OF MR. ARTURO J. GUZMAN
CHAIRMAN OF THE INSTITUTE FOR THE DEVELOPMENT, EQUALITY AND ADVANCEMENT OF PUERTO RICO (I.D.E.A. OF PUERTO RICO, INC.)
ON H.R. 856
SUBMITTED FOR INCLUSION AS TESTIMONY FOR THE RECORD TO: THE HOUSE NATURAL RESOURCES COMMITTEE DURING HEARINGS HELD IN MAYAGUEZ, PUERTO RICO
ON APRIL 21, 1997
The Institute for the Development Advancement, and Equality of Puerto Rico (I.D.E.A. of Puerto Rico, Inc.) is a civic non-profit corporation; a "think-tank" not affiliated to local or national political parties, which is integrated by private sector Individuals with outstanding professional and academic records, who identify, research, and develop informational positions on Congressional issues pertaining to Puerto Rico.
I request your consent in including this statement in the permanent record of these Hearings and cross-referenced with our previous testimony as listed in the Index of this document.
MR. CHAIRMAN AND MEMBERS OF THE COMMITTEE:
For many years, and in testimony before different Congressional Committees we have stated that a solution to Puerto Rico's status condition, and an end to our Nation's legacy of colonialism, could only be achieved by an act of mutual self-determination on the part of the Congress of the United States and WE THE PEOPLE of Puerto Rico.
H.R 856 constitutes such an act and it has our full concurrence, endorsement, and support.
As with any process of this nature, there are some areas which may warrant further definition, clarification, or consideration which we would like to bring to your attention as follows:
A. COMMONWEALTH (Estado Libre Asociado):
1. Federal Taxation: The bill requires that if none of the other proposed status options receives a majority vote, the current condition will remain in force until further periodic consultations are held in order to attain a final and permanent political status for Puerto Rico. Under such circumstances, the question of exemption from the payment of individual and corporate income taxes must be further clarified. Proponents of the "status-quo" have consistently represented to the people of Puerto Rico that under the current condition there exists a permanent exemption from such obligations.
Thus, if it is the intention of the Congress to state that such exemption is to remain on a permanent and guaranteed basis, it should be included as an integral part of the definition of Commonwealth that appears on the legislation. If, however, the Congress is unwilling or unable to provide such prospective guarantees, that fact should also be noted in order to prevent the people from been misled into voting for this option as a means to avoid federal tax obligations.
2. Costs to the Federal Treasury: On a related subject, we recommend that a report be requested from the General Accounting Office which includes an updated an accurate portrayal of the costs represented to the Federal Treasury by the current status. A historic economic comparison should be made from inception in order to ascertain and establish a profile that would assist in determining if such costs have been incremental. Also, projections should be prepared that could indicate the prospective fiscal effects that would ensue by maintaining the current arrangements.
In addition, consideration should be given not in the political but the economic perspective, to determine if the current relationship remains in the best interest of the American taxpayer, If it fits within the concept of "shared burden" and within the scope of realities brought forth by national budgetary considerations, and if so, for what prospective length of time can it remain unaltered.
B. INDEPENDENCE (Full or in Free Association with the United States):
1. Political-Economic Models: The bill should incorporate a more specific definition of the political and economic models that would be implemented if either of these options were to prevail in order for the voters to be guaranteed that they would know exactly which model of independence they are selecting. As an example, it is our opinion that many more voters would be attracted to vote for these options if their definition would state that (at least at their inception) they would adopt a republican political system with a capitalist economic model than for example, voters would be attracted to vote for a model of independence that would include a Marxist political system and a socialist economic model.
2. Investor Guarantees: Because of the historic relationship that has existed between the United States and Puerto Rico the local economy has largely been underwritten by mainland institutions and regulated by federal law. Thus, for example, most mortgages are sold in U.S. secondary markets and as such the need to assure stateside investors becomes fundamental in order to prevent an economic paralysis if confronted even by the potential of a radical change of status to either model of independence.
While we are confident that these aspects can be successfully negotiated during a transition period, and should be addressed at that point, we recommend that a minimal determination be made at this time, in order to ascertain whether the new independent body-politic is to be expected to provide such guarantees or if the federal government will remain with the responsibility, and for how long a period.
3. Continued U.S. Citizenship: The bill makes provision that would allow the current Puerto Rican statutory citizens of the U.S. to choose to retain their citizenship while residing in the new independent body-politic of Puerto Rico. It appears that it is the intention of the Congress to determine that those born thereafter, would not be eligible for continued statutory citizenship.
However, the current language of the bill appears to be vague enough to have given rise to public speculation by advocates of these options to claim that it leaves "loopholes" which may defeat its intended purposes. For example, current federal law is often cited as proof that those who would choose to retain their U.S. statutory citizenship could still pass it on to future generations born here by exercising the right of other U.S. citizens in inscribing then children as Americans at any U.S. consulate or embassy. Furthermore, others claim that since the right to travel stateside would be unrestricted, women about to give birth could travel to any state of the Union and the horn child would automatically acquire U.S. citizenship.
If the bill in its current form indeed allows for such possibilities we recommend that the Congress determine whether or not the United States would be willing to accept the responsibilities and liabilities that it would ensue by such allowances, or if not, to amend the bill's dispositions so that the matter becomes clear enough to allow those voters that would want future generations to retain U.S. citizenship the proper choices.
In addition, we recommend that the issue of Puerto Rican statutory citizens that reside in any state of the Union be addressed separately so that those wishing to remain residing in the United States are allowed for a different mechanism to perpetuate prospectively their U.S. citizenship. Perhaps, the Congress may want to consider developing a mechanism by which these statutory citizens, having proven a pre-determined minimum period of previous residency in the United States, can go through a process of "automatic naturalization" and thus make a transition from a statutory citizenship to a permanent "14th Amendment-guaranteed" citizenship.
1. General accounting Office Report: During the 104th Congress and in reference to H.R. 3024, the General Accounting office produced a partial economic report estimating the potential costs of the statehood option to the Federal Treasury based upon individual contributions only, but apparently not taking into consideration other sources of potential revenue such as individual business and corporate taxes and not considering to offset these costs with revenues that have already begun to accrue as a result of the phase-out of Section 936 of the Internal Revenue Code. It is our recommendation that the G.A.O. be requested to revise this report taking the aforementioned facts into consideration as well as any others which may have been omitted.
D. GENERAL PROVISIONS:
1. Voter Eligibility:
a) The Federal Relations Act: A review of testimony on the bill reveals that some have advocated that people who were born in Puerto Rico, and in some cases their immediate descendants, be allowed the right to vote in the proposed plebiscite regardless of place of residence by waving the residency requirement of the local electoral law or by seeking approval from the Congress.
The Federal Relations Act, which regulates the relationship between the United States and the territory of Puerto Rico states solely for the purposes of establishing legal residency: Article 5a (new article inserted by law of the Congress on March 4, ].927, 44 Est. 1418) "All citizens of the United States who have resided, or successively are to reside in the island for a year, will be citizens of Puerto Rico."
Thus it becomes clear that acceding to such a vote, in terms of the Federal Relation Act, would be juridically equivalent (regardless of place of birth) to allowing "non Puerto Ricans" participation in the internal affairs of Puerto Rico.
b) The U.S. Constitution: The national constitution expressly forbids to discriminate (against or in favor of) any citizen by reason, among others, of "place of birth". The legal argument can be made that if the residency requirement is waved and voting in the local plebiscite is allowed to a group of U.S. citizens based upon their place of birth, this action would be discriminatory to other U.S. citizens who do not meet the residency requirement either. Therefore, it is legally conceivable that if the residency requirement is waved for some citizens of the U.S., based upon anti-discriminatory practice, the same provision would have to be applied to all citizens, thus turning this exercise unto a national plebiscite which we understand is not the intention of the Congress not conforms to international criteria for decolonization.
2. Voter Education:
Based upon past plebiscite experience, more than ever a requirement exist for the creation of a source that can clarify the definitions and provisions of the bill in an impartial manner in order to prevent rampant disinformation and outright lies from affecting the will of the people and their right to self-determination.
Such a source can serve as an official Congressional educational tool that would provide the information that is given to the people, and also serve as an arbiter that can determine which conflicting interpretations of the bill or its provisions is correct.
It is our recommendation that the Congress, as part of this bill's provisions, considers implementing such an informational source which can be integrated by a panel of its own members, or Congressional appointees that would serve in that capacity and given access to other impartial resources such as the Congressional Research Service, The General Accounting Office and other dependencies of the federal government such as the U.S. Justice Dept., etc. If approved, operational funding may be available through allocation of tax resources such as rebates etc.
In this Congressional process the subject of language has made an inappropriate change of venue from the field of education to the field of politics in much the same manner as it has been treated locally, or perhaps as a direct result of it. It is to this subject that I must allocate most of my oral presentation.
Allow me to try and set the record straight for often time the impression has been given that Puerto Ricans are reluctant to learn English, or worse and more demeaning, that we lack the intellectual capacity to learn than one language when nothing could be further from historic facts. Let me state that we oppose "English" or "Spanish Only" as we oppose condition that would have the detrimental effect of restricting potential of human learning and development. Suffice it to state that of civilization on has proven that diversity is the very essence of true culture.
However, I also believe that each and every American citizen has the right to learn the English language. It is precisely as a result of treating the question of language politically, in order to preserve the current colonial condition, that this right has been denied the people of Puerto Rico with the implicit complicity of the Congress and federal government of the United States often also at the expense of the American taxpayers who contribute over 80% of the funds for public education.
Language, like any other aspect of education represents empowerment and empowerment a conducive to emancipation. As I've testified before other Congressional committees in the past, for the vested political and economic Interests to allow the Puerto Rican people the equal opportunity to learn English would have resulted ill their quest to seek parity in their wages and equality in their citizen rights, and that would have meant the demise of the "status-quo".
Colonial educational systems are designed for two classes of citizens, the autocrats and administrators that assist in the daily management of the colony, and a second class of peons restricted by the denial of learning the English language to conform to the conditions imposed upon them by the acting regimes in alliance with the powerful economic interests that prevailed over our lives and destiny until very recently.
We persist that the issue of language should be treated beyond the scope of status polities, but if others in the Congress and elsewhere demand its inclusion in this process, then let them prove their good intentions by providing equal conditions to all status options that entail U.S. citizenship regardless of the type of its nature), and that also require federal funding for their educational systems.
If the true motivation is to correct an injustice, and to provide the people of Puerto Rico full bi-lingual capabilities that would allow them a better life through better opportunity, then we must endorse it. We need not wait for any future status transition, or even for the enactment of this legislation for within the powers vested you by the "Territory Clause" of our Constitution you possess the means to avoid condemning yet another generation to a life of inequality and mediocrity.
Finally, as a reminder to you and to your colleagues in the Congress, I conclude with a quotation in the hope that it serves to affirm your determination to conclude this process and put an end to the era of colonialism in this Hemisphere: "Do not ask for whom the bell tolls, for the bells toll for thee."