February 23, 1998

I’d like to begin with a kind of representative issue that is rather unique in American public life, the issue that Governor Rossello’s whole career embodies -- that of Puerto Rico. This is the centennial year of Puerto Rico’s affiliation with the United States. And I think that it is time that we responded to the aspirations of the four million U.S. citizens who live there and allow them to determine their ultimate political status.

The people in Puerto Rico have local self-government, but they do not have votes that are fully votes in their national government. My colleague, when I was a governor, was Carlos Romero [Barcelo] who now represents Puerto Rico in the Congress, and he does a great job. I’m glad to see him back there.

I have always said that the people of Puerto Rico should decide for themselves, and Congress ought to give them a chance to do that, what they want their relationship to the United States to be. There is now a bipartisan bill making its way through the Congress to establish a process for resolving this issue that gives Puerto Ricans the powers to vote on the long-discussed options of statehood, commonwealth or national sovereignty, independent or linked with the United States.

Some people question the option of statehood because of the Hispanic culture of Puerto Rico. And with all respect, I disagree with them. After all, this is an issue for the 21st century for America.

Consider the history: We have made Puerto Ricans citizens. We have drafted them into the Armed Forces. We extend most laws to them, especially those that are convenient to us -- the rest of us. To use their culture, to bar them from voting rights or responsibilities in our country if they so choose to seek them by majority vote is wrong. And this is not primarily about Puerto Rico, but about the rest of us. What are our values? What is our culture? How can we make one America in a world and a nation ever more diverse? We have to begin by saying, it doesn’t matter what your ethnic or racial or religious heritage is; it matters only if you embrace the ideas of the founders as embodied in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.

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