PUERTO RICO HERALD
Former Senate President Charlie Rodriguez Speaks Out
August 7, 2003
On a recent visit to Washington, New Progressive Party (NPP) contender for his partys nomination for Resident Commissioner in 2004, former Puerto Rico Senate President Charlie Rodriguez, spoke to the Herald about his qualifications, aspirations and priorities should he be elected to the post. At the time of the interview, his only NPP opponent for the NPP November primary was Senator Miriam Ramirez. Subsequently, former Resident Commissioner Carlos Romero Barcelo and former Rosselló cabinet secretary Luis Fortuño entered the crowded race.
When Sen. Rodriguez announced for the post, he said he wished to be "the last Resident Commissioner in Puerto Ricos history." When asked what he meant by that statement, he told the Herald, "Puerto Rico has been a colony for too long a period, first of Spain, now the United States, and what I seek is that after my term as Resident Commissioner, I will be the last one because, after me, we will have six to seven Congressmen and two Senators representing Puerto Rico as the fifty-first state of The United States."
Excerpts of his interview follow:
ON POLITICAL STATUS
"What we (the NPP leadership) plan to do - and Ive discussed this with Pedro Rosselló - is to change the way weve addressed the (political status) issue to the U.S. Congress. Many members of Congress have said, We want you people in Puerto Rico to decide what you want us to do and then come to us. Well, the way we seek to do that is by having a referendum in Puerto Rico, where the options will be yes or no. And the question poised to the (Puerto Rican) people would be, Do you favor federal legislation for a plebiscite sponsored by Congress where the options are non-colonial and constitutionally valid? and Im sure that the majority of the people will vote yes, because Statehooders always wanted non-colonial options. Even the Independence group has always wanted non-colonial options and the new leadership of the Popular Democratic Party is now calling for a non-colonial autonomy option. This (referendum) would be the expression of the people of Puerto Rico, held in a democratic fashion. This referendum should take place within the first year of Rosselló Administration and after that I would come to Congress and file a bill that Im sure will have a lot of co-sponsors (and will) start the ball rolling on a federally sponsored plebiscite for Puerto Rico."
ON HIS QUALIFICATIONS TO BE RESIDENT COMMISSIONER
"I was a member of the House in Puerto Rico and the Senate; I presided over the Senate in Puerto Rico. People know that my record speaks for itself. I was very active on legislation, I was very active in the Capitol and I will be also that way here, not only for achieving Statehood and for self-determination, but also for getting involved in national issues where all can see that we, Puerto Ricans, are not only here to ask for, but also to contribute to the nation in different efforts.
"(My principal qualification) is the experience that Ive had as a member of the (Puerto Rico) Legislature - eight years in the House and eight years in the Senate. I presided over the Senate of Puerto Rico, I know the legislative process, not only what people see on TV during the voting and debating, but the behind the scenes legislative process that takes place. In Congress, a lot takes place behind the scenes. Im very familiar with that (process).
"I have contacts among Congressional leaders and members of Congress from both national parties, Republicans and Democrats. I have always been willing to seek ways to build bridges between different groups in Puerto Rico, although I have always supported Statehood - and people know how firm I am in defending my status option - people know that on other issues that may help Puerto Rico, I will always be willing to seek a dialogue and consensus among the different factions in Puerto Rico.
"One of the things we need to do first is to win the election. And I think in order to win the election in Puerto Rico, the NPP has to attract, not only those voters who abandoned us in the election in 2000, but also seek the endorsement and support of those who are not affiliated but would be willing to vote for a candidate of the New Progressive Party if they thought that that person could do his job. I think of all the candidates that have been mentioned within the NPP Party, theres no one who could not only bring the experience, the leadership, but also be an attraction to those who are from other parties and will be willing to vote for us. Thats one of the things I think that will really help me in this election and then in Congress. I wont come to Congress to learn. Ive already learned how to do the legislative process."
ON HIS LEISLATIVE PRIORITIES
"The first thing I have to say is that my wife and I already determined to move to Washington and obviously be here.
"Im going to be a very proactive Congressman for Puerto Rico, but also I intend to discuss national issues. I want people here on the mainland to see that we Puerto Ricans are a part of the Nation. (Just as) Texans, Californians, Hawaiians and people from Maine, we have concerns for our nation also. I think we need to participate in the national debate of different issues and I think this will be a change in the way that Puerto Rico is perceived once Ive come here to Congress and Pedro Rosselló (is elected.)
"The first thing we have to deal with in January 2005 is how we can maintain operating the two military bases we have, Roosevelt Roads and Fort Buchanan. A commission will be meeting in the summer of 2005 to recommend to Congress which bases should be closed. Right now, because of the way the Sila Calderon Administration has dealt with the federal government, our relations are in the worst condition ever in our history. We see that Roosevelt Roads is being dismantled and probably by January 2005 or by summer 2005 it will be difficult for the Congressional Committee to not determine to close it. So one of the things I have to do once (in Washington) is to let the government of the U.S. know that theres been a change in Puerto Rico, that we want to keep Roosevelt Roads open, as well as Fort Buchanan, not only for national defense and the drug interdiction that takes place from Roosevelt Roads, but also because of its importance for the economy of Puerto Rico and, above all, (the bases) are symbols of our relationship with the United States; symbols of the permanent union we seek with the United States.
"Thanks (to the work of) former Governor Pedro Rosselló, Puerto Ricans (who qualify) can receive up to $500 per child for those families who have over three children and are within the economic standards existing for the program. Right now, around a hundred thousand families in Puerto Rico are benefiting from that benefit, (totaling) some 150 million dollars (annually). I will fight strongly to see that Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is extended. We have elderly, handicapped and disabled who need to have that support from the federal government. If any of them took a plane and came to the 50 states they would be automatically enrolled in that program. But while theyre in Puerto Rico, they are treated unequally.
"The concept of separate but equal has been torn down in this country and I think that we have to do that (for Puerto Rico). As Senator Joseph Liberman said once, Puerto Rico is the unfinished business of democracy for the U.S. and something has to be done about it. "
ON BEING A DEMOCRAT IN A REPUBLICAN CONGRESS
"When you look at the history of (Resident Commissioners) in Congress, youll see that on occasions youve had a Republican like Baltasar Corrada del Rio during the Ferre Governorship who was a Republican (in a Democratic-held Congress), however he was able to bring to Puerto Rico its largest (federal) benefit, food stamps. Then you have Carlos Romero Barcelo (a Democrat) who for six of his eight years was under a Republican Congress and was able to achieve a lot for Puerto Rico. In my case, the way I see it is the following: I think its wrong (to be concerned) that I will be sitting with Democrats or with Republicans, because I am not elected by the Republican party, I am not elected by the Democratic party, I am elected by the New Progressive Party, the Statehood party. And within the Statehood party you have Democrats and you have Republicans. So I think it will be a mistake to come to Congress and say Im a Democrat or Im a Republican. If Im asked, (I will say) Im of the New Progressive Party. Statehood, which is my priority - to achieve the de-colonization process for Puerto Rico - does not have a last name. Statehood is not Republican. Statehood is not Democrat. Statehood is one word and we need the help of Republicans and we need the help of Democrats. And in that way I will be seeking their support and also helping the different leaders of the Congress regardless of what political party they may (represent)."
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Editors Note: The Herald will publish interviews with announced candidates for the 2004 elections as they become available. Last week an interview with Senator Miriam Ramirez appeared and interviews with other candidates for the office of Resident Commissioner will be published as they become available.