Congressional Recognition of Puerto Rican Requests for Action
Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL), House Floor Statement before House Session, June 21, 2017, Congressional Record, page H5004. In our democracy, only those who cast ballots are counted, and those who voted in Puerto Rico overwhelmingly chose statehood. It is now up to Puerto Rico’s elected officials, especially its Governor and Delegate in Congress, to determine how best to move forward. They can count on my full support. As I see it, in the wake of this vote, the question is not whether but, rather, when Puerto Rico will become a State. After 119 years, it is well past time for the U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico to have the same rights and responsibilities as their fellow citizens living in Florida and in other States.
Rep. Don Young (R-AK), House Floor Statement before House Session, June 15, 2017, Congressional Record, page H4934. Mr. Speaker, I had the privilege last Sunday to be an observer in Puerto Rico for the plebiscite and watch the people of Puerto Rico make the decision that they would like to be the 51st State.
Chairman Don Young (R-AK), Opening Statement before the House Subcommittee Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs of the House Committee of Natural Resources, June 24th,2015. Holding hearings such as this will further the discussion and drive the point home that Congress maintains its duty to serve the Americans of the island, just as we do to the Americans here on the mainland. We must show the 3.7 million Americans living in Puerto Rico that although they may not have voting representation in the House or the Senate, those of us tending this Nation will hear them when they speak. It is our duty and we honor that duty to listen today. On a personal level, I have been involved in this project since 1994. I believe very strongly, right up front with you, in statehood. That is no hidden secret. But that is up to the decision of the Puerto Rican people. But the status quo cannot exist—the unfairness to Americans not being listened to by this Congress, and I think the responsibility to the people of Puerto Rico.
Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi (D-PR), Statement before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, October 22, 2015. Not a single Senator would accept territory status for his or her constituents. So why should I accept territory status for my constituents? I do not accept it. To the contrary, I oppose it with every fiber of my being. Puerto Rico’s status as a territory is not an abstract or theoretical problem. It is a moral, social and political wrong with crushing practical consequences for the men, women and children I represent.
Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR), Opening Statement before the Senate Committee on Natural Resources, August 1, 2013, S. Hrg. 113-76, p. 2. [T]here is no disputing that a majority of the voters in Puerto Rico, 54 percent, have clearly expressed their opposition to continuing the current territorial status. Given that fact, I agree with the President’s proposal to resolve this dispute through a federally sponsored referendum.
The rejection of the current territory status last November leaves Puerto Rico with only two options: Statehood under U.S. sovereignty or some form of separate national sovereignty.
Rep. Dan Burton (D-IN), House Floor Debate on H.R. 2499, Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2009, April 29, 2010, Congressional record, page H3035. I believe they want statehood, and we ought to let them determine that. If their representatives want it, if their Governor wants it, if everybody else wants it and if they are sacrificing their lives for this country, then by gosh we ought to give them a chance to be a State.
Committee on Natural Resources Report, Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2007 (H.R. 900), Report No. 110-597, April 22, 2008, pp. 4-6. In general, politics in Puerto Rico has largely been a debate among advocates who support either the enhanced autonomy status proposed by Muñoz and others, statehood, or independence. The current territorial status has never satisfied Puerto Rican leaders.
As former PDP Governor Rafael Hernández Colón has written, despite the divergent views that Puerto Ricans have with respect to their preferred political status, “[a]ll factions do agree on the need to end the present undemocratic arrangement whereby Puerto Rico is subject to the laws of Congress but cannot vote in it.”
Rep. Young (R-AK), House Floor Debate on H.R. 856, United States Puerto Rico Political Status Act, March 4, 1998, Congressional Record, page H773. While the [Puerto Rican] legislature has never petitioned for separate sovereignty, the legislature sent joint resolutions to Congress in 1993, 1994, and 1997 requesting congressional action. Keep that in mind, because I have heard time and again that the Congress, by doing this, is dictating to the Puerto Rican people. But the legislature sent [the three joint resolutions] to this Congress in 1993, 1994, [and] 1997 requesting congressional action to define the political status and establish the process to resolve Puerto Rico’s political status dilemma.
Although in recent years the Puerto Rican legislature formally requested the Congress to resolve Puerto Rico’s political status, U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico had been advocating action for over a decade. I remember the submission to Congress in 1985 and 1987 of over 350,000 individually signed petitions for full citizenship rights. This incredible grassroots effort was led by Dr. Miriam Ramirez of the nonprofit, nonpartisan civic organization, Puerto Ricans in Civic Action.
Mr. Chairman[,] I believe this initiative influenced the then president of the Senate to include in his first State of the Union address as President on February 9, 1989, the following request: “I’ve long believed the people of Puerto Rico should have their right to determine their own political future. Personally, I strongly favor statehood. But I urge the Congress to take the necessary steps to allow the people to decide in a referendum.”
Mr. Chairman, about the same time as President Bush requested Congress authorize a political status referendum in Puerto Rico, the three presidents of the three principal political status parties in Puerto Rico asked Congress to help resolve Puerto Rico’s political status, as Puerto Rico has never been formally consulted as their choice of ultimate political status.
While Congress has yet to formally respond to the request of the President, the leaders of Puerto Rico, and the petitions of the Americans in Puerto Rico, [H.R. 856] will do just what has been asked by the people of Puerto Rico in numerous years and numerous times by the president of the Senate, the Presidents in the past in their platforms.
Resolutions Enacted by the Puerto Rican Legislative Assembly and Sent to Congress
Concurrent Resolution 2, January 23, 1997. Just as the United States has successfully promoted democratic values in the international sphere, it is now appropriate for the nation to attend to the claims for full political participation of the 3.75 million American citizens of Puerto Rico.
[T]he reality of the situation is that after almost a century during which Puerto Rico has been under the sovereignty of the United States, the Federal Government has never approved or implemented specific measures geared to promoting a process in a conclusive, binding manner, by which the American citizens of Puerto Rico may democratically express their wishes regarding their final political status.
Be it Resolved by the Legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico: To request the 105th Congress and the President of the United States of America to respond to the democratic aspirations of the American citizens of Puerto Rico, in order to achieve a means of guaranteeing the prompt decolonization of Puerto Rico through a plebiscite sponsored by the Federal Government, to be held no later than 1998.
Concurrent Resolution 62, December 14, 1994. The preference expressed by the People in the Plebiscite of 1993 for this redefinition of the Commonwealth requires, for it to become a reality, substantial amendments to the Puerto Rico Federal Relations Act. Since this Act is a federal statute, and the United States has jurisdiction over any matter which alters or modifies the political status of Puerto Rico, it is pertinent on the One Hundred and Fourth Congress to evaluate the results of the Plebiscite and fix its position promptly and diligently concerning the claims, it corresponds to the One Hundred Fourth Congress to clearly state which one of the status alternatives it is willing to consider, and which is the next stop that the Congress recommends the People of Puerto Rico to take as part of the process to solve the problem of its political status.
Resolutions Passed by at Least One Chamber of the Puerto Rican Legislative Assembly
Substitute to House bills 1014, 1054 and 1058, February 11, 2005.
We, the People of Puerto Rico in exercise of our right to self-determination, demand from the President and the Congress of the United States of America, before December 31, 2006, an expression of their commitment to respond to the claim of the People of Puerto Rico to solve our political status among fully democratic options of a non-colonial and non-territorial nature. (Passed with unanimous approval in both chambers of the Puerto Rican legislature)
House Concurrent Resolution 102, February 12, 2007.
[We request] the 110th Congress to respond to the democratic aspirations of the people of Puerto Rico with all deliberate speed, accepting the recommendations contained in the Report of the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status, of December 22, 2005, providing through legislation for the holding of a plebiscite by virtue of which the people of Puerto Rico may express themselves regarding if they desire to continue as a territory of the United States of America, subject to the plenary powers of Congress, or if they desire to undertake a constitutionally viable course of action towards a permanent status that is neither territorial, nor colonial[.] (Approved by the House of Representatives of Puerto Rico)
House Concurrent Resolution 25, April 21, 2005.
[We petition] Congress and the President of the United Sates of America to respond to the democratic aspirations of the United States citizens of Puerto Rico in order to ensure that with all deliberate speed, they provide us with an electoral method through which we, ourselves, may choose which shall be our political relationship with the United Sates of America, if any, from among fully democratic non-territorial and non-colonial alternatives. (Approved by the House of Representatives of Puerto Rico)
Resolution Enacted by the Municipality of San Juan
Resolution Number 41, February 16, 1989.
Now Therefore: Be it Resolved by the Municipal Assembly of the City of San Juan, Capital of Puerto Rico: (1) To extend, as is hereby extended, a message of congratulation to the President of the United States of America for the vision, and commitment to equality of citizenship, embodied in the statement on Puerto Rico which was contained in his address to Congress on February 9, 1989; (2) To exhort the Congress of the United States of America to collaborate expeditiously with the President and with the people of Puerto Rico in peacefully and democratically resolving Puerto Rico’s political status dilemma; (3) To transmit copies of this Resolution to the President, to the leaders of the congress, to the Governor and legislative leaders of Puerto Rico, and to news media serving Puerto Rico and the nation.
Joint Letter to Congress
Letter from Governor Hernandez Colon (Commonwealth Party), Senator Rubén Ángel Berrio (Independence Party) and former Resident Commissioner Baltazar Corrada-Del Rio (Statehood Party) to Congress, as quoted by Baltazar Corrada-Del Rio in testimony before the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, June 16, 1989, p. 18.
The people of Puerto Rico wish to be consulted as to their preference with regards to their ultimate political status and … the will of the people once expressed shall be implemented through an act of Congress which would establish the appropriate mechanisms and procedures to that effect.
Puerto Rican Elected Officials
Pedro Pierluisi, Former Resident Commissioner (D-PR), House floor Statement before House Session, December 7, 2016, Congressional Record, page H7278. I close with this thought: Puerto Rico’s current territory status, which gives Congress license to treat my constituents like second class citizens, is undignified and unsustainable. Following a 2012 local referendum in which island residents expressed their opposition to the current status and their support for statehood, Congress enacted legislation that provided funding for the first federally sponsored referendum in Puerto Rico’s history. The significance of this achievement has yet to be sufficiently appreciated. Puerto Rico should use this authority to conduct a vote on whether the territories should become a State. If the people of Puerto Rico ratify their support for statehood, as I expect they will, it will be incumbent upon Congress to implement that result. This country, which was founded on the principles of equality and justice, must live up to its creed. May God bless Puerto Rico and the United States of America.
Pedro Pierluisi, Former Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico, prepared statement submitted to the Committee on Finance of the U.S. Senate, September 29, 2015, Hearing transcript, pg. 67.The root cause of Puerto Rico’s crisis is our political status, a subject that is within the jurisdiction of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, but a topic that I hope every U.S. Senator comprehends and considers with care, because the Constitution vests Congress with nearly unlimited power over its territories.
Pedro Pierluisi, Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico, House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs of the House Committee of Natural Resources, June 24th, 2015. Puerto Rico’s status is intolerable, and my constituents will no longer tolerate it. We want equality under the American flag, and we will settle for nothing less.
Rubén Berríos, President of the Independent party, House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs of the House Committee of Natural Resources, June 24th, 2015,page 16. To say that Puerto Rico should first decide what it wants, as President Obama has proposed, is merely an excuse to evade the legal responsibility of the United States as a colonial power, particularly when the President insists that the territorial relationship already repudiated by the Puerto Rican electorate should be one of the options. Colonialism is the problem, not the solution. We, therefore, propose the following process to resolve Puerto Rico’s status problem. Puerto Rico and the U.S. Congress should engage in a collaborative process of self-determination for Puerto Rico.
Carlos Romero Barceló, Former Governor of Puerto Rico (1977-1985), House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs of the House Committee of Natural Resources, June 24th, 2015. Yes, we must stop begging for equality and demand it loud and clear and belligerently, if need be. It is way past the time when Congress and the President should have put an end to our disenfranchisement and to our being denied equal opportunities under the laws of our Nation. How can anyone who claims to believe in democracy stand idly by without putting an end to the discrimination and the unacceptable inequality between the 3,600,600 American citizens who live in Puerto Rico and the 360 million fellow citizens in the 50 states? Whether we demand equality or not, it is the Congress and the President’s duty, as leaders of the world’s greatest democracy, to put an end to this inequality and denial to participate in our Nation’s democracy.
Luis G. Fortuño, Former Governor of Puerto Rico (2009-2013), House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs of the House Committee of Natural Resources, June 24th, 2015, page 37. The most logical and democratic way for Congress to know where we stand as Americans is to allow us an up-or-down vote to confirm or overturn the 2012 results.
Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, Former Governor of Puerto Rico (2005-2009), House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs of the House Committee of Natural Resources, June 24th, 2015, page 41 I request of you a joint resolution of Congress, asking the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve to roll up their sleeves and do more than just give advice. They need to get involved and be part of the solution. They have the power and the tools and the responsibility to do it. We are willing to sacrifice, but we need a fighting chance.
Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto, Mayor of San Juan, House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs of the House Committee of Natural Resources, June 24th, 2015, page 45. You have the power to help Puerto Rico. Now you must exercise it. You have the moral obligation to end the trite pilgrimage of Puerto Ricans looking for the status question to be resolved. You must move forward. I assure you, you will be met by an alliance of relentless people who know how—who have in the past and will in the future, once again, overcome adversity.
[T]here are 100 members of the U.S. Senate and 435 voting members of the U.S. House. None of you would accept territory status for your own constituents, so I know you will respect that my constituents do not accept it either.
Now that American citizens living in an American territory have informed the federal government, in a free and fair vote, that they do not consent to a political status that deprives them of the right to choose the leaders who make their national laws and the right to equal treatment under those laws, it is imperative that the federal government take steps to facilitate Puerto Rico’s transition to a democratic and dignified status.
[F]or a change of status to happen two things must happen. Congress must provide for it. The people of Puerto Rico must accept it. So you cannot detract yourself from the process. You have to be engaged. We’re driving the process in the sense that we already held a plebiscite. We can, very much so, morally and legally do it. We’re telling you, act on it. Respond to it.
Honorable Luis G. Fortuño, Governor of Puerto Rico, Letter to the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status, March 2011 Report, page 56. Puerto Rico is home to nearly four million American citizens who are no less deserving of federal economic development assistance that their fellow citizens in the states. For too long, key federal programs designed to reduce poverty and increase employment have not been extended to the island, or have been extended in only limited fashion. We urge the Task Force, respectfully but in the strongest possible terms, to recommend an end to this disparate treatment.
Kenneth D. McClintock, President of the Puerto Rican Senate, Interview in the Anchorage Press, July 23, 2008.
“If [a plebiscite] is not a vote that has federal approval it’s just a glorified opinion poll.”
Resident Commissioner Luis Fortuño (R-PR), Testimony before a joint oversight hearing of the House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs and House Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census and National Archives, “Census Data: Special Issues Related to U.S. Territories,” May 21, 2008.
[N]o matter what measures Congress adopts to address the particular problem discussed at this hearing, Puerto Rico will remain at a perpetual disadvantage unless and until it normalizes its political status. For the smaller territories, there may be narrowly-tailored solutions to the problem we examine today. Not so with Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico’s four million U.S. citizens live under the U.S. flag, under the U.S. sovereignty, and under U.S. federal law. The disparate treatment by the Census Bureau – and therefore by those in the public and private sector that utilize its data – is an inevitable byproduct of a much larger problem: the longstanding denial of equal civil and political rights to the residents of Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico’s unresolved political status is primarily a result of Congress’s failure to fulfill its responsibility to sponsor a fair and orderly self-determination process on the Island, one in which the people of Puerto Rico are able to express their preference between permanent, constitutionally-valid status options. The only genuine solution to both the discrete problem we examine today and to the broader problem of Puerto Rico’s political status is for the people of Puerto Rico to choose, in a Congressionally-approved process, statehood or independence – but in neither case to continue their condition as second-class citizens of the greatest democracy on earth.
Jose F. Aponte-Hernandez, Speaker of the House of Representatives of Puerto Rico, Testimony before the House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, April 25, 2007.
It is clear that your fellow citizens from Puerto Rico can no longer remain within the current arrangement.
[I]n order to have a real and meaningful process of self-determination, we need to know what Congress and the President of the United States understand as constitutionally viable and politically acceptable from among the possible status options. If not, we would only have a future process, just like our three locally sponsored status plebiscites that led to nothing, while further confusing our people as to what is really attainable under our three traditional status alternatives[.] In other words, without an expression by Congress and the Executive Branch, as to what is constitutionally and politically viable, everything would be a charade.
[There is a contention that Puerto Ricans should first present the federal Government with their own solution to this problem.] I would begin my reply by formulating the following question – how could we get our act together if the people have been confused and misinformed for decades as to what is truly available under each of the traditional status options?
The role of the Federal Government in providing for a final solution to our centuries old dilemma is essential to this process, not because we feel or act subservient to anyone (as that would be totally un-American), but because we fully respect and adhere to the rule of law; and under the current Commonwealth territorial arrangement we do not have the power – nor the right – to change our current status or relationship with the United States in a unilateral manner. The recognition of this congressional power over those of us who reside in Puerto Rico is a legal and political reality over which we have no control. Nonetheless, that does not mean that any process undertaken by the Federal Government would preclude or inhibit continuous dialogue and negotiation by the people of Puerto Rico regarding the specifics and details of each option, the process or processes that need to be undertaken to finally enable this final choice by our people, as well as the implementation of the selected option. (emphasis in original)
Kenneth D. McClintock, President of the Puerto Rican Senate, Testimony before the House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, April 25, 2007.
[T]he argument that I’ve heard the most to excuse 108 years of Congressional inaction is that the American citizens of Puerto Rico have to speak with one voice to resolve the status dilemma, a standard that hasn’t kept you from dealing with other highly divisive domestic issues such as racial segregation – in the past – and more recently, oil drilling in the ANWR, protection of the Everglades, and the very delicate issue of immigration reform.
I believe that the [Territorial] Clause’s drafters, who only five years before had won a war against colonialism, never intended for you to continue ruling indefinitely over Puerto Rico as a territory. If you share our belief, inaction is no longer an alternative. The only alternative is to establish a process that will allow you to dispose of the territory of Puerto Rico or admit us into the Union.
Carlos Romero-Barceló, Former Governor and Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico, Testimony before the House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, April 25, 2007.
Too many of our people have supported an unacceptable trade-off of so-called special treatment for the territory, in exchange for our support of the disenfranchised territory called “Commonwealth.” Too many of us have embraced a second class citizenship that other Americans in the states have given up their lives to overcome. In exchange for partial income tax exemption, too many American citizens of Puerto Rico have accepted and tolerated a less than equal status. . . . We should not stand for this discrimination. And neither should Congress.
Resident Commissioner Luis G. Fortuño (R-PR), Testimony before the House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, March 22, 2007.
We have an overall consensus in Puerto Rico that our current relation with the U.S. is territorial in nature, not fully democratic, not fully self-governing, not based on equal rights and duties of citizenship, and does not fully implement the principle of government by consent of the governed.
We have an overall consensus that our current political relationship with the United States no longer serves either Puerto Rico or the U.S. well. We have an overall consensus that the time for change into a permanent, non-territorial relationship with the United States is not only long overdue, but urgently needed. The reality is that the island’s current status does not enable the people of Puerto Rico to fulfill their potential for social, economic, and political development.
It is not only a political problem; it is also money invested in Puerto Rico’s chronic economic under-performance. This includes the local economic recession, even in the midst of our national economic growth and expansion, as well as high unemployment, while national unemployment is at record lows. This economic reality translates into human discouragement and unrealized dreams, and have forced many of my constituents–some people say about 6,000 per month–to move to the mainland in search for better opportunities and equality.
We have a sacred duty to our children and future generations to stop this cycle of unfulfilled human potential. That is why there is a consensus in Puerto Rico that the current status must be changed to a new status that is permanent and non-territorial; one that redeems the promise of democracy and opportunity for our people.
Resident Commissioner Luis G. Fortuño (R-PR), Testimony before the Senate Energy Committee, November 15, 2006, pp. 30-31.
Congress must formally recognize its moral responsibility and join the executive branch in clarifying that Puerto Rico remains in a territorial status and that the new commonwealth proposal is unconstitutional, and thus, impossible to consider. It must then provide a process for Puerto Ricans to determine their preference among real and viable options.
[A self determination process that could result in Puerto Ricans coalescing around an “Enhanced Commonwealth” platform] would create false expectations in Puerto Rico resulting in greater frustration among my constituents and unnecessary tension between the Federal Government and the island.
Resident Commissioner Carlos Romero-Barceló (D-PR), Testimony before the House Natural Resources Committee, October 4, 2000, pp. 2-4.
This year has brought forth many feelings and emotions related to more than 100 years of territorial status. . . Vieques could never have happened if the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico were not disenfranchised under our present territorial status, which we euphemistically call “commonwealth”….Congress can run away from it, but in the end, it cannot hide from its constitutional duty to define a status resolution process.
Congress must recognize that the U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico who support this [Enhanced Commonwealth] formula are good Americans who were taught to believe in the principle of government by consent. The[y] understand that there is no substitute for consent of the governed, but they have been told that a substitute form of consent is available under the constitution. It has been the failure of Congress, not the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico, to honor and redeem the principle of government by consent of the governed as defined by the U.S. constitution. That lack of a constitutionally valid definition of government by consent has created fertile ground for local political leaders affiliated with “commonwealth” to sow the seeds of confusion about how to achieve a permanent constitutional status based on consent.
Congress has made this status formula called commonwealth to appear plausible by its ambivalence and silence on the status of Puerto Rico. Now events demand that Congress exercise its constitutional power and define the status options and the self-determination process through which the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico can express and ultimately realize their aspirations for a fully enfranchised and fully self-governing status.
Charles A. Rodriguez, President of the Senate of Puerto Rico, Testimony before the House Natural Resources Committee, October 4, 2000, pp. 43- 45 .
It is not unfair to the [Enhanced Commonwealth authors] or any ideological sector in Puerto Rico for Congress to tell the truth about what the U.S. Constitution will allow and what it will not allow. That is all we are asking you to do. Only Congress can define the constitutionally valid status options it is willing to consider. The legislative assembly of Puerto Rico has formally petitioned Congress repeatedly to exercise its exclusive power to prescribe legislative self-determination options for Puerto Rico and sponsor a status resolution process. Now Congress must tell the truth about what the U.S. Constitution will allow.
[The “Enhanced Commonwealth” proposal] reaffirms the political reality that all three political parties of Puerto Rico agree that the current commonwealth status is colonial in nature and maintains the discredited and unconstitutional segregationist policies of the 1950’s and 1960’s.
The time is now for the establishment of a decolonization policy to guarantee … almost four million American their undeniable right to self determination with clearly defined and attainable formulas within the framework of the Constitution.
Pedro Rosselló, Governor of Puerto Rico, Testimony before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, May 6, 1999.
I am speaking as Governor, and in speaking as Governor I must commence my presentation by placing the December 13, 1998, Puerto Rican political status plebiscite within the proper historical context.
A total of over 1.5 million persons cast ballots. Of that total, exactly 933 voters marked their ballots in favor of our current status as a territorial commonwealth. This means that for every 1,577 persons who participated in the plebiscite, only one person manifested support for the status quo. And that level of support equals considerably less than one-tenth of one percent.
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, I respectfully submit that this single fact speaks volumes. During this hearing it is safe to assume that a variety of interpretations will be offered regarding the significance of the plebiscite outcome. I would urge, however, that in evaluating those interpretations you keep foremost in your minds this one salient fact, because, whatever else our plebiscite may have signified, it indisputably constituted a unanimous rejection of the status quo.
The political status with which Puerto Rican must contend today . . . is a political status that we, the people of Puerto Rico, emphatically reject as an alternative for the future…
In 1993 [on the plebiscite ballot], we allowed each political party to define its own formula. I did that. I sent the bill to our legislature. I assume full responsibility. But now I say it was a major mistake, because you cannot allow simply the political parties to set up a wish list of what they want….I think that mistake has to be corrected and the definitions have to be placed where they belong, in the Congress.
Rafael Hernandez Colon (Governor of Puerto Rico, (1973–77; 1985–93), “Doing Right by Puerto Rico: Congress Must Act,” Foreign Affairs, July/August 1998.
It is morally unacceptable, unfair, and harmful to Puerto Rico and the United States for Congress to relegate the issue to business as usual – that is, do nothing, wait for a Puerto Rican initiative, play with it for a while but take no action, wait for the next initiative and repeat the cycle. Such insensitivity undermines Puerto Rico’s capacity for self-government, inflicts considerable hardship on its society, and drains the U.S. Treasury.
Resident Commissioner Carlos Romero-Barceló, House Floor Debate on H.R. 856, United States Puerto Rico Political Status Act, March 4, 1998, Congressional Record, page H767.
The fact is that only Congress has the authority to resolve this dilemma, and only Congress can create an environment in which Puerto Ricans can legitimately address this issue.
Nestor S. Aponte, Representative, Puerto Rico House of Representatives and former House Majority Leader, Testimony before the House Committee on Resources, Field Hearing in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, April 21, 1997, pp. 34 and 36.
My main concern in attending this hearing is to emphasize the importance of having Congress define clear and precise formulas for any process in which we the people of Puerto Rico have to make our decision on status. It is of utmost importance to have an unmistakable definition for the relationship, political condition or status, presently called commonwealth, or any of the possible variants finally included in the plebiscite H.R. 856 proposes for the solution of our status dilemma.
[Advocates of commonwealth] have been able to make our people believe that under Commonwealth we can acquire all the benefits of statehood without all the responsibilities, and all the possible benefits of independence. They call it “the best of two worlds.”
If this elastic type of political status is possible, Congress should state so. But if it is not possible, Congress should also state so.
Ramón Luis Rivera, Mayor of the City of Bayamon, Puerto Rico, Letter to Representative Don Young (R-AK), April 4, 1997, as published in the Transcript of House Committee on Resources Field Hearing on H.R. 856, United States-Puerto Rico’s Political Status Act, Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, April 21, 1997, pp. 278-79.
As a Territory of the United States we Puerto Ricans are denied our full rights of Citizenship: the presidential vote, and equal representation in Congress. The relationship is tantamount to colonialism and denies us justice as well as our humanity. You have it in your power to finally bring justice and humanity to Puerto Rico.
Mayor Angel F. Rodriquez Cabrera, Chairman, Association of Republican Mayors of Puerto Rico, Letter to Speaker Newt Gingrich, August 15, 1997. As Republicans, we view your commitment to H.R. 856 as an important step towards attracting Hispanics – many of whom share the conservative values that Republicans are trying to promote – to the Party. As Puerto Ricans, we are enthused by the opportunity to finally express our preference for our future relationship with this great Nation in a clearly defined process, and with the appropriate oversight of the Congress.
Charlie Rodriguez, President of the Puerto Rico Senate, Testimony before the House Resources Committee, Field Hearing on Puerto Rico Status, San Juan, Puerto Rico, April 19, 1997, p. 10.
[T]he constitutional integrity of the status options offered in the 1998 plebiscite must not be compromised. These options must reflect what is constitutionally attainable within the powers of Congress under the Territorial Clause. They must honestly describe to the people of Puerto Rico what is legally possible, not what is inconsistent with the Constitution, impractical economically or politically, or subject to the vicissitudes of future negotiations. The people of Puerto Rico are closely monitoring these events, and they are expecting a clear and precise message from Congress of what may constitutionally be offered in the definitions of the three competing formulas.
Kenneth McClintock-Hernandez, Designee for President of the Puerto Rico Senate, Testimony before the House Resources Committee, Field Hearing on Puerto Rico Status, San Juan, Puerto Rico, April 19, 1997, pp. 180-181.
The political indecision that past congressional and local inaction has represented exacts a terrible toll on our people. It divides our families, our communities, and our body politic, and it imposes a huge economic burden.
During 5 years in the Senate, I have been able to sample the economic costs that the status quo imposes on our people, many of which can’t be adequately quantified, but that certainly cost us billions of dollars every year and hundreds of thousands of jobs. In many ways, we remain separate and unequal. Plessy v. Ferguson still lives in Puerto Rico.
In the air transportation industry, for example, most airlines treat us as “international”–separate and unequal. Considering that most fellow Americans prefer domestic travel– “See America First”–over international travel, every time American Airlines switches you to their “international” desk when you attempt to book a flight to Puerto Rico, damage is done to our tourism industry.
It gets worse: In spite of having your boarding pass and having gone through the FAA-required security check, Delta Airlines forces you to stand in line again to obtain an “International Boarding Control Number.” You certainly get the impression you are on your way to a “banana republic.” In the entertainment industry, Puerto Rico is also treated as a foreign market–separate and unequal. The rights to American TV programming are sold here under international syndication, forcing cable TV systems to block out many broadcasts from the mainland, including the Olympics and other sporting events, pageants, and other programming, thus depriving American citizens of timely, quality programming. While, thanks to legislative pressure, movies no longer open months after opening on the mainland, many still take weeks to arrive on the island because, once again, we are separate and unequal. In commerce, many multinational companies treat Puerto Rico as part of their international, rather than domestic, operations– once again, separate and unequal. May I show you the most recent example. I am sure you haven’t missed McDonald’s anniversary 55-cent national promotion, applicable from Bangor to San Diego, from Key West to Anchorage. But it doesn’t apply in what, evidently, McDonald’s considers the “banana republic of Puerto Rico,” depriving our consumers of the savings available to the rest of their fellow Americans stateside.
In the interest of time, I will not go on and on with the many examples of economic discrimination that political indecision and the status quo foster. Our political status debate transcends hamburgers, plane tickets, and TV programs, but the untold examples demonstrate that the spirit of Plessy v. Ferguson– separate and unequal–pervades every aspect of our lives and imposes exacting tolls on society as a whole, depriving us of the equal protection that American flag is supposed to provide.
Former Governor Luis Ferré, President of the New Progressive Party, Statement before the House Resources Committee, March 19, 1997, p. 83-84.
In 1949, and many of you were not born then, I testified before a Committee of Congress, a subcommittee in Congress, on the subject of statehood for Puerto Rico. And at that time I said we are behind in our economic development because we are not a State of the Union. You have to give us our full – all the instruments that the States have to be able to bring Puerto Rico up to the same level as the rest of the nation. We don’t want gifts, but we want the tools so that we can do it.
And at that time, I pointed out that a State of the Union, Mississippi, in 1940 had a personal income of $268 and Puerto Rico had $122, 45.5 percent. In ’49, Puerto Rico had $250 and Mississippi had $555, 45 percent, the same ration. Since then, the United States has worked with the Former [and first democratically elected] Governor of Puerto Rico [Luis Muñoz Marin, PDP, 1949-1965] in bringing new ideas of how to solve the problem of Puerto Rico, but they haven’t worked.
We are not a Latin American country anymore. Cuba is, [but] we changed, we took a different route. We became part of the United States. And we … want to work up to the same level of dignity and equal rights as the rest of the country.
Former Governor Carlos Romero-Barceló (D-PR), Testimony before the Senate Energy Committee, January 30, 1991, p. 121.
Puerto Rico is not a State. It is a territory, subject to the Constitution’s Territorial Clause, under which Congress enjoys plenary power over Puerto Rico, a constitutional empowerment that Congress cannot revoke rescind, or deny to a future Congress. And that must be made clear to the people of Puerto Rico. Otherwise, we would be misleading the voters of Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rican Organizations and Individuals
Sergio M. Marxuach, Policy Director for Center for a New Economy, before the Committee on Finance U.S. Senate, September 29, 2015, Hearing transcript, pg. 14. Thus, Puerto Rico lives in a state of permanent limbo, a status that is both humiliating to Puerto Ricans and unworthy of the United States. Simply stating that it is up to Puerto Ricans to decide their political status, while true, is insufficient, because the U.S. Congress has longstanding legal and moral obligations with respect to Puerto Rico that it has failed to honor.
Zoé Laboy, candidate for Resident Commissioner, FoxNews Latino, July 22, 2015.
How can it be that even after expressing our will, Congress is still silent? The answer is simple: territorial status inherently breeds neglect from the Federal Government.
We, the people of Puerto Rico, are American citizens, and have been proud to be citizens for nearly a century. We celebrate the legitimate civil rights victories the Nation’s Constitution enables, even if they sometimes come, as President Obama observed, in small increments. And yet we, the American citizens of Puerto Rico, continue to live in a state of indefinite political subordination.
Alberto Baco Bague, Puerto Rico’s Secretary of Economic Development,interview in El Mundo quoted in Bloomberg Business, July 21, 2015.
As U.S. citizens, we feel very abandoned by Washington. At the highest levels, the United States has more interest in Greece and in Cuba. And neither of those are U.S. territories.
Statement of Society for American Values and Enlightenment in Puerto Rico, Jose Garrigo-Pico (professor of Political Science at University of Puerto Rico), Senate Committee on Natural Resources, August 1, 2013, S. Hrg. 113-76, page 53. The meaning of the [2012 plebiscite] vote is that the American citizens living in Puerto Rico have rejected the continuation of the territorial condition to which they consented by referendum in 1951.
Puerto Rico Civic Leader, Testimony to the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status, March 2011 Report, page 20. Puerto Rico economic growth is severely affected by this most important issue, that of resolving the island’s final and permanent status.…The status solution is needed to provide for meaningful economic growth and improved standards of living, which Puerto Rico desperately needs.
Puerto Rico Civic Leader, Testimony to the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status, March 2011 Report, page 26. All Puerto Ricans, regardless of political ideology, seek more comprehensive rights and opportunities. We, therefore urge this Task Force to step up to provide committed leadership in developing a comprehensive plan to enable the question of the islands’ ultimate status to be resolved, as well as developing economic policies that will provide equality for the U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico Civic Leader, Testimony to the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status, March 2011 Report, page 33. The U.S. Senate, along with their brethren in the House of Representatives, as well as the present Administration, all have the duty to enable a fair and effective process for Puerto Rico to exercise its natural prerogative. We request that you finally fulfill your duty toward the Puerto Rican people.
Veronica Ferraiuoli, Federal Bar Association, Puerto Rico Chapter, Testimony before the House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, March 22, 2007.
Since all of Puerto Rico’s status proposals involve changes in federal law and policy, Puerto Ricans need to know federal positions on the proposed options so they can make an informed, meaningful, and fair choice.
Luis E. Gonzalez Vales, Official Historian of Puerto Rico, Testimony before the House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, March 22, 2007.
I am speaking as the Official Historian, a position created by the Legislature in 1903, with tenure for life and not subject to recall by any party. I am not advocating any status or side.
Beginning in 1967, the Commonwealth has held three (3) status referendums which have been inconclusive because the status options have been proposed without considering their constitutionality. It is the government of the United States who has to act to change Puerto Rico’s status, so the federal positions on local status proposals are needed to ensure a meaningful choice.
[I]t is my opinion that Congress, after more than a century of being entrusted with the responsibility by Article IX of the Treaty of Paris on 1898, must act to provide a viable solution to this long standing issue which has consumed a lot of energies that could be better spent addressing the island’s social and economic problems.
Jorge E. Pedroza, President of the Vietnam Veterans of America Puerto Rico State Council, Testimony before the House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, March 22, 2007.
I come before the U.S. Congress to request . . . recognition on behalf of over 200,000 thousand veterans who live in Puerto Rico and the thousands of brave young men and women from this island deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and through all the world who proudly wear the US. Armed Forces uniforms. Our request is simple: give us the opportunity to actively participate in the American Democracy.
José Luis Fernández, President, Inter-American Entrepreneurs Association in Puerto Rico, Testimony before the House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, March 22, 2007.
We – like most other Puerto Ricans – hope you will provide us with a serious process to answer the question of the territory’s status preference. Our primary interest is the serious deterioration in our islands’ economic situation due to the lack of resolution as to what the territory’s ultimate status will be.
Past local processes to answer the question of our status preference have failed because they have included proposals not attuned to what the Congress would accept based on the Constitution and basic laws and policies of the United States.
In most cases, these options have included “Commonwealth” proposals later rejected by the U.S. Government, which would have to act to change Puerto Rico’s status.
It would be counter productive – and irresponsible – for Congress to invite Puerto Rico to propose a non-territory “Commonwealth status” when it knows that the intent of the proponents for such a status is a proposal that Congress would not – and cannot – implement.
Manuel A. Mejia, Chairman of the Board, Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce, Testimony before the House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, March 22, 2007.
The issue of the political status has been an open and unresolved question in the history of Puerto Rico. It creates serious divisions among our society, forcing us to devote valuable human and economic resources in its debate, without reaching yet a definite solution.
Without an organized congressionally sanctioned process, locally celebrated plebiscites on the status issue will continue to create much uncertainty among present and potential investors. Such situation hinders economic prosperity; therefore, this should be resolved as quickly as possible. Neither Congress nor the Puerto Rican people should wait another decade to decide this issue.
The only viable alternative to solve Puerto Rico’s status issue is a federally sanctioned process. . . . Congress needs to act now.
Professor Carlos Iván Gorrín-Peralta, Testimony before the House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, March 22, 2007.
The day has come for the United States to finally solve the contradiction existing for too long between colonial rule and fully democratic government.
Congress has the legal and moral obligation to act. Unfortunately, disagreement among the different political sectors of Puerto Rican society has been used as an excuse for inaction in the past. The result has been congressional complicity during the one hundred and nine years of a colonial regime which demeans both the colonized and the colonizer. A radical transformation of the relationship is in order, now.
Zoraida Fonalledas, New Progressive Party Member and Republican National Committeewoman, Testimony before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, May 6, 1999.
[F]or decades now the commonwealth party has told our people that Puerto Rico has entered the Union permanently like a state, while also being a nation with a zone of sovereignty beyond the reach of Congress. Do you agree that Congress has divested the territorial clause power to alter federal laws granting limited autonomy to Puerto Rico? Is there a nation-to-nation confederacy?
We are calling on Congress to end its silence on these questions, because Puerto Rico cannot send a clear signal to Congress until Congress sends a clear signal to Puerto Rico.
Americans have never accepted permanent inequality, and we are Americans. We are ready to do the hard work of democracy to achieve full dignity.
Dr. Miriam Ramirez de Ferrer, President, Puerto Ricans in Civic Action, Testimony before the House Committee on Resources, April 21, 1997.
The new reality is that a majority of the patriotic U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico have gone to the polls and rejected the current relationship[.] Continuation of this territorial “status,” without establishing any process defined by Congress for resolution of the status based on self-determination, is not consistent with the fundamental democratic principle of government by consent of the governed.
Now that more than a majority have voted to change the current political relationship, it arguably would constitute denial of the right of self-determination not to have in place a Congressionally sponsored procedure through which the people can express their wishes freely.
Etienne Totti Del Valle, Esq., Testimony before the House Resources Committee, Field Hearing on Puerto Rico Status, San Juan, Puerto Rico, April 19, 1997.
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[?]
It is imperative that Congress, first, and then the people of Puerto Rico, act with transparent clarity and with resolute firmness
Ruben Velez Lebron, President of the Puerto Rico Manufacturers Association, Testimony before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, June 16, 1989.
We…ask this committee and the political leaders who come before you to be straightforward and specific[.]
[C]learly, the plebiscite process itself should not be an obstacle to continued economic progress. It should clarify, not confuse, such issues as the current status of Puerto Ricans as U.S. citizens. That we see as a primary requirement.
Dr. Miriam Ramirez de Ferrer, President, Puerto Ricans in Civic Action, Testimony before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, June 16, 1989.
It is your duty and obligation as members of the most respected legislative body of the world, to assure that the Bill you enact does not leave the slightest possible doubt or confusion as to what status assures the permanence of these privileges [citizenship and constitutional protections]. It is also imperative that you remember that there are 350,000 petitions in Congress for statehood from U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico whose citizenship was not questioned when asked to fight in all US military interventions since World War I.
Professor Ana Irma Seijo-Marks, Puerto Rican Studies Group, Testimony before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, June 17, 1989.
In acknowledging the problem of lack of knowledge about the status formulas, and the fact that we have no guarantee that parties will effectively perform their education function, we urge Congress to give paramount attention to this issue.
We recommend that the plebiscite be preceded by an extended period of systematic, profound, responsible, political education. This task should be performed by a board or commission composed of Puerto Rican representatives of the different formulas, under the auspices and coordination of Congress, or of an agency appointed by it.
Jesus Hernandez Sanchez, Counsel, Puerto Rico Veterans Association, Testimony before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, June 19, 1989.
[Puerto Rico veterans] are very proud of their past performance; 18,000 Puerto Ricans served in the United States armed forces in the First World War; 65,000 the Second World War, out of which 23 died in action; 61,000 during the Korean War, out of which 371 died in action. More than 3,000 were wounded in Korea; 48,000 [fought] in the Vietnam War, out of which 342 died in action and 3,000 were wounded.
Four congressional medals have been bestowed upon our four brave Puerto Ricans, who in self-sacrificing actions and with democratic devotion, have given their lives backing up the American ideals of liberty and equality.
In sum, our legal position is that since 1917, Congress, as in the case of Alaska, had the intention of incorporating the territory of Puerto Rico to United States when it granted to us the American citizenship.
Dora Pasarell, Former Parks and Recreation Administrator, Testimony before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, June 19, 1989.
Congress alone has the responsibility and the obligation and the constitutional authority to redress, to correct this iniquitous situation.
In whatever plans are formulated in reference to the political relations of Puerto Rico with the United States, the primary concern of Congress should be to redress the injustice of this inferior, second-rate citizenship.
Dr. Aida N. Montilla, Retired Professor, University of Puerto Rico, Testimony before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, June 19, 1989, p. 861.
It is in your hands, you have both the responsibility and the authority to provide for a decolonization process, through the approval of sound, honest, and mutually beneficial plebiscite legislation.
United Nations Resolutions
United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization, Press Release: “With Consensus Text, Special Committee on Decolonization Calls on United States to Expedite Process Allowing Puerto Rico to Fully Exercise Self-Determination,” June 18, 2012
Making their case before the Special Committee—also known as the Special Committee of 24—some of the more than 30 petitioners decried the island’s current Commonwealth status with the United States, which outlines the United States’ congressional authority over the island. That status determines that Puerto Ricans living on the island do not vote in United States presidential elections, despite being United States citizens, and do not have full representation in Congress. Their interests are supported by a Resident Coordinator, who serves as a non-voting member of the House of Representatives.
Petitioners pressed the international community to recognize Puerto Rico’s colonial status and place it on the list of United Nations Non-Self-Governing Territories. Bringing life to that cause, José M. López, of Compañeros Unidos para la Descolonización de Puerto Rico, said the decolonization process was carried out under international jurisdiction, a fact most Puerto Ricans did not know, as the United States had convinced them it was a domestic issue. Puerto Rico must be decolonized via the United Nations. What justification was there to leave out the most populated and oldest colony in the world?…
Some petitioners favoured statehood for Puerto Rico, arguing that the territory already functioned as such, with an elected governor. It was just missing the declaration of statehood, which would bring it the right to vote for President, and elect two senators and seven congressmen. While some believed Puerto Rico was a free associated State, said Nilda Luz Rexach, National Advancement for Puerto Rico, the island was no such thing, as its Constitution had been tailored and authorized by the United States Congress, making it clear that federal law would overrule that of Puerto Rico on any occasion. The Commonwealth was just a lie.
United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization, Press Release: “Special Committee on Decolonization Calls on United States, in Consensus Text, to Speed up Process Allowing Puerto Rico to Exercise Self-Determination,” June 20, 2011
Bearing in mind that 25 July marked the 113th anniversary of the intervention in Puerto Rico by the United States, the Special Committee on Decolonization today adopted a consensus text calling on the United States to expedite a process that would allow Puerto Ricans to fully exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence, in line with General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) (1960).
By today’s resolution, the 29-member body also noted that any initiative to resolve the political status of the island should originate from Puerto Ricans themselves. It further noted the debate in Puerto Rico on the implementation of a mechanism to ensure the full participation of representatives of all viewpoints, including a constitutional assembly on status, with a basis in the decolonization alternatives recognized in international law.
United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization, Press Release: “Special Committee on Decolonization Passes Text Urging General Assembly to Consider Formally Situation Concerning Puerto Rico,” June 21, 2010
The Special Committee on Decolonization today approved a draft resolution calling on the Government of the United States to expedite a process that would allow the Puerto Rican people to exercise fully their right to self-determination and independence, and for the General Assembly formally to consider the situation concerning Puerto Rico, which the world body had not formally taken up since the Territory’s removal from the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories in 1953.
United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization, Press Release: “Special Committee On Decolonization Approves Text Calling On United States To Expedite Self-Determination Process For Puerto Rico,” June 15, 2009
The Special Committee on Decolonization this afternoon approved a draft resolution calling upon the Government of the United States to expedite a process that would allow the Puerto Rican people to exercise fully their inalienable right to self-determination and independence…
The report points out that the press in Puerto Rico reported widely that, on 2 January 2009, then President-elect Barack Obama sent a message to the swearing-in ceremony for Governor Luis Fortuño in which he reportedly reiterated that he would try to resolve the colonial case of Puerto Rico during his first term. He explained that self-determination was a basic right of Puerto Ricans and that he would work with all relevant sectors to guarantee that the Commonwealth had a voice to discuss the topic in Washington, D.C.
United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization, Press Release: “Special Committee on Decolonization Adopts Text Calling on United States to Expedite Self-Determination Process for Puerto Rican People,” June 9, 2008.
The Special Committee on Decolonization today called upon the Government of the United States to expedite a process that would allow the Puerto Rican people fully to exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence.
This morning, the Special Committee heard 18 petitioners, who presented the views of various Puerto Rican groups, parties and organizations. Many requested the General Assembly to call on the United States to begin a just and equitable process to allow the people of Puerto Rico to exercise their right to self-determination, conforming to resolution 1514 (XV).
Many petitioners urged the Special Committee to adopt the draft resolution before it, insisting that, despite assertions of autonomy, Puerto Rico was still one of the few remaining colonies in the world. Speakers described their people’s fight for self-determination and independence, requesting the Special Committee to urge the General Assembly to reconsider the situation of Puerto Rico and call on the United States to begin a just and equitable process to allow the people of Puerto Rico to exercise their right to self-determination. The Special Committee was invited to visit Puerto Rico to investigate human rights violations as well as cases of racism, discrimination and exploitation.
Insisting that there was consensus today over the existence of a colonial relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico, a representative of the Puerto Rico Bar Association said it “requires a solution in tandem with this century.”
Puerto Rican Organizations and Individuals