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Sen. Paul Simon

Sen. Paul Simon (D-IL), Senate Floor Statement upon the Introduction of S. Con. Res. 75, Relating to the Commonwealth Option in Puerto Rico, September 30, 1994.  In the interests of comity, the Legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico permitted each of the three political parties represented in the plebiscite–the Statehood Party, the Commonwealth Party, and the Independence Party–to draw up its own definition of its status option for inclusion on the plebiscite ballot. This attempt to be fair, however, led to the formulation and appearance of completely unrealistic status options on the November 14 ballot.

The Commonwealth Party in Puerto Rico presented Puerto Rico’s citizens with a series of vain promises regarding the island’s future relationship with the United States. The Commonwealth Party promised, among other things, that future Puerto Rico-U.S. relations would be governed by a bilateral pact that would be unalterable except by mutual consent; that supplemental security income benefits and food stamps would be made available to Puerto Ricans on a par with citizens of the 50 states; that Puerto Rican fiscal autonomy would be preserved; and that Puerto Rico would be guaranteed a common market, defense, and currency with the United States. In short, the Commonwealth Party promised Puerto Ricans many of the benefits of full incorporation with the United States without any of the concomitant responsibilities, and proposed a form of association with the United States that is inconsistent with Constitutional principles.

Not surprisingly, a plurality of Puerto Ricans–48.6 percent–voted for the Commonwealth package of benefits, although to the credit of the Puerto Rican people, a combined majority of pro-statehood and pro-independence voters expressed approval for packages that combined benefits and responsibilities equally. Indeed, it is important to note that, for the first time since its establishment in 1952, the commonwealth status option failed to receive a majority of support from the Puerto Rican electorate.

In light of the continued uncertainty regarding the Puerto Rican plebiscite and what it means for the future, it is incumbent on the U.S. Congress to heed the call of the Puerto Rican Legislature and express its opinion regarding the viability of the commonwealth plebiscite formula. If, as I believe, this formula was neither politically, economically, nor constitutionally viable, the people of Puerto Rico must be given this signal, so that they may promptly choose a path of association that is both realistic and consistent with constitutional principles.

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