as translated by our Staff Reporter
On a recent warm Saturday night in Hato Rey, Puerto Rico, I had the uncommon privilege of having a cup of Coffee with Dr. Miriam Ramirez de Ferrer. I joined her at her parents' home to learn more about her, her beliefs and the strong determination that she has towards helping Puerto Rico, with all its 3.7 million U.S. Citizens, become a state of the union.
She makes no secret of what she believes in and born in 1941, as a child, Ramirez was surrounded by many political figures. Her grandfather, Candido Ramírez, was an ardent Republican that knew many in the political realm such as Rafael Martínez Nadal, Felisa Gautier de Rincón, and Luis Muñoz Marín. Her parents, also knew many important political figures but were not much into politics. Instead, they knew these people more on a social level. Yet, despite being around prominent people, the young Dr. Ramirez was like any other young girl growing up. She remembers riding her bike up and down her home town street at Urb. Roosevelt without a care in the world. How time has passed and how much things have changed. With that setting, we began our conversation.
Dr. Ramirez remembers her first experience with politics when she was 7 or 8 years old. A political march was going on and she asked her father what was this crowd of people. He explained that a public political demonstration was going on. With great interest, she asked him if the demonstration was for what they believed in, their ideals; and he quickly said no, that their ideals were different. That they wanted statehood. And although she got the sense that there weren't many that though like them back then, that didn't discourage her.
Later on, she had the opportunity to go High School in Europe and while there, did not keep up with the political events taking place on her home island. When she came back a Doctor in Medicine in 1967 she found her father somewhat involved in politics, but still, her participation was mostly one of a social nature.
In 1974 she moved with her husband of just a few years to Mayaguez, a town in the western part of Puerto Rico. There, she had the time, opportunity and interest to start to read more about the world, and the perception others had of Americans and the United States. In the late 70's, during the days of President Carter and the Iran hostage crisis, she started to worry about how the "reputation" and the solidity of the nation had been shattered by the Democrats and specifically, President Carter and his apparent inability to make crucial decisions for the nation. An almost fatalistic view of "the end" was starting to form in her own mind about what once had been perceived as "the strongest nation". Not long after, though, she realized that having the benefit of such a huge "melting pot", there was no way that the U.S. could disappear. It was too powerful of a nation to just shrivel up and die. She knew that there needed to be a change. Americans had to feel proud once more about their nation!
The 1980 election primary was starting to heat up by now and Ronald Reagan was one of the candidates. However, Dr. Ramirez believed that he was not the right candidate. With others on the Island supporting Baker, Ramirez went against the flow and was eager for, then candidate, George Bush to be nominated. Bush, who had trouble recruiting staff in Puerto Rico, needed to win the Puerto Rico primary to give him momentum to capture other states.
It was not surprising when Bush made plans to visit the island and recruit volunteers to help with his local campaigning efforts. Dr Ramirez, having read in the paper that he was going to be in a nearby town, was eager to meet the candidate that she believed was the one that could help the United States get back on its feet.
George Bush eventually did visit the island of Puerto Rico and stayed, for a while, in the small town of Añasco. In what presented the first ever disagreement with her husband, Dr. Ramirez was intent on meeting the candidate. She was determined in what she wanted and was even able to enlist her husband to the ranks. It was ironic and lucky that being able to enlist her husband was actually key in what was about to happen as it was an old college buddy of his that, upon their arrival in Añasco, was able to take them to actually meet the candidate: "I could not believe how we met him. I was in shock, he was such a humble man. When I met him he was very casual, almost jovial. It was as if he had a legitimate interest in us and our lives, and he did. He asked what we did and really showed interest in what we had to say. Long after, he came out and asked if my husband and me would help him obtain the necessary votes." They both quickly said yes and this gave way to an important friendship and a successful campaign.
This was the necessary push that Ramírez needed to begin working enthusiastically toward her goals of bettering the nation. Dr. Ramirez, not having any previous experience with politics, managed to organize the Republicans on the western part of island and helped lead George Bush to the top of the primaries in the island. But taking Puerto Rico was not enough for Bush and not long after the local primary, his candidacy slipped to a strong Ronald Reagan. Dr. Ramirez did not ease off her contact with Bush, though. She was able to establish a close friendship that would prove instrumental in the development of the methods that have led to the effectiveness of her group.
However, with a dwindling Bush campaign and a sure nomination for Ronald Reagan, she was surprised and happy when she heard that George Bush, her friend and Mentor, was chosen as candidate for Vice-President along with Ronald Reagan. Practically overnight, she had gone from common citizen, to personal friend of a candidate for Vice-President of the United States.
Of course, when the Reagan-Bush team won the 1980 election, Dr. Ramirez was ecstatic. A man she admired, and knew personally, was now the Vice-President of the United States! For a while, she enjoyed the attention; invitations to the White House, meetings with the Vice-President and access to Washington, D.C. that few in Puerto Rico had. During this time, she also started to realize that the political leaders in Puerto Rico were not being effective in Washington, D.C. They were not fighting for statehood as much as they could. Perhaps, she could do more, be more effective, help the cause. She started to feel like it was her duty to lobby for statehood. She started to feel that it was what the people expected of her!
She then continued to become more involved in political activities and in 1982 became National Committeewoman of the Republican Party in Puerto Rico. She obtained help from those who were willing to help her out. Little by little she learned the necessary techniques to lobby for statehood for Puerto Rico. On a trip back from Washington, she saw a full page "petition" in one of the papers. Seeing this petition gave her an idea. She thought that such a petition, for statehood, could be distributed in Puerto Rico. Perhaps, she could bring statehood closer if she showed the President and the Vice-President the determination of the People. Together with her now organized group, she designed a petition that presented the statehood option. All those who favored the option were asked to sign the petition. With effort and tireless determination they were able to obtain 350,000 signatures; an incredible feat!
Signatures in hand, Dr. Ramirez organized a trip to Washington, D.C. to present the signatures to the White House. Although well received, she was about to learn an important lesson in US politics and a harsh reality of the Puerto Rico status... the Congress has to act before Puerto Rico's status can change. "Take it to Congress" said her friend, Vice-President Bush.
A large effort then followed, when in 1985 she organized a trip to Congress in which they visited every single Congressman to talk to them about Puerto Rico and the current status "in-definition". With no prior lobbying experience and leading a true grass roots movement, they learned as they went. Their effectiveness was not only incredible, but motivational and they were able to generate enough interest in Puerto Rico so as to have legislation introduced as a consequence of their efforts by then Congressmen Dole and Lagomarsino. Even though that legislation never progressed, it was an accomplishment to have even brought Puerto Rico to the attention of the Congress.
When in 1988, George Bush becomes President of the United States, her movement seems like it can only gain strength. However and in an ironic twist, in Puerto Rico, Rafael Hernández Colon, a strong "pro-commonwealth" politician, is elected Governor and therefore the movement looses a bit of steam as the island's government shifts to an opposing party. Hernandez Colon, feeling that the strong ties of the statehooders with the White House will only help the cause of statehood, astutely decides to initiate his own "self-determination" process pre-empting George Bush and the White House and in essence, bringing any federally sponsored efforts to a grinding halt!
Having almost full control of the local efforts, Hernandez Colon effectively delays the cause for statehood. At the 1993 plebiscite, a plebiscite not sponsored by the Congress but locally executed, no one option captured the majority of the votes. And although the commonwealth option did capture the highest percentage of the votes, Ramirez and others have argued that given the absence of Congressional approval, the Commonwealth option that was voted on was a legal impossibility that could never be achieved!
So having talked about how she got involved in politics, our conversation shifted to what is going on now. Dr. Ramirez feels like regardless of the outcome of the Young Bill (and she has a strong belief that it will pass both chambers), the process will go on until the day that a true self-determination effort is executed in Puerto Rico.
Her group, Puerto Ricans in Civic Action, is a non-partisan group intent in lobbying for Puerto Rico statehood. Dr. Ramirez is convinced that any status plebiscite carried out in the future must be disassociated from the existing political parties so that the true feelings of the people can be heard. She feels that the current political parties and the status issue do not match and any plebiscite that is run or associated with the parties will not be effective as people will feel the urge to vote for their party affiliation and not their true belief in what is best for Puerto Rico. Also, people have to start thinking about self determination as a "win-win" situation. Deciding the political status of the island has nothing to do with winning or loosing. Through a fair and just "self-determination" process, everyone wins.
Dr. Ramirez has strong aspirations to become Resident Commissioner for Puerto Rico one day soon. She has dedicated half of her life to the cause of Puerto Rico statehood and certainly has the experience and contacts in congress to be not only effective but a prominent member. She feels like she knows exactly what needs to be done!
Indeed, her incredible career and her great determination and belief in her ideals is apparent. Whether or not one shares her ideals is immaterial, anyone can recognize that she is truly a great leader that someday will be remembered for her very important role in bringing about Puerto Rico "self-determination" and hopefully, in her view, Puerto Rico statehood. Dr. Ramirez said it best when talking about her aspirations for Congress:
"When I go to Congress [as Resident Commissioner], I assure you that I will leave with full voting privileges!"