in Puerto Rico, or until this becomes a negative issue for America. Resolution of Puerto Rico's status can be a positive experience for our nation if Congress will assume leadership and exercise the power only it has under the U.S. Constitution to define the choices and establish the rules of the process through which Puerto Rico will become fully self- governing.

As former Governor of Puerto Rico Don Luis Ferre recently stated, Puerto Rico's culture is complementary to that of this great nation, and we are part of the American tradition of pluralism. So instead of talking about differences we should focus on what we have in common as Americans.

Because our highest duty as Americans and as Puerto Ricans is to pass to the next generation a better life, those who insist that territorial commonwealth is the best we can do, or that the status quo is the most we deserve, are wrong. We can do better and we will. May God bless us all in completing this quest for equality in America.

Self-Determination Legislation | Puerto Rico Herald Home
Newsstand | Puerto Rico | U.S. Government | Archives
Search | Mailing List | Contact Us | Feedback