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existing here will not get better, it will continue to deteriorate. It cannot
work and the islands' economy cannot begin to prosper until we build up under it a strong and sound political base. We have seen what has been happening in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico began to flourish only after they were given the opportunity of electing its own governor. Up to that time, there was as much conflict, chaos, and unrest in Puerto Rico as there is on our islands today. No sane businessman would invest a dime in Puerto Rico so long as the government of Puerto Rico was unstable as it was prior to the election of its own governor. It has been only since it has elected its own governor that millions of American dollars have poured into Puerto Rico.
I remember well the arguments in the Congress before the passage of the elected governor bill. We heard through the Halls of Congress and through departments in Washington that the people of Puerto Rico are lazy; that they are incompetent; that they are a Latin people; and a dictatorship would take over if given the right to elect their own governor; that they are an irresponsible people; that most of them are Communists or Nationalists or Independistas. I was in Washington then and those were the arguments that I heard all about. Even worse was said of Munoz-Marin. But, gentlemen, what has happened? The moment that the bill was passed by the Congress and the moment that the responsibility was theirs, the Puerto Ricans rose to the occasion, they accepted the responsibility, and we are all very proud of what is taking place in Puerto Rico today. The Puerto Ricans have performed admirably well and all of the fears expressed prior to the passage of the bill fell by the wayside.
Now, as to the Virgin Islands. We hear almost all of the same fears expressed. Whenever I am in Washington I hear and I am tired of hearing that Virgin Islanders are lazy; that they are mendicants; that they are incompetent; and that they are irresponsible. Gentlemen, these are epithets which I hear from high Government officials and they are as false here as they were in Puerto Rico. Responsibility or irresponsibility, competence or incompetence cannot be proven or disproven until one is given the opportunity of doing so. Gentlemen, a child is irresponsible until he is given some responsibility. He can become a responsible individual only when he is given some responsibility to exercise. The child who is given no responsibility continues to remain irresponsible. You know that as well as I do, and it is so with a people as well. We are not an irresponsible people but the only way we can prove it, is if you would give us some responsibility to exercise. If given to us we will prove ourselves as responsible as Puerto Ricans have done. Gentlemen, if you would give us the opportunity of electing our own governor and give to us the opportunity of handling our own affairs we have no fear of demonstrating to you as Members of Congress that we will handle it well. The onus will be on us, the people of the Virgin Islands. We will be on trial to prove to ourselves, to the Congress, and to the world who will be watching us closely, that we can handle our own affairs, and I know that if you will give us that opportunity you will be as proud of us here in the Virgin Islands as you are today of Puerto Rico.
Is there any good reason why we should not be given that opportunity? If given that opportunity and we fail, Congress can always take that authority away from us.
We know that as well as you do,
and we know, therefore, that we have to succeed; we must succeed, and
Along with an elected governor we also want representation at the seat of government. It is said that the Department of the Interior represents our best interests. Gentlemen, they do not, and even if they did, it is the democratic process of people to elect their own representatives. Would you gentlemen sitting here be happy to have some bureau in Washington representing the people residing in the States of New York, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Colorado or any other State? It is a sign of immaturity and inexperience even to suggest it. We want our own representative, a representative whom we elect to represent us, the people of the Virgin Islands, in the Halls of Congress. There is no reason why Puerto Rico, Alaska, and Puerto Rico should have that right and that we should be denied it. That was are fully able to elect our own representative is evidenced by the fact that a Virgin Islander, moving to the mainland, has by that very move the right to vote, not only for his representative in Čongress but for Senators, the President, and the Vice President as well
. If Virgin Islanders moving to the mainland have that right, why should we, equally capable, be penalized by living here in the beautiful Virgin Islands? All we are asking for is a voteless delegate or resident commissioner. There is no logic or reason except the logic and reason in giving us that right. We have been trained well in principles of democratic processes. Taxation without representation has been well ingrained in us. All of us here have studied American history. We know it well. We had compulsory education here on the islands long before the system of compulsory education was established in many States on the mainland.
Almost every man, woman, and child here has had a grammar school education. Most of us here are high-school graduates and many of us have gone up to the mainland for a college education. Can anyone in the
Congress rightfully say that we are not prepared nor are we qualified to vote for a delegate to represent us in Congress ? We are thoroughly American in every way. We have faith in America and we have been taught Americanism from the day we were born. We feel Americanism with every fiber fn our body. We talk, think, and act as Americans. We read American newspapers and period cals. We see American movies and we listen to American radio programs. _We do business as Americans do, and we play as Americans play. Baseball is also our islands' sport. We are as politically minded as Americans are, and perhaps more so because 75 to 85 percent of all those eligible to vote, voted in the last election. We take our politics seriously. Give us the right to elect a representative. We will not let you down, and we will prove again that, given the opportunity, the people here in the Virgin Islands will do as well as the people of Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico have done.
There are a number of other changes that we should desire in the organic act, especially with respect to the organization and work of the legislature. I should like to discuss these proposals with you, but I know that you gentlemen have so little time and have so many problems of national and international importance before you for consideration when you return to Washington that you can hardly give the time to receive evidence, to weigh it, and come to a sound and intelligent decision.
On the question as to whether we should vote for 2 senators at large or 4 or 6; or whether we should have no senators at large or have only 2 or 3: These questions are of very little importance or concern to you, but we are as vitally concerned with apportionment as you are in your own home States. So, rather than to take much of your valuable time, here or in Washington, with questions of so little importance to you, would it not better for you to give us the opportunity of framing our own constitution as Puerto Rico has done. Let us take all the time that we need here to argue those problems out among ourselves. Let us design the framework for our own government. We know our own problems best of all. I know that we can do a good job. Let us frame our own constitution and send it up to you for your approval. That, in my way of thinking, would be the simplest way of handling the job and it would be consistent with the best and highest principles of extending the highest degree of local autonomy to the citizens of the United States living in the offshore areas. I know it will work well here. Give us the right to form a constitutional convention. We have able lawyers, doctors, legislators, political scientists, economists, and business people wo would be elected as delegates to a constitutional convention. They would frame as workable and as democratic a constitution as have the people of Puerto Rico.
Gentlemen, give us that opportunity and we will prove our responsibility by demonstrating to you a document framed by us which will satisfy every democratic principle. We shall then submit that document to you for your approval. By giving us the right to do so you will be doing a great deal to do away with a great deal of bickering and conflict now existing. It will also give the people the opportunity of feeling that they really belong and that they are really an integral part of the United States. To me this is the only intelligent and sensible approach.
I hope that the committee has had an opportunity to see all of our Virgin Islands. We hope you have had a pleasant stay and on behalf of all the people of the Virgin Islands I wish you and all our friends in the Congress a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.
I thank you.
I would like to ask at this time the pleasure of the committee. We can proceed in 1 of 2 ways. We can question the witnesses after their opening statement or allow them to make their opening statements and then question them together in a panel discussion as we did in St. Thomas. "I think from the viewpoint of time the latter might be better, but I will be guided entirely by the wishes of the committee.
Mr. ASPINALL. Mr. Chairman?
Mr. ASPINALL. I consider that the last-mentioned procedure will be better. We can question the gentleman on the presentations as we go along from one section to another, and if there is no section covering that particular matter, we can take care of it at the end of the hearing.
Mr. O'BRIEN. Do you concur, Dr. Miller?
Mr. MILLER. That is quite satisfactory. I do have some questions I might want to ask later on.
Mr. O'BRIEN. That will be understood. There might be some statements in the opening statement you would not cover in the later panel discussion, but members might have questions.
STATEMENT OF JOHN DAVID MERWIN, MEMBER, LEGISLATURE
OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS
Mr. MERWIN. Mr. Chairman, honorable Members of the Congress of the United States, my name is John David Merwin. I am a member of the Legislature of the Virgin Islands of the United States elected as a senator at large but resident in the island of St. Croix. I have completed one term in the local legislature and have recently been elected to serve a second term. I am an attorney and local business
First, I would like to state that I am most grateful for the privilege of being able to come before you this afternoon. I know that you distinguished gentlemen are deeply concerned over some of the events of recent months that have taken place in these Virgin Islands. I am also aware that
have heard some rather astounding arguments in favor of a multitudinous array of changes which certain persons have urged before your committee during the past 3 days. As one who has worked with the 1954 organic act and who, by necessity, has been obliged to become extremely familiar with most of its provisions, I would like to state that I believe it to be basically a sound piece of legislation which incorporates a great many real benefits, both economically and otherwise, for these islands and their people. We will all, I am sure, admit that certain changes in the basic law may in due time become desirable due to changing circumstances in this Territory. However, I feel that at this time you can help us by leaving the 1954 organic act—the constitution of the Territory—substantially as it is.
My main reason for urging that the act not be amended at this time is that I have seen the pain and confusion which have resulted by our efforts over the past 2 years to effect a healthy transition from the 1936 law to that of 1954. I feel that further changes at this time would of necessity result in additional pain, grief, and confusion in our having to make further adjustments.
Constitutions are not to be dealt with lightly. They form the basic and fundamental law of the land. They set the pattern of our social and economic way of life as well as the structure of our governmental institutions. The previous act, the one of 1936, was virtually untouched for 18 years. Why, then, should we start tampering with this new one barely 2 years after it became effective?
Who has clamored for changes to the organic act of 1954? Do we answer, “The Orangic Act Commission"? Then I must ask, "What is this so-called Organic Act Commission”? Its present members are Messrs. Hodge, Ottley, Gomez, Rhymer, Carroll, Bough, Alexander, Benjamin, DeCastro, Hill, Totten, and Silverman. I was at one time a member but was relieved of this position because I constituted a minority opinion. Of those who presently serve as members of this group you will observe that eight persons are either members or close sympathizers of the Unity Party. Mr. Hill is the president of the Ünity Party. Mr. Bough is the attorney for the Unity Party. Mr. Benjamin was the chairman of the St. Croix branch of the Unity Party. Mr. Hodge sees eye to eye with many of the policies and objectives of the Unity Party. The three other legislators who are serving as members are also ardent Unity Party members. The four minority members have only been named by the high command of the Unity Party for the express purpose of lending some dignity to the commission. The vicious leadership of this undemocratic group is using responsible members of the community to achieve its own personal, selfish objectives. And what does it hope to achieve? Absolute dictatorial control of the entire government of the United States Virgin Islands. Most of the changes which these men are striving to achieve in the organic act of 1954 are directed entirely toward this end. They are not, except quite incidentally, intended to benefit the vast majority of the people of the islands. This, to my mind, is the most important factor to be borne in mind in assessing much that has thus far been presented to you.
With the foregoing introduction, I should now appreciate an opportunity to discuss briefly why I believe that many or most of the amendments thus far suggested are undesirable at this time-I emphasize, at this time.
I feel that they are mostly undesirable at this time, but I also reserve the opinion that many of them would in time be desirable, because I personally favor that at some time as soon as possible we should be able to elect our own Governor, have representation in Washington, and have other benefits that are normally accorded democratic people.
Mr. Chairman, I know that we are going into a panel discussion and therefore I would like to reserve any comments on specific amendments for the panel discussion.
Thank you very much.
Mr. O'BRIEN. I think that undoubtedly in some of these opening statements there will be a certain germ of controversy, if I may put it that way. I think perhaps that could come out when we get to the panel, because if we open it up, then members here would want to get into it. I think there will be ample opportunity for all views to be expressed fully.
Mr. HODGE. I just wanted to say, Mr. Chairman, that I did not think we should air our dirty linen before a congressional committee.
Mr. O'BRIEN. Well, sometimes that helps clear the atmosphere for the benefit of the congressional committee, and we are most understanding, because we have our own political differences back home.
Mr. HODGE. That is right.
STATEMENT OF FRITZ LAWAETZ, MEMBER, LEGISLATURE OF THE
Mr. LAWAETZ. My name is Fritz Lawaetz, senator from the district of St. Croix, V. I., relected here the last election.