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Mr. YOUNG. I thank the gentleman.
The gentleman from Guam has a great interest in this process, too. Mr. Underwood.
STATEMENT OF THE HON. ROBERT A. UNDERWOOD, A U.S.
DELEGATE FROM THE TERRITORY OF GUAM Mr. UNDERWOOD. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Good morning, and thank you, Mr. Chairman, and our good friend, the Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico, Carlos RomeroBarceló, for the opportunity to be here in beautiful Puerto Rico.
Today and on Monday the Committee will hear from representatives of various points of view and from all segments of Puerto Rican society about the most fundamental issue any people can deal with-their political future. The seriousness of this issue is underscored by the attention given to the hearings here in Puerto Rico and, of course, the spirit of the people as is reflected in the highly charged demonstrations.
The process of conducting congressional hearings depends upon a sense of fairness and commitment and the leadership of those committees which conduct those hearings; and I am pleased to acknowledge the leadership of this Committee-yourself, Mr. Chairman, Don Young, and the Ranking Member, George Miller—that while they may not agree on many issues before the Nation, they certainly agree that Puerto Rico deserves a fair hearing in Puerto Rico.
This is a level of commitment which not only reflects well upon the leadership of the Committee but the importance and seriousness of the issues which we will be confronting and have been confronting on this issue.
Mr. Young's project, as it is reported here in the press, is in reality part of a larger project all of us continue to labor in. All of us are participants in the great American project, the project of perfecting democracy; and the project continues whether the issues before us are about racial injustice, ethnic division, equal opportunity, the appropriate relationship between States and the Federal Government and, as it is today, the relationship between the Federal Government and an appendage, a separate body politic to that government.
In the case before us today, that entity is Puerto Rico; and, in its existing form, the Commonwealth is described in various ways, depending upon one's vision for the future. It is a colony seeking first-class citizenship. It is a freely associated State. It is a nation awaiting deliverance.
I don't think this it is for us to decide. I think that is for the people of Puerto Rico to decide in concert with the Federal Government; and I think our responsibility as a Committee is to ensure that the process which is ultimately developed allows for fairness and, most importantly, closure.
It should be a process which does not move the people to a choice out of desperation or frustration; and it should be a process in which the options are clear and direct, at least on the ballot. I think we can leave it up to elected officials later during campaign season to mischaracterize each other's positions. It should be a process which leads to change, if this is the desire of the Puerto Rican people.
This is why in your legislation, Mr. Chairman, the Federal Government's responsibility to act is so important in this legislation. The Federal responsibility must be consistent with the modern 21st century understanding of decolonization, and it must lead to a process which forces expeditious action.
My role in the process is unique. I represent an island which is seeking resolution of its own political status. I share more in common with the Resident Commissioner than with other Members of the House of Representatives. I represent an island which came under the U.S. flag through the treaty of Paris ending the SpanishAmerican war.
In the March hearing in Washington, Governor Rossello stated that Puerto Rico has been a colony longer under the U.S. flag than anyone else. Guam was invaded by U.S. Marines in June of 1898, and Puerto Rico's experience came a month later. So we win on that score.
Due to our similarities as historical appendages to the Federal politic and due to our common colonization even by Spain, which dates back 325 years for Guam, I feel a special responsibility not to evaluate the efforts of the Puerto Rican people but instead to facilitate the aspirations of the people to move toward the full decolonization of their homeland. And I believe that, under your leadership, the Committee comes to this hearing with open hearts as well as open ears.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
It is my great honor now to introduce someone who does not need introduction. The gentleman has led this program for many, many years, my good friend, Don Carlos. He has done well. He is not only a good member of my Committee, I think he does an excellent job in Washington for Puerto Rico. STATEMENT OF THE HON. CARLOS A. ROMERO-BARCELÓ,
RESIDENT COMMISSIONER FROM THE COMMONWEALTH OF PUERTO RICO
Mr. ROMERO-BARCELÓ. Thank you. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and thank you to the other Members.
I would like to begin my remarks today by welcoming back all of the Committee members to the beautiful capital of San Juan, the oldest city in the United States. San Juan was colonized and became a city in 1521. That was quite a bit before St. Augustine in Florida. As a matter of fact, it was our first Governor, Ponce de Leon, who was the first European to start the colonization of what is now the United States of America.
I want to commend you, Mr. Chairman, for your initiative in scheduling these two hearings on H.R. 856, the United States-Puerto Rico Political Status Act, and for your commitment to achieving full self-government and ending the disenfranchisement of the 3.8 million U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico. Thanks to your leadership on this issue, we have been able to reach the point where we are today.
In addition, I want to take this opportunity to thank our Ranking Minority Member, my good friend, George Miller, for his efforts in helping to provide a process in which Puerto Ricans will have the opportunity to decide freely, without ambiguity and decisively on what the island's future relationship with the United States should be.
I want to thank my colleagues, Patrick Kennedy and Bob Underwood, for also taking time out of this congressional recess to be here with us and
for giving this issue the importance they have already given to it. Their participation is very meaningful not only to me personally but I am sure to all of the people of Puerto Rico.
Last, but not least, I want to thank the 84 Members of Congress and the 12 Members of the Senate who have already cosponsored this legislation. It is clear that the U.S. Congress has finally made it a top priority to resolve the Puerto Rican status issue, and the bipartisan consensus grows every day for a federally sponsored plebiscite next year.
The Clinton administration has also joined in expressing its support for this process. During the Committee's hearing in Washington last month, the President's spokesperson, Jeffrey Farrow, stated that establishing a process that would enable the people of Puerto Rico_to decide their future relationship with the United States was President Clinton's highest priority regarding this island.
In addition, he indicated that the President hoped that such a process would be under way next year, the centennial of the U.S. acquisition of the islands.
It was also mentioned that the President looked forward to our entering the new millennium having concluded the debate and implementing the will of the Puerto Rican people.
So make no mistake about it. After 100 years, the Puerto Rican colonial dilemma has finally become a national issue and one that two active branches of the Federal Government recognize has to be resolved as soon as possible.
Mr. Chairman, the hearings that this Committee will be celebrating here today and next Monday are truly historic in nature. The members of this Committee will have an opportunity to hear from over 50 witnesses representing all of the political spectrum of the island. I do not recall a hearing in any of my Committees during my tenure in Congress where we had so many witnesses to testify on one single subject.
In that regard, Mr. Chairman, these hearings are unprecedented; and you and Mr. Miller are to be praised for the fairness, the openness and inclusiveness of this process. The Committee has tried to receive the widest input from as many people and sectors as possible; and everyone who has expressed interest has been given the opportunity to participate and state his or her point of view, either by submitting a written statement or by testifying personally.
Back on March 3rd, 1997, exactly 80 years and 1 day after Puerto Ricans were granted U.S. citizenship, Chairman Young and Congressman Miller sent a letter to the presidents of the three political parties in Puerto Rico, requesting them to submit to Congress the status definition which they believe would be most appropriate for the status option they supported.
While the party presidents were assured that the specific definitions regarding their status preferences would be presented to all of the Committee members for consideration at the time of the markup, Mr. Young and Mr. Miller were clear in stating that there was no purpose in presenting the people of Puerto Rico a status definition which does not represent an option that the Congress will be willing to ratify should it be approved in a plebiscite.
If there is something to be learned from our previous locally sponsored plebiscites, it is that the only way that we will be able to finalize once and for all this frustrating debate is if the U.S. Congress clarifies what the options really are and how it is willing to implement the people's choice. Only then will the people of Puerto Rico be able to reach an informed decision on their future. No more false promises; no more wish-lists. The people of Puerto Rico need realistic and viable options, and it is our responsibility as Members of Congress to provide them with those options.
During today's hearing we will have the opportunity to hear from, among others, the three party presidents or their representatives, all of whom submitted a response to Chairman Young and Mr. Miller's request.
The new Progressive Party was in full agreement with the definition of statehood that was included in the bill and did not submit any changes.
The Independence Party proposed some minor changes to the definition that I am sure will be discussed in more detail here today.
But we should not be concerned with these two definitions, because they are clear. In the case of statehood, there are 50 more examples; and everyone knows what independence means and what it entails.
It is the definition of the so-called new Commonwealth that concerns us, because, once again, the Popular Party was given the opportunity to come up with a definition of Commonwealth that is constitutional, realistic, viable and, most of all, a definition that the U.S. Congress can accept.
Unfortunately, it is quite evident that the definition of the new Commonwealth submitted by the Popular Party does not meet the aforementioned requirements. Basic attributes of the proposed definition, such as the permanent nature of the relationship, the mutual consent language, the existence of a compact, the constitutional guarantee of U.S. citizenship, and the equality of treatment under Federal programs without income taxes are clearly unacceptable to Congress because they are either unconstitutional, unrealistic, politically unacceptable or all of the above.
First of all, the so-called Commonwealth status can never be permanent in nature, precisely because it is a colonial relationship which the U.S. cannot maintain. The president of the Popular Party, Anibal Acevedo Vila, was the first one to admit this fact in the congressional hearings that were held in Washington last March 19th.
It is clear the Congress cannot constitutionally bind itself never to alter the current or any future territorial relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico nor renounce its constitutional power under the territorial clause which states that Congress shall have the power to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States, article 4, section 3.
As long as Puerto Rico remains an unincorporated territory, the U.S. Congress retains the authority to act unilaterally and to determine which Federal laws will apply or not in Puerto Rico.
But what strikes me as the most absurd of the statements in the definition is the claim that Puerto Rico be an autonomous body politic, sovereign over matters covered by the Constitution of Puerto Rico, while at the same time demanding that Congress guarantee forever the U.S. citizenship of persons born on the island with the same rights, privileges and immunities provided for in the U.S. Constitution.
Once again, the Popular Party talks about the rights, privileges and benefits of U.S. citizenship; but the words responsibility and obligation are nowhere to be seen in their definition.
Furthermore, the fact is that the current citizenship status of persons born in Puerto Rico exists at the discretion of Congress. Because the Constitution has been partially extended to Puerto Rico, particularly the fundamental rights of due process and equal protection, Congress obviously cannot exercise its discretion in an arbitrary and irrational way. But the suggestion that the current citizenship can be guaranteed forever and it is irrevocable by future Congresses is dangerously misleading. No such statutory status can bind a future Congress from exercising its constitutional authority and responsibility under the territorial clause.
In the U.S. constitutional system, equal political rights come with full and equal citizenship based on birth in one of the States of the Union or naturalization. Birth on an unincorporated territory like Puerto Rico does not confer a citizenship status protected by the 14th amendment of the Constitution, as indicated by the fact that the U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico do not have the same economic and political rights as citizens of the States; and Puerto Rico is subject to laws passed by the U.S. Congress in which they have no voting representation.
It is time for the pretense and the partisan mischief to end. It is time for all of us to put hypocrisy aside and be truthful about what the real choices are for Puerto Ricans. It is time to decide if we want to have full self-government and full empowerment that will allow us to search for a brighter future in equality with our fellow citizens, or we would rather live hanging on to an outdated colonial relationship of the past.
As we approach a century of U.S. sovereignty over Puerto Rico, the time has come to empower the people by giving them clear choices which they understand and which are truly decolonizing so we can reveal Puerto Rico's true desire through a lifetime act of self-determination.
Mr. Chairman and fellow members, I want to once again thank you for your interest and attention to this vitally important issue. I look forward to the testimony of our distinguished guests and to further congressional action on this subject. The 3.8 million U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico deserve no less.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.