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H.R. 4765 provides for an expedited procedure for the consideration of the implementing legislation. I believe this mechanism is both necessary and appropriate. We are dealing with the democratic principle of self-determination, so basic to the human rights of man and one directly affecting some of our own citizenry.
The people of Puerto Rico have been U.S. citizens since 1917 and have loyally and valiantly fought alongside all other citizens in every war and engagement since World War I, including the 1986 Libya confrontation and the current Persian Gulf defensive action. I believe we have an obligation to the people of Puerto Rico that goes beyond the Treaty of Paris or the United Nations Charter; it is our obligation to our fellow U.S. citizens to extend the opportunity to fully participate in our democratic system by authorizing a referendum.
We should also provide a commitment on the part of this Congress that once a majority of the people there have expressed their wishes, we will strive to timely develop implementing legislation. After all, the people of Puerto Rico have been waiting patiently since 1898 when the U.S. flag was raised and they were promised the blessings of our democratic society. In 1900 when the first organic act was passed, they prematurely believed the promised blessings had arrived. When they became U.S. citizens in 1917 many thought those blessings had finally arrived. They believed that with citizenship came the full extension of the Constitution. However, in 1922 the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution had only been extended in part. In the early 1950's, once again many of the people of Puerto Rico thought they had achieved those blessings when they were authorized by the Congress to write their own Constitution, having been recently authorized to elect their own governor. But again, it was only a partial step towards the fulfillment of that initial promise when our troops landed in Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War.
As the legislation provides, I believe it is essential for Congress to respond promptly to the United States-Puerto Rico relationship desired by a majority of the people. The precise terms of the new relationship will be detailed by the Congress in the enabling legislation and will become effective unless approved in a subsequent vote by the people of Puerto Rico.
As you will recall, in President Bush's first address to a joint session of the Congress on February 9, 1989, he raised the issue of Puerto Rico's future relationship with the United States. Although he expressed his strong personal support for statehood, he asked the Congress to take the steps necessary to let the people of Puerto Rico decide in a referendum. Earlier this year, I asked the President to again clarify his position with regards to Puerto Rico. I would like to submit for the record the President's response of May 9, 1990, in which he enthusiastically endorses legislation providing for Puerto Rico self-determination.
I urge the subcommittee to give prompt and careful consideration of H.R. 4765, which I believe fulfills the President's request and the long-awaited desires of the people of Puerto Rico. Your action in support of this legislation and the mechanisms therein will send a signal to the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico that the Congress is committed to respond with substance to the people of Puerto Rico when they make their free choice regarding their future relationship with the United States. Thank you.
[President George Bush's response follows:]
THE WHITE HOUSE
May 9, 1990
Thank you for your letter of March 21.
I strongly believe that this is the year when our nation must move to allow our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico to choose their political fate. We owe it to them as a people and to ourselves as the leader of the Free World. How can we applaud the exciting and momentous movements toward freedom in Eastern Europe, Latin America, and elsewhere while refusing to grant to our own citizens the right of self-determination?
This is why I wholeheartedly support legislation to give the people of Puerto Rico the right to vote on the three principal options for their political future: statehood, continued status as a commonwealth, or independence. I further believe that we should have enough faith in the principles of democracy to let their choice be self-executing under provisions that congress may prescribe. My own view on the political future of Puerto Rico is well known: I want it to become the 51st State. The 3.3 million citizens of Puerto Rico deserve to be full members of the American Union, for whose freedoms (and those of other nations) Puerto Ricans have fought so courageously in all of the wars of this century. Before statehood or any other status can come about, however, the people of Puerto Rico must have the right to express their own views on their future. That is why I urge the Congress to act year to allow a binding plebiscite on the island next year.
I look forward to continuing to work with you on this important issue.
The Honorable Robert J. Lagomarsino
Mr. MOAKLEY. Ron, in my other life when I was a practicing attorney making some money, I used to spend the month of January in the 1960's in Puerto Rico and I enjoyed it very much. And I know that there have been heated debates over the statehood issue, and it has been discussed for many years. What factors account for the momentum that has finally brought it before the 101st Congress?
Mr. DE LUGO. I think it was an awareness by the present Governor that the status debate in Puerto Rico really began before our invasion of Puerto Rico some 92 years ago, and has been such a debilitating factor that it has prevented government from dealing with many of the critical problems the people of the island face. The governor proposed that the presidents of the three political parties—which advocate independence, statehood, and further developing the current commonwealth-come to the Congress and ask the Congress for a commitment to respond to a popular decision among the statuses. This commitment was essential to their ability to go ahead and have the referendum so that this issue could be resolved once and for all, and the people would know where their island was going in the future.
When he proposed this, no one thought that the Governor could get the presidents of the other two parties to agree because the three had always disagreed on the way to resolve this controversy. Their agreement was a very patriotic act. The three party presidents then came up here, met with Bob, they met with myself, they met with many other Members of the Congress. This bill would respond to their request for the Federal Government to authorize a referendum and commit to acting on a status, if any, that receives majority support.
There is nothing in Puerto Rico that the people are more focused on today than the outcome of this initiative. And this matter is important not only to Puerto Rico, it is important to our country, as well.
Mr. MOAKLEY. What is the position of the administration on this?
Mr. DE Lugo. The administration supports this legislation; the President is in very, very strong support of having a referendum, and we have bipartisan support for it in the House, as you know. This legislation is important to Puerto Rico and the United States but in the eyes of the world as well, particularly in the Caribbean. Puerto Rico is a real success story, but we haven't completed that job. And this legislation will go a long way towards doing so.
When I was commenting on your statement I noted that the provisions to ensure the expedited consideration of the implementing legislation were put in, just as you noted, to demonstrate to the people of Puerto Rico that this nation means business about this matter, that we are making a commitment that the Congress will act once the people have decided what they want.
Mr. MOAKLEY. That is just to insure that there will be action.
Mr. SOLOMON. I don't have any questions. I just want to commend both of you. You have done a great job and everybody appreciates it.
Mr. MOAKLEY. Mr. Pashayan.
Mr. PASHAYAN. Once again, I want to say that I am very open on this, and I think it is a very significant development. I know both of you have been working very hard on this for a long time. I guess I do have one question of perhaps Mr. de Lugo, because you made mention of it, about our presence in the Caribbean. Could you expand on that a little bit and explain or at least give your opinion what you think statehood would mean to the presence of the United States in the Caribbean?
Just expand on that if you would, please. Mr. DE LUGO. Well, perhaps Bob as a supporter of statehood would be the proper person to ask that. I have made a point of staying neutral among the statuses on this and this is not a statehood bill. This is a bill for self-determination. This is a bill that says the people of Puerto Rico, you determine whether you want statehood, independence, or commonwealth.
I was making reference to the fact that Puerto Rico plays a very important role for us in the Caribbean, and in fact Central America and Latin America as well. Puerto Rico had a very low standard of living, and widespread poverty in the 1940's. It was a national embarrassment. But the job that has been done since then in improving conditions is an American success story. Now, we have the opportunity to complete it.
in the independent islands, of the Caribbean and elsewhere people are watching what we are doing.
Mr. LAGOMARSINO. I might just respond to your question too and say that I think you can postulate that no matter how this goes, which option is chosen, as long as the United States complies and goes along with that in good faith, it would probably be very good
In fact, I would suggest even if the people choose independence, which I personally don't think they will, but should they do that and we grant them independence, I think that would raise the standing of the United States in the whole area, and I think statehood would, and I think enhanced commonwealth would as well. The important thing is what do we do with their choice, with their option.
It is true that I am a statehood supporter, but more than that, am a supporter of the right of self-determination. That is exactly where the President of the United States is too. You will remember his State of the Union address, his first one, he made comment about this issue, “I prefer statehood, but whatever the people want, I will go along with.'
And the significant thing about that, which nobody except perhaps people inside the Beltway would know, is that he wrote that in, that was not something his speechwriter put in the speech.
Mr. PASHAYAN. Is there any contradistinction here to be made with how we are proceeding compared to how the Soviet Union is proceeding in terms of some of its constituent states have declared independence, we can name a half a dozen of them-
Mr. MOAKLEY. Mr. Pashayan, don't make this more global than we need to be.
Mr. PASHAYAN. Well, have there been any comparisons?
Mr. LAGOMARSINO. I would hope, and I am sure we will respond more quickly and more fully to the wishes of the people than the Soviet Union apparently has so far.
Mr. MOAKLEY. Gentlemen, thank you very much for a very fine presentation.
The subcommittee will be very honored to hear from the Honorable Bill Green of New York.
STATEMENT OF HON. BILL GREEN, A REPRESENTATIVE IN
CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF NEW YORK Mr. GREEN. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I have a full statement which I have submitted to the committee and I hope you will include it in the record. Mr. MOAKLEY. Without objection.
Mr. GREEN. You may wonder why I am here. For 7 years I served as HUD Regional Administrator in Federal Region 2, and that region at the time consisted of New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the Canal Zone, and so I did have 7 years of dealing with the political establishment in Puerto Rico, including many of those who have been involved in the negotiations here over this legislation, such as the distinguished Governor.
I have felt very strongly that the people of Puerto Rico are entitled to decide their fate, and I think everyone in Congress should understand that as we embark on this legislation we are really committing ourselves to abide by the decision that they make.
The bill that we have before us is a compromise. It is a compromise I support, though there are some provisions which I would have liked to have seen a little different. Obviously I have a substantial constituency of Puerto Rican origin in my district, and they would very much like more assurances of their ability to participate in the plebiscite process than the bill contains. That is not an issue before us today.
The second issue, though, is an issue that is before you today, and that is the fact that I would have preferred legislation that was self-executing so the people of Puerto Rico would know that when they had cast their votes and made their decision, that was it. That did not prove to be possible, and I understand the reasons that that is the case.
But the fact that that could not be done in this bill makes very much more important the procedure for expedition in the House that you are considering. Because it is that provision which in essence is the guarantee to the people of Puerto Rico
Mr. MOAKLEY. That is exactly the reason we put it there. We don't think we will ever use it, but it is there.
Mr. GREEN. It is a guarantee that it will be followed. I think we should all understand that there is going to be a very divisive and emotional campaign in Puerto Rico. These issues have been long debated and hotly debated. And we owe it to the people of Puerto Rico that when they make the decision, we live up to it.
So I think that including these provisions is most important. I commend you for working them out with the Interior Committee, and I just wanted to be here today to say that.
[Mr. Green's prepared statement follows:]