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"Give Puerto Rico Real Options On Status", Serrano, Gutierrez Speak Out On Status Alternatives

Serrano To Congress: "Give Puerto Rico Real Options On Status" 

JULY 15, 2002
Copyright © 2002. All rights reserved.

CONTACT: Dale Crowell
(202) 225-4363

Washington, D.C. (July 15) — Congressman José E. Serrano (D-NY), today on the House floor called on his colleagues to give Puerto Rico a choice with real options regarding its relationship with the United States.  His comments came during official debate on a resolution commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Island’s current constitution and political status.  A summary of his statement follows:

Mr. Speaker, I rise today with the utmost respect and with some sadness in my heart.  I cannot celebrate the anniversary of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico as this resolution would state.  As we all know perception of an issue is important and many here may believe that this resolution is a mere reaffirmation and celebration of the good relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico.  But the real issue is status.  It is clear today that Puerto Rico still has a colonial relationship with the United States and that needs to end.  Colonialism is not cause for a celebration.

Puerto Rico does not have full rights under its current status.  The American citizens living on the Island today do not have their full rights as citizens like we have here today.  Many of my colleagues were surprised when I told them that if any of us here were to move to the Island right now we would not be able to run for this body and have a vote, we would not be able to elect a Member of Congress with a vote and we would not be able to vote for president.

It is unambiguously clear today, that Puerto Rico remains a U. S. territory, subject to the absolute powers of the U. S. Congress, under the territorial clause of the United States Constitution, in spite of the high level of internal self-government given by the U. S. Congress.  When in 1952 the Jones Act was replaced by Public Law 82-447, which approved the Constitution of Puerto Rico, the law governing Puerto Rico changed.  However, the territorial relationship previously existing with Puerto Rico remained the same.

And a territory, as we all know, is neither a state of the Union, nor a nation of the world. It is simply a colony.  In fact, Puerto Rico holds the dubious distinction of being the oldest colony in the world, having been a colony of Spain for over four hundred years until 1898, and now having been a colony of the United States for another one hundred and four years.

To celebrate any colonial status is to promote it and prolong it - and I cannot, and I refuse to do that, however benign this resolution may seem.  This Congress should not be celebrating nor promoting the continued colonialism of Puerto Rico. We hold the key to ending the colonial status of Puerto Rico - it is high time that we use it.

The United Nations recognizes only two options for decolonization: (a) Puerto Rico becomes the 5lst state of the United States and thus a full partner of the other fifty states of this sovereign United States of America, enjoying the same rights and responsibilities as every other state of the Union; or (b) Puerto Rico becomes a sovereign nation itself and takes it place among the other nations of the world; and may I say that under separation, the option of free association is an option where the Island could negotiate issues such as postal service, defense and trade but as an equal partner in those negotiations and not as a colony as it is done today.

We tried to give the Island that chance when the House passed the so-called Young Bill.  It provided Puerto Rico with a real path to self-determination.  It passed in the House, not in the Senate.  But it would have allowed Puerto Rico to vote on real options for its future; either to become a state and join the union or to become an independent nation and then Congress would have had to reply to the choice of the people of Puerto Rico within 180 days. 

Rather than celebrating and promoting Puerto Rico’s continued colonial status we should clearly appraise Puerto Rico that those are its only decolonizing options: Statehood or Independence. And most importantly, and most urgently, we must move forward resolutely to put an end this colonialism that indisputably shames both our nation and Puerto Rico, and which moreover brings indignity to the over 4 million fellow American citizens living in Puerto Rico.

Now, I come from a situation that feels the emotion from both sides.  I don’t approach this issue only as someone who was born in Puerto Rico.  I also approach this issue as a Member of Congress.  I understand this on a close personal level, but I also know that we here can do something to change the unjust colonial situation of Puerto Rico.  We can end the colonialism of Puerto Rico now by legislating for a federal referendum to be held in Puerto Rico, containing the only two decolonizing alternatives recognized by the United Nations: Statehood or independence, and committing ourselves to honor their choice.  I very strongly urge you all to do so.  We must do so without excuses and without fear, but with courage and the unshakeable conviction that it is the right and honorable thing to do.

Serrano, Gutierrez Speak Out On Status Alternatives

By Raquel Velazquez

JULY 16, 2002
Copyright © 2002
WOW News. All rights reserved.

U.S. Congressman Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.) told WOW News on Tuesday that even if his is the only vote on the House floor against passing the resolution to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Puerto Rico’s constitution and current status, he will be pleased because "it has created the kind of interest that is necessary to move the issue [of ending the colonial status of Puerto Rico] in the right direction."

"I am certain the resolution will pass, but I put forth my position in favor of statehood or independence, not to celebrate colonial status," said the congressman, who was on his way to participate in what the U.S. House procedurally deems a non controversial vote.

"I tried to explain [to members of the House] that the actions we take will go a long way to end colonialism," said Serrano regarding his reason for calling on his colleagues to provide "real options on status" by legislating a federal referendum to be held in Puerto Rico containing only the aforementioned alternatives.

"Puerto Ricans have always been taught to stand for something, to be for something," said the longtime New York public official and Puerto Rican. "If Puerto Ricans began to stand up and say independence or statehood, I believe that either one of these options would dignify Puerto Rico."

Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) offered no comment on Serrano’s statements on the House floor but told WOW News that he supports the Puerto Rican Unity and Consensus Committee.

"For years I have suggested the creation of the commission, and I am happy that the governor is moving forward on this because there has to be consensus," said Gutierrez.

He added that "the Young Bill demonstrated that trying to attain an undue procedural advantage over another party or alternative establishes obstacles that spur continual debate of procedure after procedure, canceling out the activities of the other parties instead of making us move forward."

The Illinois congressman also pointed out that the Unity and Consensus Committee "allows all parties to go back to the drawing board and hammer out details on how to proceed [with status alternatives] and not block each other’s efforts."

Serrano, meanwhile, stated he has no problem with reaching consensus, but "if Calderon’s purpose for the committee is to enhance but not end commonwealth status," he is not supportive of it.

Regarding statements by New Progressive Party President Carlos Pesquera that his party would not be participate in the committee, Gutierrez expressed that supporters of this ideology "should pressure their leadership to have a civil discussion on this matter. If an agreement can’t be reached, that is another matter, but what would be the solution then to go to Congress with another Young Bill that will get nowhere."

In regards to Calderon’s voter registration drive for stateside Puerto Ricans, Gutierrez discussed the importance of U.S. Puerto Ricans to be empowered in the voting process.

"If anyone has been helped by the empowerment of the Puerto Rican people in the United States, it has been Puerto Rico." He stated that "the political power of the people of the United States has served a public purpose for Puerto Ricans, just look at the situation in Vieques and the mobilization efforts to help Puerto Rico."

While Serrano cited Calderon’s registration efforts as counterproductive to the coalition-building formulated by the Democratic Party to support the African American community and Democratic candidate Carl McCall.

"She [Calderon] is supporting Pataki, and that is the issue. She has to decide if she is a Republican or a Democrat," said the New York congressman, adding that of the approximately 30 Puerto Rican public officials, only one was present at Calderon’s press conference.

Press officials for Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez informed WOW News that she was unavailable for comment.

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