Statement of Anibal Acevedo-Vila
Popular Democratic Party
Commonwealth of Puerto Rico
Before the Committee on Resources
U.S. House of Representatives
The United States-Puerto Rico Political Status Act
April 19, 1997
In my previous appearance before you, I expressed the views of our party regarding the tenets of the political formula to which we adhere. It is, as you know, a formula that stresses the values and aspirations that we share with the United States preserving, at the same time, our distinct national and cultural identities. This is the status that has served the People of Puerto Rico well; that has allowed the sons and daughters of this Island to work towards a common ideal of progress and well being and to avoid clashes between otherwise unaccommodating visions.
If improved, Commonwealth can serve both our People and your People even better. This is why we have tried for many years and continue to try now to allow our present status to achieve its full potential. It is not surprising, then, that our definition of Commonwealth--the way in which we describe the essence of our beliefs--is neither new to our People nor alien to this Committee.
Accordingly, I do not come today to go once again over a terrain that has been very well covered in the past. Today I would like to address issues that are most significant for the process that you have commenced and that still wait to be discussed.
In this day and age, there is no right to self-determination if the process for its exercise is not adopted by consensus but by the sheer exercise of the will and power of one of the parties.
May I, in this respect, point out two glaring defects of this bill, besides others which I have mentioned in the past. This bill does not recognize the sovereignty of the people of Puerto Rico to freely choose among all the alternatives preferred by the different sectors of the Puerto Rican society. Accordingly, it does not comply with the elemental requirements concerning the exercise of the right to self-determination; the need that the process be made subject to the approval of the people concerned or, at least, adopted by consensus of the leading political groups that represents the people.
The common history shared between Puerto Rico and the Congress has had two good examples of this.
When Puerto Rico exercised, without exhausting, its self-determination right in 1950, the People validated the process proposed by the Congress with its vote. Later, in the 1989-91 plebiscite process, the U.S. Congress validated the process by getting the support and consensus of the three political parties on the Island. As Chairman Young clearly stated during that process back in 1990 ·a referendum [bill for Puerto Rico] should only be authorized by the Congress if it is to be fair to all parties and the statuses that they advocate" That same principle was reaffirmed recently with regard to this process by the President of the U.S., Hen. William Jefferson Clinton, in a letter to the President of the PDP of April 4, 1997, where he states:
"I have made it clear that the federal government should offer the People of Puerto Rico serious and fair options that are responsive to their diverse aspirations for their islands...." (Appendix A)
If, notwithstanding the fact that the procedure for the establishment of Commonwealth required the approval by the people, that process is not satisfactory to some of you, what could be said about this process that until now has been established unilaterally? Why not follow now the same consultation that governed the constitutional reforms of the 1950's? Why should this bill seek to impose a given procedure, tilting the table to favor a formula that has never commanded a majority in this society? Or is it that half a century after we initiated the self determination process statehood followers have finally come to realize that the table needs tilting in order to prevent another defeat for statehood? Is it that you are now willing to follow them in such a monumental hoax.
This is not a question of naked power to do something, as debates concerning this bill have pitifully assumed. It is a question of honest statesmanship and solemn respect for the principles of democracy and government by consent.
Before this bill goes any further, you might as well tell, loud and clear, whether you are willing to honor the procedural principles of self-determination that have governed the proposals for changes in our relations, or whether you pretend to impose the rules unilaterally.
We must assume that the joint letter from Congressmen Young and Miller of March 3, 1997, giving the three political parties the opportunity to present a new definition for each formula, and this second round of hearings before the Committee is a new approach of openness, to have a referendum "fair to all parties and the statuses they advocate" and to revise the provisions, findings and assumptions of this bill which have until now made impossible any meaningful participation for us.
On March 19, I submitted the definition of the New Commonwealth to this Committee. (Appendix B). It describes the minimum content of our aspirations. It is substantially similar to the Commonwealth definition included in the Committee Report of H.R. 4765, a bill approved unanimously by the full House of Representatives on October 10, 1990.
The definition of the New Commonwealth, as well as the definition of Statehood and Independence included in the report to H.R. 4765 and approved by this Committee and the whole House, were the result of intense discussions and study after which the definitions presented by the three parties were modified before being adopted by the House.
The report on H.R. 4765 states specifically that the inclusion of the definition "constitute a good faith commitment to consider those matters contained in the conceptual description of the status that receives majority support in the referendum in responding to that expression of will by the Puerto Rican people...These descriptions cannot be fairly termed wishlists...this section would pledge that the committees will seriously and fully review and respond to the proposals" (For a chronology of the process that concluded with the approval of H.R. 4765, see Appendix C).
In short, there was absolutely no legal impediment to the adoption and enforcement of the Commonwealth option then and there is none now. The only thing needed is your political will, and your commitment to fair play.
What should be under discussion now before Congress is what best serves the interest of all parties to the present process, and how to give meaningful content to Puerto Rico's right to self-determination , without artificially raised or dubious legalisms to obscure the nature of the policy decisions required. (For a discussion of some of the policies and legal issues with regard to Puerto Rico, See Appendix D: "A Note on the Confusion Between Legalism and Policy").
These are not times to be narrow-minded. We must build on our past and look to the future. Europe is currently creating a whole new and dynamic relationship which includes a common market, common citizenship and most likely common currency and the United States has to look into the future with an attitude that will encourage not impede this type of arrangements. The development of the New Commonwealth is consistent with these modern tendencies of national reaffirmation and political and economic interdevelopment among the peoples of the world.
The majority of Puerto Ricans believe in autonomy and self-government with U.S. citizenship as a bond with the United States. The current status of Puerto Rico needs development, not demolishment, Thus, I claim and demand from each one of you to allow the People of Puerto Rico the opportunity to support the development of Commonwealth so as to further contribute to our mutual national interests into the new millenium The least you can do in a process like the one established in this bill, that is not legally binding or self-executing, is to allow my people to democratically express their support for Commonwealth,
THE WHITE HOUSE
April 4, 1997
The Honorable Jose E. Aponte
Mayor of Carolina
C/O The Popular Democratic Party
Of Puerto Rico
Post Office Box 9065788
San Juan, Puerto Rico 00906-5799
Thank you for sending me copies of the Popular Democratic Party General Council's recent resolutions regarding Puerto Rico's future Political status.
As you know, I have placed a high priority on establishing a process that would enable this fundamental issue to be resolved finally. To achieve this, I am fully committed to working with the Commonwealth's elected leaders, the Congress, and all others Concerned and I hope that the necessary procedures will be underway by next year.
I have made it clear that the federal government should offer the people of Puerto Rico serious and fair options that are responsive to their diverse aspirations for their islands, so that the option authorized by a majority of votes can be implemented. I will continue to keep the views of supporters of the Commonwealth arrangement in mind as we carry out this process.
THE NEW COMMONWEALTH DEFINITION
(A) The new Commonwealth of Puerto Rico would be joined in union with the United States that would be permanent and the relationship could only be altered by mutual consent. Under compact, the Commonwealth would be an autonomous body politic with its own character and culture, not incorporated into the United States, and sovereign over matters covered by the Constitution of Puerto Rico, consistent with the Constitution of the United States
(B) The United States citizenship of persons born in Puerto Rico would be guaranteed and secured as provided by the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States and equal the that of citizens born in the several states. The individual. rights, privileges and immunities provided for by the Constitution of the United States would apply to residents of Puerto Rico. Residents of Puerto Rico would be entitled to receive benefit under Federal social programs equally with residents of the several. States contingent on equitable contributions from Puerto Rico as provided by law.
(C) To enable Puerto Rico to arrive at full self-government over matters necessary to its economic, social, and cultural development under its constitution, a Special Constitutional Convention would submit proposals for the entry of Puerto Rico into international agreements and the exemption of Puerto Rico from specific Federal laws or provisions thereof. The President and the Congress, as appropriate, would consider whether such proposals would be consistent with the vital national interests of the United States in the transition plan provided for in Section 4 of this Act. The Commonwealth would assume any expenses related to increased responsibilities resulting from these proposals.
H.R. 4765 - 1990 PROCESS SUMMARY
1 May 9 1990 - H.R. 4765 was introduced In the House of Representatives by Congressman Ron de Lugo with a bipartisan support. The bill didn't have detailed definitions, but presented three formulas of status New- Commonwealth. Statehood and Independence.
2. June 28 1990 - The Presidents of the three main political parties of Puerto Pico (Popular Democratic Party, New- Progressive Party, Independence Party) presented and explained their status definitions
3. Intense discussions negotiations and congressional hearings about the contents of the three status formula definitions and procedures takes place
4. The representatives of the Popular Democratic Party meet with Democratic majority leaders Republican minority leaders and representatives of former President Bush. and as a result modifications were made on the formula definition. The Statehood and Independence definitions, also, suffered modifications as a result of negotiation activities.
5 September 18. 1990 - Chairman Ron de Lugo presents amendments in the nature of a substitutive for H.R. 47h5. Congressmen Young supported the amendments and later send to the House interior and Insular Affairs Committee. Amendments stated that Congress was committed to negotiate the implementation of the chosen formula based on the principles in each definition as contained in the report.
6. September 19 1990 - The House Interior and Insular Affairs Committee approves H.R. 4765 by a 37 - 1 vote.
7. October 2. 1990 - The House Rules Committee unanimously recommends H.R. 4765 for House floor consideration The report recommending status definitions stated that the "inclusion of these matters in this report would constitute a good faith commitment to consider those matters contained in the conceptual description of the status that receives majority support in the referendum in responding that expression of will by the Puerto Rican people The enactment of this legislation would impose moral obligations on the Executive Branch as well as the Congress in this regard " .
8 October 4. 1990 - A "Dear Colleague" letter asking for floor support to H.R. 4765 was signed 29 congressmen including Don Young.
9 October 5, 1990 - President Bush sends a letter to Ron de Lugo urging House approval of H.R. 4765 and compromised himself to sign the legislation.
10. October 10. 1990 - The House of Representatives approves HR 4765 "The Puerto Rican Self determination Act' unanimously.
11. Senate didn'tt consider the bill.
A NOTE ON THE CONFUSION BETWEEN LEGALISMS AND POLICY
The analysis of status issues has unfortunately been marred through the years by unending and barren discussion of legal conundrums. What are essentially policy issues have been clouded by dated legalisms and charades.
The history of the relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico is rich in examples of this distracting trait. Right at the outset it was claimed that, different to other countries, the United States had no power under the Constitution to acquire territories for the purpose of governing them as colonies. Although there was good authority for that position. Congress treated the matter, which was debated for years, as a policy issue and voted for the establishment of an empire. In the Insular Cases, the Supreme Court of the United States finally settled the issue. Torruella, Juan R., The Supreme Court of the United States and Puerto Rico: Doctrine of Separate and Unequal, Rio Piedras, University of Puerto Rico Press, 1985. Respectable authors have for a long time now questioned whether that policy decision was right, as democracy and colonialism do not really mix, and state that the United States should get out of the business of governing others. See: Walter Lippman, Introduction to Roosevelt, Theodore Jr., Colonial Policies of the United States New York, Doubleday, Doran, 1937. This is, again, purely a policy issue, but sixty years have elapsed since Lippman's indictment and almost forty since the United Nations called for the swift and unconditional end to colonialism in the world [see Resolution 1514 (XV)] and still there are advisers to Congress who claim that Congress should hold on for dear life to its plenary powers over the territories, decolonizing alternatives open to others, such as binding compacts, allegedly not being legally available to the United States.
Puerto Rican politicians have also fallen prey to this malady. Since the start of the twentieth century, many alleged that the Treaty of Paris, wherein Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the United States, was null ab initio . The argument used was that , by granting Puerto Rico full autonomy in 1897, Spain had renounced its sovereignty over Puerto Rico and that therefore it was powerless to cede the island to the United States or any other power. For an analysis of the argument, see: Lopez Baralt, J., "Is the Paris Treaty Null Ab Initio as to the Cession of Puerto Rico?", 7 Rev. Jur. UPR 75 (1937).