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PREPARED STATEMENT OF HON. BILL GREEN, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM
THE STATE OF NEW YORK Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to testify on H.R. 4765, the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act. As you may know, I have long advocated legislation to address the issue of self-determination for Puerto Rico, and have been close to the subject of Puerto Rico for most of my career in public service. When I was Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Regional Administrator, Puerto Rico was part of my region, and I worked closely with successive Governors and many of the Mayors. In addition, ever since I was elected to Congress, I have represented a significant number of Puerto Rican-Americans.
I have always believed that the people of Puerto Rico should have the right to self-determination. As the Rules Committee's primary interest in H.R. 4765 concerns the expedited procedures contained in the bill, I should like to explain why I have long preferred self-enactment as the method by which the results of the referendum should be implemented.
There is no principle cherished more by the American people than the right to self-determination. I believe that we in Congress have a responsibility to protect the will of the people of Puerto Rico. It is not our role to determine Puerto Rico's destiny. Our role is to establish guidelines and procedures for a plebiscite and to set up a mechanism that would implement the voters' choice. Once that choice has been made, Congress must be wisling to stand by its promise. It would make no sense to put Puerto Rico through the process if at the end we leave ourselves free to repudiate what they decide. Whether the people of Puerto Rico choose statehood, enhanced commonwealth or independence—their choice must be implemented. That is why I believe that self-enactment is the best means of facilitating the process of self-determination for the people of Puerto Rico.
I should be remiss if I did not address one other concern related to this legislation, and that is the issue of non-resident participation. As I represent one of the largest groups of Puerto Rican-Americans, I must express their concerns that they be permitted to participate in the plebiscite process. As you know, like many other Americans, those of Puerto Rican origin are highly mobile. Many who live in New York and elsewhere on the mainland expect-or at least want to keep open the option—to return to Puerto Rico. Many have close relatives in Puerto Rico, or have economic ties of one sort or another to Puerto Rico. The plebiscite legislation and the outcome of the plebiscite could affect them in many ways: a difficult choice as to citizenship, taxation, limitations on immigration, and the like depending on whether they remain on the mainland or return to Puerto Rico.
The Interior Committee, attempting to craft a balance between competing interests, has chosen not to guarantee non-resident participation in H.R. 4765, and has also decided against reporting a bill that is self-executing. While I am not in full agreement with those approaches for the reasons I have just outlined, I must make it clear that at this juncture I do support H.R. 4765. I believe that the larger issue of self-determination for Puerto Rico must be addressed as promptly as possible, and I believe the committee has provided us with a vehicle to move toward that goal.
Mr. MOAKLEY. Thank you.
Mr. SOLOMON. Bill, we really appreciate your coming through. I know the years that you worked on Puerto Rican issues, and we have some of the same concerns you have. These expedited procedures should, I think, work out, and I think everybody will be happy with it. I appreciate your coming before the committee.
Mr. MOAKLEY. Mr. Pashayan.
STATEMENT OF HON. JAIME FUSTER, THE RESIDENT COMMISSIONER IN CONGRESS FROM THE COMMONWEALTH OF PUERTO RICO
Mr. FUSTER. Mr. Chairman, members of the subcommittee, for the record I am the elected Representative of the 3.6 million Amer
ican citizens that live in Puerto Rico, and I want to begin by thanking you for your expedited consideration of this bill. We just approved it last week in the Interior Committee and it is already before you, and we certainly appreciate that.
We appreciate it particularly because my constituents in Puerto Rico, as Mr. de Lugo said, are looking forward to this plebiscite. All three parties in Puerto Rico, and I would say most of my constituents, have a great interest in seeing this legislation enacted this year, and because of the obvious congressional time limitations, if there is no expedited consideration of this very bill, we run the risk of not having it approved this year, which, as I say, is what my people in Puerto Rico would like to see.
So I appreciate your expedited consideration, and my basic plea with you today is that I hope that you will be able to make your recommendations to the full committee as soon as possible so the full committee will be able to make its decision on this bill and we will be able to move it then to the floor as soon as possible, hopefully next week.
Mr. MOAKLEY. As soon as we get a quorum, we are going to move it to the full committee.
Mr. FUSTER. Well, we surely appreciate that. My people have been waiting for almost 100 years for this legislation. As you know, when the U.S. Armed Forces landed in Puerto Rico in 1896, we had already solved our colonial problem with Spain. It had taken us 100 years of strife and struggle to get there, and it vanished overnight when the Spanish-American War occurred and Puerto Rico became part of the United States. We had to begin our struggle anew, and after almost another hundred years, I think we are almost there, close to finally resolving this question.
So in the context of our 200-year experience, it could seem that a few years more or less would not make any big difference, but my people would like to move on with this if possible in the next year or so. My plea again is that you help us expedite this bill, and it comes from that sense of urgency.
want to tell you that I, of course, support the bill, otherwise I would be making a different statement here. I support it even though it is a very imperfect bill. It is the result of a lot of compromises with very different, numerous parties, and as is inevitable when you have compromises, the final result is not all that any one party would have liked.
I would have liked a very different bill, particularly because we are talking about self-determination. I mean this is not an ordinary bill. We are talking about the self-determination of a proud people that have been struggling for 200 years. We would have expected a more adequate bill. But this is what we have and this is what we were able to get, and we want to move along with it, even though as I say it is not a very perfect bill, it has a lot of shortcomings, Mr. Chairman.
But that aside, to be realistic, it is what is possible at this time, and we would rather have that than none at all.
That is the end of my remarks. Basically we are supporting this bill; we would appreciate any help we can get from you to get this bill enacted this year. Thank you.
Mr. MOAKLEY. Thank you very much.
Mr. SOLOMON. Jaime, unlike the chairman, I never had much opportunity to vacation in Puerto Rico-
Mr. FUSTER. Please come visit us.
Mr. SOLOMON. I was stationed there for a long time. It wasn't always that pleasant there, but when we did get a little break we went into San Juan; that was much more pleasant.
But let me just say that was 40 years ago, and what a change that has taken place there now. My gosh, it is a miracle, really. And I do believe that with this legislation the people of Puerto Rico are going to be able to speak. I think that the way they speak will be the final outcome; so I really do think it is up to the people of Puerto Rico, and we wish you a lot of good luck.
Mr. PASHAYAN. I have heard of Rican Rum, but I wonder if there is such a thing as a Puerto Rico cigar.
Mr. FUSTER. Not as famous as it used to be years ago, but we still have a small production of Puerto Rico cigars, and they are very good.
Mr. PASHAYAN. Then I look forward even more so.
STATEMENT OF HON. JOSÉ E. SERRANO, A REPRESENTATIVE IN
CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF NEW YORK Mr. SERRANO. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for this opportunity, and especially hello to Representative Solomon, who served with me in the State assembly. At the time he wanted bills out of my committee, and I never figured I would come to a committee where he served.
I was going to start my statement, Mr. Chairman, by telling you that “as the newest Member of Congress,” but at 10 a.m. we swore in a new Member, so I am now officially not the newest Member of Congress. Mr. MOAKLEY. How does it feel to be a veteran? Mr. SERRANO. We will see.
Mr. Chairman, if I may I would just like to take with your permission the opportunity to inform the Chair that with us today is the former Governor of Puerto Rico. We also have Mr. Jose Berrocal, who represents the Popular Democratic Party, who is in the back, and Mr. Manuel Rodriguez Ofellana, who represents the Independence Party.
Their presence here in fact is part of the reason why we think this legislation is so important, and after 6 months here in this Congress and during a weekend where we have a very serious budget crisis, and we have troops stationed in Saudi Arabia, I think it would require a little more conversation than we have today to explain to you why I feel this is one of the more important bills that have come before us in a long time.
Someone could say he is kidding, there are other issues that are more important. But you see, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, I have an opportunity that perhaps other people don't have, and that is that I can wear the hat of a person born on the island of Puerto Rico, raised in New York, living in New York,
with children in New York, a Member of the U.S. Congress, but born in Puerto Rico, or I can remove that hat momentarily and wear the hat of a U.S. Congressman, and that is the hat I would like to wear today when I tell you why this bill is so important.
The world is watching us. We interfered, for good or for bad, in Nicaragua; we interfered in Panama, whether we liked that or not; we were very influential in the changes that have taken place in the Soviet Union. After all, we are the ones who tell the world every so often how to behave, and if that wall in Berlin came down, I think that we all pushed it down with our thoughts and our statements.
Well, once we end this difficult time that we are having in the Middle East, I suspect the world attention will then be focused on our behavior in terms of changes that are taking place in the World. And I predict that the issue of Puerto Rico will become a very serious issue of discussion, not only in the United Nations, but at every meeting throughout the World, and the conversations will go very simply like this:
We have made incredible changes and you have told us how to behave. What are you doing with one of your more famous territories in the World? I, at the expense of making some people angry, would say with your most famous colony in the World. And so as an American Congressman, it becomes very important to me to see that we offer true self-determination, and H.R. 4765 does that.
You know, the Puerto Rican people had various opportunities, but they were not good opportunities to determine their future. In 1952, they were offered by the Congress commonwealth status. But independence and statehood were not an option. The issue was take commonwealth or reject commonwealth and stay with your present territorial situation.
In 1967 a plebiscite took place, but many people felt that the plebiscite as written, the legislation was not fair, and there was much pulling back and even boycotting by two of the three parties, and so it wasn't the kind of thing they were looking for in 1991.
This bill, as Ron de Lugo said, accomplishes something that I thought I would never see, and that is the three parties in Puerto Rico, all three who feel that they know what is best for the island and have the island at heart, coming to the table agreeing that for the most part, the bill speaks to their status and their future thoughts for the island of Puerto Rico.
And so I would hope that this committee would see fit to expedite this process so that we can get a bill on the floor, a bill passed, a bill negotiated and conferenced with the Senate and a bill before your President's desk so that he can sign it.
I don't take public positions on whether Puerto Rico should be a State, independent, or commonwealth, and just for a quick Political Science 101 course I will tell you why. That is on the island 99.9 percent of the people sign up with a political party based on what they think the future of Puerto Rico should be. Once you step outside the island the issue is Puerto Ricans on the mainland and how we grow within the society, how do we grow from one Puerto Rican Congressman, yours truly, to maybe 10 or 100 in the future.
So within those communities there are people who support all three options that are here, but have one thing in common, they
support me. And after 17 years in public life, you know I am not going to take any chance on making any of them angry, but what they all want is the opportunity to have the island participate.
And I call special attention then to a section of this bill which allows the three parties in Puerto Rico, if they wish, to decide whether or not those of us who were born on the island, who now reside outside the island, or the child of a person who, one parent that was born on the island, should participate in this plebiscite.
The agreement that Congressman Green and Mr. de Lugo and Mr. Fuster and I and Congressman Rangel put together with the three parties in bringing this about was done in order to expedite the process, not to let this one issue tear the plebiscite bill apart and keep it from going forward. I assure you that if I was able to tell my constituents, and my constituents go beyond the 18th Congressional District, that I was going to put that issue aside for now or put it in the hands of the three parties in Puerto Rico, so that the bill could move ahead, if I could do that then I am sure that Congress could move the bill ahead as quickly as possible, because that would be less painful than what I had to do.
But I can tell you, Mr. Chairman, that this is a very important time for me to be elected on March 20, to begin to serve in this body on March 28, and on March 29 to find out that I had on my lap along with the other colleagues that were here, this very important issue. It has been very difficult, very stressful, but very exciting, and it has been a great honor that I have been involved in this issue.
I look forward to this bill passing, I look forward to this self-determination procedure taking place next year, and the question that was asked before about how this relates to a lot of what is going on, I guess what we have to think about is that in the future as we continue to press for changes, it would be much easier for us to press for changes in the world if we can point to our desire to have those who are not full citizens within our society determine what they wish to be.
And no one should vote on this bill in fear of what the final outcome should be. The final outcome is that we will allow the people of Puerto Rico to decide. If it decides to go independent, we should honor that, and give it all the support we give people who are independent throughout the World.
If it decides to be a State, we should not question where the Congressman will come from, or how much it will cost, or how much pressure it will put on us, or whether there is another language to deal with it, we should accept them into the family.
And if they wish to remain as an enhanced Commonwealth, then that also should be done.
I think we should meet that challenge by passing this bill as quickly as possible.
Thank you very much. [Mr. Serrano's prepared statement follows:] PREPARED STATEMENT OF HON. JOSÉ E. SERRANO, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS
FROM THE STATE OF NEW YORK Mr. Chairman, it is my distinct pleasure to be with you today and I applaud you and the subcommittee members for considering the matter at hand so expeditiously.