TESTIMONY OF THE HONORABLE NESTOR S. APONTE
STATE REPRESENTATIVE OF PUERTO RICO
DIRECTOR OF THE INSTITUTE OF POLITICAL
EDUCATION AND COMMUNICATION
OF THE NEW PROGRESSIVE PARTY
HOUSE COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES
April 21, 1997
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee on Resources.
My name is Nestor S. Aponte. I am the Director of the Institute of Political Education and Communication of the New Progressive Party and a member of the House of Representatives of Puerto Rico, in my fourth FOUR year consecutive term. During the term that ended last December, I occupied the position of House Majority Leader. I am an Army Veteran and a Lawyer in private practice.
My main concern in attending this hearing is to emphasize the importance of having Congress define clear and precise formulas for any process in which we, the people of Puerto Rico, have to make a decision on status. It is of utmost importance to have an unmistakable definition for the relationship, political condition or status presently called Commonwealth or any of the possible variants, finally included in the plebiscite HR 856 proposes, for the solution of our status dilemma.
Since the enactment of the Constitution for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in 1952, the advocates of commonwealth have capitalized on the silence of Congress in regard to the term "estado libre asociado" used as a translation for the word commonwealth. They have hidden Resolution 22 of the Puerto Rican Constitutional Assembly (see exhibit 1), approved to determine in Spanish and in English the name of the body politic created by the constitution. And, they have defined the term or phrase "estado libre asociado in as many ways necessary to fit into the particular circumstances of any time.
They have been able to make our people believe that under Commonwealth we can acquire all the benefits of statehood without all the responsibilities, and all the possible benefits of independence. They call it "the best of two worlds"
If this elastic type of political status is possible, Congress should state so. But if it is not possible, Congress should also state so. The process you have already begun to solve our status problem must only include viable alternatives, if it is intended to be a sincere effort to put an end to our colonial relationship.
Independently of what you may hear from detractors of statehood in regard to nationality, language differences, Olympic representation and beauty contests, the unquestionable facts are that very great majority of our people are ready and willing to make the necessary adjustments to make permanent the bonds we have developed during our centenarian relationship._ We are ready for Statehood
There should be no doubt, that with the approval of Public Law 600 in 1950, and the enactment of the Constitution for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in 1952, our political relationship with the United States remained of a territory.
The congressional record is clear. It was a break from the practice where Congress exercised local self-government according to organic legislation. The only purpose of the legislation was to authorize the establishment of local self-government, but the fundamental relationship of Puerto Rico to the Federal Government would not be altered.
Section 4 of Public Law 600 reads as follows. "Except as provided in section 5 of this Act, the Act entitled "An Act to provide a civil government for Puerto Rico, and for other purposes," approved March 2, 1917, as amended, is hereby continued in force and effect and may hereafter be cited as the "Puerto Rican Federal Relations Act."
The sections of said Act (Jones Act) repealed in section 5 of Law 600 are the ones that deal with the organization of the local government, because from there on, the organization of the local government was to be determined by the articles of the new Constitution. All other sections are in force in the same way as when enacted in 1917.
In 1953, the United States Government sent a memorandum to the United Nations concerning the cessation of transmission of information under article 73 (e) of the Charter with regard to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Even though the arguments used to described the scope of the local self-government are similar to the dispositions of Resolution 22 of the Constitutional Assembly, the advocates of Commonwealth have used said memorandum for the purpose of trying to prove that with the approval of the local Constitution we engaged in a new relationship with a new political status.
In summary if the language used to describe the formulas is not precise and clear, this process may turn into a political campaign as confusing as the ones that have developed in our locally legislated political status plebiscites.
(Approved by tile Constitutional Convention of Puerto Rico in the plenary session held February 4, 1952)
To determine in Spanish and in English the name of the body politic created by the Constitution of the people of Puerto Rico.
Whereas this constitutional Convention, in accordance with tire mandate of the people, is about to adopt the Constitution by virtue of which the Puerto Rican Community will be politically organized;
Whereas it a necessary to give an appropriate name in both English and Spanish to the body politic thus created;
WHEREAS the word "commonwealth" in contemporary English usage means a politically organized community that is to say, a state (using the word in the generic sense) in which political power resides ultimately in the people, hence a free state but one which is at tile same time linked to a broader political system in a federal or other type of association and therefore does not have independent and separate existence
WHEREAS the single word "commonwealth, as currently used, clearly defines the status of the body politic created under the terms of the compact existing between the people of Puerto Rico and the United States, i.e., that of a state which is free of superior authority in the management of its own local affairs but which is linked to the United States of America and hence is a part of its political system in a manner compatible with its federal structure;
WHEREAS, there is no single word in the Spanish language exactly equivalent to the English word "commonwealth" and translation of "commonwealth" into Spanish requires a combination of words to express the concepts of state and liberty and association;
Whereas, in the case of Puerto Rico the most appropriate translation of "commonwealth" into Spanish is the expression of "estado libre asociado", which however should not be rendered "associated free state" in English inasmuch as the word "state" in ordinary speech in the United States means one of the States of the Union;
Therefore, Be it resolved by the Constituent Assembly of Puerto Rico
First That in Spanish the name of the body politic created by the Constitution which this Convention is adopting for submission to tile people of Puerto Rico Shall be "Estado Libre Asociado, it being understood that in our case this term is equivalent to and an appropriate translation of the English word "commonwealth".
Second: That, as a consequence, the body politic created by our Constitution shall be designated " The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico" in English and "El Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico" in Spanish.
Third: That the Committee on style of this convention is instructed to use these designations in the respective English and Spanish texts of the Constitution when submitting the documents for third reading.
Fourth: That this resolution shall be published statement of the meaning of the terms " Commonwealth" and "Estado Libre Asociado" as used in the Constitution; and that it shall be widely distributed, together with the Constitution, for the information of the people of Puerto Rico and the Congress of the United States.