Statement of Luis A Ferré
Former Governor of Puerto Rico
New Progressive Party
Before the Committee on Resources
U.S. House of Representatives on H.R. 856
United States-Puerto Rico Political Status Act
March 19, 1997
Chairman Young and Members of the House Natural Resources Committee:
My name is Luis A. Ferré.
I have advocated statehood for Puerto Rico during my adult life, which extends today to 93 years.
I served as Governor of Puerto Rico from 1969 to 1973 and I appear before you as Founding President of the New Progressive Party, committed to achieve statehood for Puerto Rico, which won the 1996 election with a majority vote of 1,006,331 or 51.4% for Governor of Puerto Rico, a majority of the Senate with 19 seats out of 28, a majority of the House with 37 out of 54 seats, 54 mayors of a total of 78 municipalities and a vote of 973,654, or majority for Resident Commissioner to Congress.
The New Progressive Party stands firmly behind the Young Bill. H.R. 856. We are all happy, indeed, that you have all subscribed H.R. 856, which finally opens the road for Puerto Rico to make a decision on its ultimate political status in the dignified manner that becomes the United States Congress and the people of the United States, including statehood as an alternative. which was the implicit understanding under which the people of Puerto Rico welcomed the American forces of General Nelson Miles in 1898.
Upon landing, General Nelson Miles published a proclamation which read in part "Our military forces have not come to make war on the people of the Country -- but on the contrary, to bring protection. -- promote your prosperity, and bestow the immunities and blessings of our enlightenment and liberal institutions and government."
This proclamation was considered, by oar political leaders and the Puerto Rican people, as a moral commitment by the United States to accept Puerto Rico, eventually, as a state of the Union, with full United States citizenship. Accordingly, both political parties that participated in the elections of 1900, under the leadership of the two most important and respected leaders, Barbosa and Muñoz Rivera, included statehood in their platforms, and gave their full support to you assumption of our destiny on an equal political basis and moral responsibility.
Unfortunately, and to everybody's disappointment Congress enacted the Foraker Bill to establish the first civil government, in 1900, which did not grant United States citizenship to Puerto Ricans, acting in contradiction to the historical precedent of accepting territories only to become states. In spite of this disappointment, the people of Puerto Rico did not lose their confidence in the ultimate spirit of justice and moral responsibility of the United States and persisted in their demands for United States citizenship, as a step to ultimate statehood.
We are now approaching one hundred years from the date of the signature of the Treaty of Paris. which bestowed upon Congress the power to determine the political destiny of Puerto Rico, as at last outlined, with options for full self-government, including statehood, in Young Bill H.R. 856.
It took Congress 19 years to grant United States citizenship, under the Jones Act, and to establish an elected Senate. It took congress 50 years to provide for an elected Governor. It took an additional four years to allow us to draft and approve our own state-like Constitution In 1952, through an elected Constitutional Convention to which I had the honor of being elected as a statehood advocate and spokesman.
In 1950, Congress authorized the people of Puerto Rico to vote in a Referendum to accept or reject Law 600, which provided for the adoption of the local Constitution, as well as to other amendments to the Jones Act of 1917. The Federal Relations Act remained unchanged, maintaining Puerto Rico, as a non-incorporated Territory under the Territorial Clause of the United States Constitution and the full sovereignty of Congress.
We voted in favor of the Constitution drafted by the Convention under the clear understanding that the Commonwealth (E.L.A), a defined therein, was to be a transitory status that kept the way open for Puerto Rico to achieve statehood or independence, at a future date, if the people so decided.
Several attempts were made afterwards to interpret and modify Law 600, which were rejected by Congress.
In 1964, and to clarify the meaning of Law 600, under which the Constitution of Puerto Rico was granted, the United States-Puerto Rico Status Commission was appointed. I was appointed member of the Status Commission on behalf of the statehood position.
During the Commission proceedings, I was able to argue against the misleading campaign of the advocates of Commonwealth status, that statehood for Puerto Rico was not attainable and that it would be economically disastrous for the island and an economic burden to the United States, assuming the position that I had been sustaining since November 23, 1949, when I testified before the sub-committee of the Committee on labor and Education of the House of Representatives of the United States, that to the contrary, Puerto Rico could assume the full economic responsibilities of statehood and it would be in the long run an asset to the United States, while the territorial status of Commonwealth would perpetually be a burden.
And I added and repeat today, that if we are American citizens, then we must be given the tools that out fellow American citizens in Continental United States Rave to solve their problems; and these tools are equal rights under statehood. Only by having two Senators and six Congressmen who can be on the alert all the time and who have the power to protect our interests, can the American citizens of Puerto Rico give their economy the necessary impetus to solve their problems.
Finally, the Status Commission Report came out with the following conclusion amongst others" "Economic studies indicate, that sustained economic growth, under the present status and continuation of the special arrangements will make statehood with adequate, but not extraordinary or unprecedented provisions for transition, fully possible, without severe risks."
"With respect to the nature of the compact agreed upon under Law 600. the Supreme Court of the United States is the final interpreter, and has not expressed itself as yet, On these matters." This was in 1966. Since then, it has expressed itself in several instances, in particular, In the case of Harris vs. Rosario, in which it ruled that Congress had the authority to discriminate against the United States citizens of Puerto Rico, since Puerto Rico was held under the Territorial Clause of the Constitution.
Let me add some political considerations for the admission of Puerto Rico as a state, that I expressed before the Sub-Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs of the House of Representatives of the United States Congress on December 7, 1959, and which I think we still pertinent today.
"The admission of Puerto Rico as a state would greatly enhance the position of the United States in world affairs. It would be the logical conclusion of a process which started in 1898, when Puerto Rico came under the American flag. Puerto Rico before the year 1900 had the old European authoritarian social structure. This structure has gradually evolved into a democratic society under the American influence, which began by teaching our youth the American principles of individual liberty, equality of opportunity and respect for human dignity, through the school system and the political institutions, which were established after the year 1900."
"This has been, to my mind, the most significant change that Puerto Rico has undergone under the American flag. The successful achievement of our economic well being is, therefore, a challenge to the American citizens of Puerto Rico and to our fellow citizens of the Mainland; a challenge to show the world that the American way is the way to both economic success, social improvement and political freedom, which can usefully serve as a pattern to solve the vaster problems of other underprivileged countries or the world. A challenge of great political and human potentialities, which may be of great world significance."
"With respect to the relations of the United States and Latin America, statehood for Puerto Rico would have still greater significance. It would serve to improve and solidify the position of America as a friend and partner, for it would be the best proof that our good-neighbor policy is not a mere diplomatic posture, but that it is an honest and sincere expression of respect of North America for Latin America. It would make Latin America feel, that through Puerto Rico and through its representation in Congress, their problems and aspirations would be better understood, because of our common cultural origin and tradition."
"As Americans identified with the political and social philosophy of America and its institutions of law, we would he able to hotter interpret our foreign policy to them and help the United States to succeed in bringing better understanding and cooperation in the common problems of our hemisphere."
And at the present moment, the need to maintain and further develop the commercial interchange with Latin American, which is our natural market, when we are loosing the European market to United Europe and the Pacific markets to Japan and China, is essential to our success and prosperity.
The growth of the statehood forces have been overwhelming since 1968. In 1964, the Pro-commonwealth Party had 487,280 votes or 59.4% of the vote and the Pro-Statehood Party had 284,627 or 34.6%. In the last Election of 1996, there was a complete reversal. The Statehood party obtained 963,536 votes, or 51.3%, and the Pro-commonwealth Party 855,960 votes, or 45.5%, which shows a clear growing trend for statehood.
We feel, therefore, that Puerto Rico is ripe to become a state after almost a hundred years of successful democratic apprenticeship and to assume its full political rights and responsibilities. During all this Century more than 200,000 Puerto Ricans have served with distinction in all the wars that United States has been involved with more than 6,000 casualties and in several cases with higher casualties than some states. More than 2,000 Puerto Ricans soldiers served in the Gulf War, amongst whom was a grandson of mine in the 1st Armored Division. Four, such as Fernando Luis Garcia, who gave their lives, heroically in the line of duty, have been condecorated with the Congressional Medal of Honor
Other distinguished leaders who have, also, served the Nation are, Admiral Horacio Rivero, in 1968, Commander in Chief of NATO Forces in Southern Europe and later Ambassador to Spain; Vice Admiral Diego Hernandez, who was in command of the Mediterranean Fleet; Major General Pedro del Valle, commanded the U. S. Marine Corps. First Division in the Pacific; General William A. Navas, Jr., who is deputy in Command of the National Guard. Dr. Antonia Novello, served as U. S. Surgeon General, and Dr.. Enrique Mendez. Jr., as Deputy Surgeon General of the U. S. Army.
The real test for Puerto Rican statehood should be how much we share common values with fellow citizens of the 50 states, and how much Puerto Ricans believe in, honor, and defend the Constitution of the United States. A look at the myriad ways Puerto Ricans have served the United States over the last 99 years is enough to pass the test.
President Clinton has just appointed Mrs. Aida Alvarez to his Cabinet, as head of Small Business Administration.
Puerto Rico is participating, successfully and with distinction, in Mainstream American to enrich its economy and its culture. There are about 2, 000,000 Puerto Ricans living throughout the Nation, doing constructive and creative work as factory workers and professionals, in all fields of activity: Thousands of physicians and engineers, thousands of teachers and professors, in schools and universities,
In the arts and humanities, our rhythms and melodies have contributed to enrich American music: Justino Diaz and Pablo Elvira have been great voices at the Metropolitan Opera; our great actors, like Jose Ferrer and Raul Julia, have been American favorites.
We are contributing to enrich our cultural patrimony through Museum collections Today you can see on loan at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the painting, F1aming June, by Lord Leighton, which is the key painting and masterpiece of the Victorian Exhibition.
In the area of civil government amongst many others, Judge Juan Torruella, chief Justice of the U. S. First Circuit of Appeals; Judge Jose Cabranes is member of the United States 2nd Circuit of Appeals.
In the area of sports, we have contributed with many baseball players, amongst whom, Roberto Clemente has been included in the Hall of Fame; Charles Pasarell in1969, was #1 tennis player in the United States and now, Gigi Fernandez a tennis champion; as well as, Chi Chi Rodriguez, golf professional.
And last, but not least, to show how much Puerto Rico is embedded in American life, it was the Puerto Rican judge of the Southern District of New York, Sonia Sotomayor who as a fearless jurist, a couple of years ago, decided to issue an injunction that could break the deadlock in the baseball strike, and by doing so, sent the baseball players back to give Americans, after more than a year, the enjoyment of one of their favorite sports. Nobody could be part of America, more than this competent jurist of 40 years of age. She was the true image of me freedom and respect of law America stands for.
Mr. Chairman, I think that time has come to Congress to live up to the commitment of equality, under which we were brought into its fold. It is time to do justice to more than 3.6 million disenfranchised American citizens of Puerto Rico. We congratulate you for taking the proper step with H.R. 856, to comply with your moral duly, as it becomes the United States Congress and our fellow citizens of the United States.