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Testimony of

The Honorable Angel M. Cintrón-García

Committee on Federal and Financial Affairs

House of Representatives
Government of Puerto Rico

Before the U.S. House of Representatives

Committee on Resources

regarding H.R. 856

April 21, 1997

Chairman Young, Mr. Miller, Mr. Romero-Barceló and members of the Committee on Resources of the United States House of Representatives:

My name is Angel Cintrón-García. It is my privilege to continue serving the People of Puerto Rico in our House of Representatives for a third term as an At-Large Representative for the pro-Statehood New Progressive Party. I am currently Chairman of the newly created Committee on Federal and Financial Affairs.

Today, I have the honor to appear on behalf of our Speaker of the House of Representatives, The Honorable Edison Misla-Aldarondo, who is also the National Committeeman for our state Republican Party.

On October 17, 1995, I had the privilege to testify at a joint hearing of the Subcommittee on Native American and Insular Affairs and the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, regarding the results of the Plebiscite on Political Status held on November 14, 1993 in Puerto Rico. Back then, many local pundits spoke about a lack of resolve on your part to finally address and bring to an end the issue of Puerto Rico's self-determination. Nonetheless, you proved them wrong again when you submitted House Resolution 3024 on March 6, 1996.

Sadly, time was too short for such complex legislation to be considered and approved by both the House and the Senate in those last few weeks of the 104th Congress. Definitely, there was a need for more time in order to discuss in detail and with more ease a few understandable concerns that some members of Congress had with some issues relevant to this legislation.

This led those same pundits to claim victory over the many supporters of this bill. Thereafter, they made it into one of their major campaign issues against the pro-Statehood New Progressive Party and Governor Rosselló, who was running for re-election. As you might already be aware, our Party achieved an electoral mandate with victory margins unheard of since 1964.

That is why many in the media clearly understood that, among other things, the Puerto Rican electorate sent a resounding message to Congress in support of its efforts for a final resolution of our centuries old status dilemma. It is with such a perspective and with such an intention that our Legislative Assembly approved House Concurrent Resolution No. 2 in January of this year. Thus, we are very gratified by your renewed commitment to address this issue early on in this the 105th Congress.

As time may be more on our side this time around, I think it is extremely important to address all concerns that various members of Congress might have regarding the various aspects of the bill, particularly the definitions contained within. That way, we all make sure that this process is a successful one.

Therefore, in my case, I want to dwelve on the concern brought forth by some members of Congress regarding the issue of language in the case of statehood. I am in agreement with most of the findings contained in Section 2 of the "Bill Emerson English Language Empowerment Act of 1997". English has historically been the common language and the common thread that binds individuals of so many different backgrounds together within the fifty states of the Union. That is why the first act approved by our Legislative Assembly upon our Party's regaining of control of the Legislature back in January of 1993, was the law that reinstated English, as well as Spanish, as the two official languages the Government of Puerto Rico. Also, our Secretary of Education recently expressed the Administration's commitment in increasing the aptitude and knowledge of English among public school students by anouncing a series of policy steps geared towards making such an important goal a reality.

The concerns brought forth by some members of Congress regarding this issue have been twisted and misconstrued by the opponents of statehood. They argue that the true motive behind those concerns is a deep-bedded racism towards Hispanics and other minorities within the United States, irrespective of whether they are U.S. citizens or not. Instead, these narrow minded individuals here in Puerto Rico try to portray our Nation as being culturally monolithic, rather than taking into consideration thę "multicultural character of American society... (and its]long and venerable history (that) is widely recognized as one of the United States greatest strengths."

Nonetheless, I want to reassure those members of Congress that we share most if not all of their concerns, especially our common quest for national cohesiveness. That is why I feel that this issue goes even further than just sharing a common language. It involves a respect for a series of values, as put forth by our Founding Fathers in the Constitution. Also, it entails a respect and commitment for such valued institutions as the United States Armed Forces, through which thousands of Puerto Ricans have given their lives in defense of a Nation of which they are not equal members.

Still, in the last 4 years as Chairman of the Select Committee on Banking Affairs, I had the honor of sponsoring important legislation that provided for further threads of national cohesiveness between Puerto Rico and the Fifty states. For example, as part of a banking reform that I spearheaded, we adopted the 1994 Riegle-Neal Act here in our Island, allowing for further interaction between local and national banking institutions. Also, I had the opportunity to sponsor legislation amending our International Banking Law, thus providing a very important tool for the availability of funds for mainland and local companies interested in financing their export of products and services in regional trade. In addition, I sponsored another important measure that allowed for the adoption of the 9 chapters of the U.C.C. here in Puerto Rico, replacing our old Mercantile Act which we inherited from Spain. This provides for easier commercial relations between companies in the mainland U.S. and Puerto Rico. This term, as Chairman of the Committee with jurisdiction over banking, I intend to update all the additional banking laws, including the creation of a currency exchange center here in Puerto Rico.

Last year, as Chairman of the Select Committee on Telecommunications, I sponsored 6 measures which brought about an overhaul of this important sector of the economy, allowing for the opening up of the telecommunications market in Puerto Rico in accordance with federal law.

This year as Chairman of the Committee with jurisdiction over this area, we intend to update these laws in accordance with all the recent FCC rulings and relevant court decisions.

These measures provide a much needed and very useful common ground with most federal and state laws facilitating investments and commercial interaction between mainland businesses and local enterprises; obviously going even further in striving for the common goal of national cohesiveness than just implementing a language provision in this bill would. They obviously exploit our Island's competitive advantage due to its location and its bilingual workforce, in order to maximize our potential as a bridge between the Americas, as the gateway for the United States with the rest of the Hemisphere.

We can be a an asset to this Union. We know that we can stand on our own feet. We have all the confidence in our people. We only need the opportunity to express our desire to be EQUAL partners with the other fifty states.

Thus, in conclusion, we need, or even more so, we deserve, to have a bill signed by the President, either late this year, or early next year, so that not another year goes by without us having the opportunity to finally achieve equality within the United States. 100 years is more than enough time for the United States to act over an issue that affects the approximately 4 million U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico. Please make sure that H.R. 856 becomes a reality.

God bless Puerto Rico and its People, and God bless the United States of America.

Thank you.

Mr. KENNEDY. Ms. Fonalledas.

STATEMENT OF ZORAIDA F. FONALLEDAS, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEEWOMAN, SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO Ms. FONALLEDAS. Chairman Young, Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Miller, Senor Barceló, and distinguished Members of Congress, my name is Zoraida Fonalledas. On behalf of the Republican Party of Puerto Rico, bien venidos a nuestra isla, I welcome you to our beautiful island and applaud the Committee's effort to provide a process that will finally give our 3.7 million United States citizens the right to freely determine their political status and to resolve the centuryold relationship with the United States.

I am proud that our party platform and Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Bush have supported Puerto Rico statehood. H.R. 856 will be the fulfillment of our party's commitment to this goal.

Today I would like to make two points about H.R. 856: That the status quo must end. Puerto Rico's current status, started as an unincorporated territory subject to the Constitution territorial clause, must be ended by establishing full self-governing through either statehood or independence. For nearly 80 years we have been United States citizens, but we have no voting powers for the President, who, as our Commander-in-Chief, has sent over 200,000 of our youth into battle, defending the Constitution which the court has determined is not fully applicable to us. Congress continues to make laws that affect our daily lives with no political accountability to any of the island's residents. This is intolerable.

After 400 years of Spanish rule and a century of American administration, we in Puerto Rico have earned our right to be first class citizens. The bill provides a process by which that goal may be achieved.

Second, America must admit Puerto Rico to the Union. The United States can ill afford not to admit Puerto Rico to the Union, as I hope it is in 1998.

I am not talking about monetary costs, since statehood has never been a business decision. As my grandfather said, President Rafael Martinez Nadad, statehood is not a question of dollars and cents, but of a desire for liberty. “La estadidad no es una cuestión de pesos y centavos, es cuestión de dignidad, de honor, de justicia y de el mínimo anhelo de libertad.”

Denial of Puerto Rico's statehood will undermine America's credibility as the world leader in promoting liberty abroad and our relation with the more than 3 million Hispanics in the Western Hemisphere. And at home, political success in America among the 27 million Hispanics, whose number will go up by the year 2010, will go to those who seek to be inclusive of America's largest minority.

What chances would exist for candidates in key States such as California, Texas, Arizona, and Florida, where the Hispanic vote is critical to victory, if Congress fails to recognize Puerto Rico's right to statehood? The answer is self-evident. Puerto Rico must be allowed in statehood its language and culture.

Ronald Reagan put it best when he said, “In statehood, the language and culture of the island, rich in history and tradition, would be respected, for in the United States the cultures of the world live

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