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eration under its flag of all the people of the earth, regardless of their language, their beliefs, their customs, if they coincide on the fundamental idea of respect for human rights and on the guarantee of man's progress toward goodness.
The freedom that our Nation stands for in the eyes of the entire world guarantees my right to be different from you and your right to be different from each of your colleagues, provided we all come together on a small but very basic set of principles and ideals. The major and most transcendental of these principles is equality. So sacred is the tenet of equality that our Founding Fathers began the Declaration of Independence: We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.
The present political status of Puerto Rico provides inequality with our fellow U.S. citizens. Residents of Puerto Rico are unequal because our political system, based almost exclusively on status preference, has the practical effect of preventing the free and intelligent exercise of our right to vote. We vote, hostages of the emotion that permeates status politics. This prevents us from selecting among candidates based on rational analysis.
Status politics is a plague that pits one Puerto Rican against another, rendering us pawns in a never ending game that most politicians play. Mainland Americans are free to exercise their right to vote in a political election without regard or concern for status. Therein lies the first measure of our inequality, one that we owe, in part, to the timid aloofness of one Congress after another.
If only we had the Young bill back in 1917 or 1950, we would have been rid of the playing of the status politics which fosters divisiveness. But we have remained unequal throughout the century.
As a constituency of Americans, we are underrepresented. Our congressional representation, though not lacking in quality, is sorely lacking in quantity. The residents of Puerto Rico are recognizing that we lack the power that is essential to representative democracy.
For all proclamations made during five decades about Puerto Rico as a showcase of democracy, the honest to goodness truth is that the United States cannot preach democracy to the world when it has nearly 4 million citizens disenfranchised right here in the Western Hemisphere for all the world to see.
Why is there an exercise of public power over our borders, our forests, airports, communications, environment, water, and postal service, defense, food and drugs, minimum wages, banking laws, immigration and taxes, by a legislature in which we lack total representation, but by government isolation to legislation, we do not participate.
Put yourself in our position, if you will. There is so much that you take for granted that is lacking in our political system. The power will only reside with people when people have a right to vote for leaders that shape our Nation and guide its course through history.
As Americans, we want our rightful political power. We cannot hold the leaders of our Nation accountable; therein, another measure of our inequality.
Consider: The decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Harris v. Rosario, which is the highest court of our Nation, decided an American citizen living in Puerto Rico could be treated differently from citizens residing in States. There was a rational basis for such a disparate treatment.
The Young bill offers more than a glimmer of hope for Puerto Rico. It offers the first opportunity in over 500 years for Puerto Rico to obtain full sovereignty. It offers the promise obtain to achieve full self government. It offers the promise of redemption from status politics, allowing the realignment of orders on the basis of philosophy instead of tribal colors. This piece of legislation progressively seeks to break with the past for this and future generations of Americans living here. The stability that a final status determination will provide shall help the climate for investment in Puerto Rico.
Finally, and most importantly, the Young bill bears the promise of political empowerment for people who will cherish it and exercise it as full participants in all our national concerns. I say this mindful of the fact that the people of Puerto Rico will have a clear and fair opportunity to express a reference for separate nationhood.
Whatever the choice, if Congress follows up by enacting appropriate legislation, Puerto Ricans will united with dignity and political rights in a true democracy. The aspirations and dreams of those who espouse the ideal of a separate republic should have our utmost respect.
We have a great responsibility at this historical juncture. It is imperative that Congress, first, and then the people of Puerto Rico, act with transparent clarity and resolute firmness. I believe from the very depths of my soul that the people of Puerto Rico could never enjoy a greater independence than that available to them, together as one with the other States of the Union.
I respectfully urge you and your fellow Representatives to hold steadfastly to your equitable, moral, and constitutional duties to Puerto Ricans. In order for this long overdue initiative to be successful, any legislation enacted must provide clear choices to Puerto Rico's voters. I believe the Young bill, as drafted, meets that standard. Next, the choices provided must be realistic lest this titanic effort become another exercise in futility.
And finally, as an American, I urge you to view and to support this bill as a means for dignification of American citizenship. In order to form a more perfect Union, our citizenship cannot be viewed nor treated as a commodity to be bartered with. American citizenship is not a passport of convenience to be brandished solely for the sake of the doors that it may unlock and the opportunities that it may offer. Our citizenship entails obligations and loyalties that Puerto Ricans have shown time and again.
Our citizenship entails obligations and loyalties that Puerto Ricans have shown time and again they are willing to assume even at the highest personal cost. The dignification of American citizenship, in our view, requires an unquestioned allegiance to one nation that thrives on freedom and diversity, from Rhode Island to California, from Alaska to Puerto Rico, but loyalty to one republic; allegiance that is true to the concept of e pluribus unum.
As Americans, we would do well to ask ourselves what rational basis can exist to request a legacy of citizenship to future generations while seeking to remain forever unequal. The world will watch closely. Democracy beckons and a government of the people, by the people, and for the people must ultimately result from this initiative. Give the people of Puerto Rico the chance to make a clear choice, to come to grips with their destiny, to allow this daughter of the sea to become one with the land of the free.
U. S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES
LEGISLATIVE HEARING ON THE UNITED STATES-PUERTO RICO POLITICAL
STATUS ACT HR 856
APRIL 19, 1997
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO
Statement of: Etienne Totti del Valle,
Honorable Chairman Young, Honorable and distinguished Members of the U. S. House of Representatives Committee on Resources, my dear fellow panelists, distinguished guests, invitees, ladies and gentlemen, fellow citizens all:
Thank you for the invitation to testify at this hearing. I earnestly hope that what I have to say will do honor to the generations of Puerto Ricans proud, as I am, of our Hispanic-American heritage and loyal to the principles embodied in the Declaration of Independence, who have passed on to the next dimension of existence with the unanswered hope of leaving a legacy of true democracy and equality for our future generations. I humbly hope that in some small way my comments may help to further your understanding of the plight that the sons and daughters of Boriquén have endured for centuries under the control of governments in which our people are denied their rightful participation.
Puerto Rico has languished in an ideological limbo for nearly a century after the disembarkation of American troops into this Spanish colony in 1898. Before that, during more than four centuries of occupation by the Spaniards who arrived at the end of the 15th Century, the residents of this island were subjects of the Spanish crown. Thus, the United States-Puerto Rico Political Status Act proposed in H.R 856 represents the first opportunity in over five hundred years for Puerto Rico to achieve full self goverment.
On a subject pregnant with emotion and perennially dissected by subjective rethoric, let us pause to consider some objective facts. After the proclamation issued on June 28, 1898 by General Miles (Commander in Chief of the American troops that landed in Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American war) promising "the blessings of an enlightened civilization", Puerto Rico underwent a transformation. The general education of the masses, the new spirit of tolerance and supreme respect for the ideas of others, the establishment of independent courts, of just and equal laws for all, of an honest and patient government working for the common good, of a spirit of progress free from prejudice, of respect for human rights, and for all the basic freedoms that we now take for granted, were all part of this transformation. In retrospect, it would appear the student of history that Destiny delivered Puerto Rico into the hands of Democracy forever. But something happened along the way. In 1900, after considerable debate, Congress held back from granting United States citizenship to the inhabitants of Puerto