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Puerto Rico Statehood

100 years ago, on July 25th, the U.S. acquired Puerto Rico a part of the treaty that ended the Spanish-American War. Today Puerto Rico is poised for another major political shake-up. A bill, which the House has approved, would allow Puerto Rico to vote on its destiny: statehood, independence, or stay a commonwealth. Join Ray Suarez for a look back at a century of American occupation and the future political status of Puerto Rico.

Ray Suarez, Washington, DC

(07/21/98, Copyright © 1998 Federal Document Clearing House. All Rights Reserved.)


Over this weekend, the people of Puerto Rico mark a turning point in their history, the arrival of American troops in the beautiful south coast town of Guanica (ph), the planting of the Stars and Stripes and the occupation of the island.

Puerto Rico had been petitioning the Spanish government for autonomy for years. There had been an unsuccessful uprising earlier in the 19th century. And it looked to autonomy movement leaders as if Puerto Rico was finally going to get what it wanted with a grant of limited autonomy in 1891.

Then fate intervened, in the form of the Spanish-American War, not fought over Puerto Rico at all. The island, almost as an afterthought, moved from the centuries-old Spanish Empire to the brand-new American one. And Puerto Ricans have been arguing ever since about their future.

For the first few decades, the island got little more than the back of Uncle Sam's hand. Puerto Ricans were rescued from stateless limbo only in 1917 when they were made American citizens by an act of Congress. In the early days, lobbying in the United States kept a duty on many Puerto Rican products.

Even as its people became American citizens, food crop production steadily declined as mainland commercial empires turned the island into a one-crop economy based on sugar. Puerto Rico spent the first half of the 20th century poor, marginalized, and run from Washington.

The warm, fertile, well-watered island imported more and more of its food. There had been an independence movement since the first days of American occupation but its activism became more intense in the '30s when the -- declines in the sugar market pushed Puerto Rico's people to the edge of desperation.

Independence leaders were arrested, demonstrations were violently suppressed. The war -- the Second World War brought better times to Puerto Rico since the island was studded with military facilities. In 1948, the first popularly elected governor was chosen. Commonwealth status, legally making Puerto Rico an associated free state, was unveiled in 1952.

In periodic balloting across the decades commonwealth status has maintained the largest single block of support, remaining now just ahead of statehood and far ahead of independence. But earlier this year the United States House of Representatives got involved, passing a bill that set up machinery for periodic voting on status, leaving the door further ajar for statehood -- maybe.

Does it mean America would really welcome Puerto Rico, gladly add a 51st star to the flag? Is this country ready to make 3.8 million Spanish speakers, not just passport holders, but fully fledged political participants in our shared national life?

Does the Young Bill make independence more of a realistic proposal? Or, do proposed changes in commonwealth, making it an associated free state that's a little more free and a little less associated, make the status quo a palatable option?

On the 100th anniversary of the taking of Puerto Rico, a discussion of its future this hour on the program. Fernando Martin Garcia is on the line from Puerto Rico. He's vice president of the Puerto Rico Independence Party. Welcome to the program.


SUAREZ: Xavier Romeu is with me here in Washington studio 3A. He's the executive director and general counsel for the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration. Welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.


GARCIA: Very well.

SUAREZ: Our number is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK.

Well Xavier, let's start with you. If you were to describe sort of the state of play at this moment, where does Puerto Rico stand in Washington and in your goal to becoming the 51st state?

ROMEU: Let me first state for the record that of course my personal view is that Puerto Rico should become a state. But right now the play in Washington, DC is not to determine whether Puerto Rico would be a state or should become a state, but rather whether the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico should be given a choice between three alternatives, statehood being one of them, but also commonwealth and independence.

Our belief is that the committee, the Senate Energy Committee, will be acting shortly to vote out of committee the Senate version of the bill. And that then we will have a chance on the floor of the Senate later on this month, if not in September, to have final passage of the Senate and hopefully have the bill signed into law.

SUAREZ: And is this just posturing, or is this really something that means that more members of the House and Senate are looking kindly toward the idea that Puerto Rico might some day become a state?

ROMEU: I don't think that that decision has been made, Ray. And I don't think we should get to and cross the bridge before we get to it. I think that what the Senate and the House are realizing now more than ever in this 100th year anniversary is that it is no longer viable to keep U.S. citizens disenfranchised, and no longer viable to not allow them to have a choice between the three meaningful alternatives.

Whether Puerto Rico ever petitions for statehood or independence remains to be seen, as remains to be seen whether Puerto Rico wishes to continue a commonwealth. But the reality is that I think the view in Congress, regardless of how they fall on the independence or statehood issue, is that the time has come to allow the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico to choose.

SUAREZ: Xavier Romeu is with me here in Washington. Fernando Martin, independence polls consistently in single digits. What possibilities for raising that result are in the latest U.S. congressional actions? Is there a changing feeling on the island?

GARCIA: Well first of all, I think that this process that Xavier has described, just days away now from the marking 100 years of continued colonialism in Puerto Rico, this process is at last making the Congress of the United States having to face the realities of its contradiction in its relationships with Puerto Rico.

The results of this process have been first of all that the actual existing commonwealth status has been fully discredited, not only in the Young Bill, but also in the Senate. And last week, the White House weighed in with its considered opinion that in effect commonwealth was a colonial status.

So I think that has been a very important step forward in this direction. And I think the other elements here have been that first of all the difficulties, the almost insurmountable difficulties, that Puerto Rico would have in becoming a state of the union are beginning to emerge in full flower and I think they will continue to emerge as this process moves forward.

And at the same time, the alternative of independence which had been criminalized historically in Puerto Rico by a United States that wanted to maintain colonial hegemony over Puerto Rico at all costs, that alternative is slowly beginning to be rehabilitated as it becomes evident that it -- colonialism cannot continue and that a statehood is in the medium and long run an impossibility for Puerto Rico.

That then after all the only alternative that really will be left will be the alternative of independence, except that this time the United States, instead of having a hostile attitude towards it will have a cooperative and collaborative attitude.

When those things come to pass, and I think they are quickly coming to pass, we will see a very strong surge of support for independence in Puerto Rico.

SUAREZ: Well the machinery set up by the Young Bill implies that there will be repeated returns to the people to hear -- sort of take their temperature on this issue. Do you think that gradually then, the commonwealth vote starts to empty out in your favor and more people start to move to one choice or the other rather than the middle way?

GARCIA: Well not only that. I think that a very large number of people who today favor statehood will, once they realize as this process moves on that Congress is really unwilling to grant statehood to Puerto Rico in conditions that would be acceptable to the people of Puerto Rico.

And in as much as the Congress begins to realize that there will never be sufficient consensus in Puerto Rico in favor of statehood, that people who now support statehood would begin to realize that that is an impossible political project and that in effect they will also begin to shift towards independence.

SUAREZ: Xavier Romeu?

ROMEU: Well yeah, I'd like to note that Fernando and I agree on a great many things. The Young Bill, do remember Ray, the Young Bill is only one of two bills and eventually there is of course the possibility of a compromise bill, whatever that might be.

So it is important to look at the Young Bill and the mechanism which allows U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico to have a vote, regular consultations if you will, nothing objectionable about that, on how they feel about the political future of the island.

This is simply because commonwealth always admits of change. At best, commonwealth is nothing but an unincorporated territory subject to the full powers of Congress under the Territorial Clause. At worst like Fernando has pointed out, it is nothing but a colony.

So I do believe -- I disagree however with Fernando that Puerto Rico will slowly move towards independence. After all we do know one thing in Puerto Rico, that is that we value our U.S. citizenship and permanent union with the U.S, whether you favor commonwealth or statehood that constitutes on any given day 95 percent of the electorate.

I think that the opposite will happen. I think that slowly but surely Puerto Rico will make it known to the union that we are U.S. citizens and that we should be allowed the same rights as other U.S. citizens.

And as a consensus forms toward statehood, the fight in Puerto Rico for the rights of U.S. citizens -- which we all are U.S. citizens by birth, will resemble more the fight of the African-American community in the '40s and the '50s.

You do hear language in Puerto Rico along the lines of "this will never happen, the U.S. will never grant statehood to Puerto Rico." When the time comes we will see. The African-American community in fighting for its civil rights never said, "well the Anglo white community will never give us our rights" in the '40s and the '50s.

They knew how tough the fight was, yet they kept on the fight, they kept their eyes on the prize. And eventually, they got what many people would have said was impossible in the '40s and '50s which is their civil rights.

It's a fight that continues, and much in the same fashion the fight in Puerto Rico will continue either way, whether it is for statehood or independence or if it happens to be for continued commonwealth. But I would not talk yet about impossibilities.

SUAREZ: But Fernando Martin said that there are some conditions that the U.S. would set for Puerto Ricans that Puerto Ricans would find not only unpalatable, but insurmountable. And certainly the effort in insert "poison pill" language in the Young Bill regarding the status of the Spanish language in Puerto Rico is I think abundant evidence of this.

We -- if you read what pro-statehood people say, they often try to goose up the statistics a little bit on English language facility on the island. People who are hostile to statehood try to state how heavily there is a lack of English language facility. But the truth is, basically Puerto Rico is a place that works in Spanish.

ROMEU: Well let me just comment on that, I have two comments. One, it goes without saying that some people don't understand that Puerto Rico has had an official -- as official languages English and Spanish longer than any other state of the union, that is, since 1902. Only Nebraska recognized English as its official language starting in 1920.

So contrary to popular belief, there is a reality in Puerto Rico that language is the language of opportunity. I think the proof is in the pudding. You ask the majority of the leaders of all of the parties in Puerto Rico where they send their kids to and they will make certain that they have sent their kids to schools that of course do provide that opportunity.

But more to the point, on the question of language, people seem to be a bit hung up about language and Puerto Rico. And they seem to think that it -- that this is an issue unique to Puerto Rico and its -- to its potential admission in to the union. That's not so.

The same argument was made about Ohio -- Ohio of all states, back in the 19th century, "don't admit Ohio in to the union. Most of the people in Ohio are German and they speak German." To a certain extent the same argument was made about Louisiana, although to a lesser extent, with the French language and the fact that they continue to teach French in the parishes in Louisiana.

And more interestingly, in the case of New Mexico which resembles more closely the case of Puerto Rico where they had a large Hispanic population, at times seen as a majority population, and where the state has had English and Spanish as official languages.

I think the issue of language, Ray, ultimately is a straw man. I say since we have an audience that includes the continental U.S. and our brothers and sisters in the New York community and others, the language does not make the Puerto Rican.

I don't believe that anybody would go to the streets of New York and say, "simply because you do not speak the language, simply because you may have a little bit of an accent or you don't speak it at all that makes you less Puerto Rican."

Ultimately language will be what it's gonna turn out to be, a non-issue. It'll be resolved by the Supreme Court and then we'll be happy to continue with our civil rights struggle.

SUAREZ: Fernando Martin?

GARCIA: Well I think that there is a fundamental, with all respect, misconception in Xavier's approach to this problem. The problem of Puerto Rico is not primarily a problem of civil rights. The primary problem of Puerto Rico is the problem of colonialism.

If the problem were simply one of disenfranchisement, of course it could be solved by statehood. But of course that would be to say that the people in Quebec should not have or would not had -- will not have an independence movement because they all have full and equal participation in the Canadian body politic.

Or that the people in Ireland because they had full enfranchisement after the act of union at the beginning of the 19th century should have stopped being an Irish people distinct and separate from the United States.

The problem of Puerto Rico vis-a-vis the United States and the issue of statehood is that Puerto Rico is a full-fledged Latin American nation. This is not a problem of the rights of immigrants or of rights of individuals.

In this case, this is the right of the people of Puerto Rico to govern themselves. And of course statehood would be an abdication of that right. And from the point of view of the United States, at this stage in history, there has been no nation state that has successfully incorporated as an integral part of it another nation.

And when somebody has tried it, like in the Soviet Union or in Yugoslavia, the results are there for the asking. Puerto Rico is a full-fledged nation and the digestive system of American federalism is not designed to swallow a Latin American nation whole.

That is why, really, Puerto Rico as a separate nation in itself really is incompatible with the notion of being a province or a state of the United States because the United States, although it may have multicultural elements is surely not, nor does it aspire to be, a multinational nation.

ROMEU: If I may, Ray?

SUAREZ: Briefly.

ROMEU: Very briefly. Fernando and I disagree on this, we agree on many other issues but the question of whether Puerto Rico is a nation or not can be easily solved with the best poll of them all, it's called the elections in Puerto Rico. And until such time as there is a substantial majority of people who feel like Fernando that Puerto Rico is a nation, all the statements in the world that Puerto Rico is a nation will come to naught so long as Puerto Ricans continue to want permanent union with the U.S.

SUAREZ: If you're just joining us, we're talking about the future status of Puerto Rico this hour on the program. We're coming up on the 100th anniversary of the arrival of American troops on the island and the planting of the U.S. flag.

Xavier Romeu is with me in studio 3A, executive director and general counsel for the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, which is part of the Puerto Rican governor's office here in Washington. And Fernando Martin Garcia joins us from San Juan. He's the vice president of the Puerto Rico Independence Party, the PIP.

And our number is 800-989-8255. Baltimore is our first stop this hour. Hi, John.

CALLER: Hello. I -- you mentioned that you wondered about how Americans would feel about Puerto Ricans becoming Americans. And I just wanted to say that I have worked with Puerto Ricans in something called the National Civilian Community Corps, part of the Americorps program, and I think it would be wonderful to have Puerto Ricans as my fellow Americans.

Also though -- I mean if that's what they want, you know. That's basically what I have to say.

SUAREZ: And you know, we've been asking in effect -- we've been asking Puerto Ricans what they want over the years. And so far they haven't made the affirmative choice to become a state, but it's not at all clear that -- well, the rest of your 270 million fellow Americans would feel as welcoming as you do, John.

CALLER: Right, and I think if I were Puerto Rican, I would be very concerned about the language issue. There is so many people in the United States who are wanting to have all English language schools. A lot of immigrants -- I'm trying to, I'm not sure I understand all of that.

If I were Puerto Rican I would -- I think that I would want to be able to speak Spanish as I -- you know, as I would be probably used to. So -- and learn in that language.

SUAREZ: Well John, how do you feel about having seven new members of the House of Representatives and two senators from Puerto Rico and perhaps having to reconfigure the House unless there's a change to the Constitution which raises the number of members?

I mean, if it remains at 435, those seven members or perhaps eight from Puerto Rico would come out of existing delegations.

CALLER: I'm not sure I'm clear on that.

SUAREZ: Well, there would be fewer in California and fewer in New York and maybe Illinois would lose one or something.

CALLER: Oh, I'm not -- I mean -- I mean, I think that if we have to reconfigure -- we've done it before, we've done it with Hawaii, you know, we did it with Alaska. You know, it -- I don't think that that is a big issue.

I think that having a new piece of this American puzzle, of this American quilt, would be a wonderful thing. It would be a learning experience for Americans in general.

SUAREZ: Xavier?

ROMEU: Ray, I'd just like to point out because I want to make sure that some things don't become an issue that they were in the House with the Young Bill. There is a belief out there that if Puerto Rico were to choose to be a state, and that's an if I recognize that, and if the nation, the rest of the union said "yes we do want Puerto Rico," there won't be any effect on any other congressional delegations.

435 is not a magical number. In fact, 435 has been increased every single time that there has been a new state to the union --added to the union, even in the case of Hawaii and Alaska. We do not need a constitutional amendment.

What we would need however is a simple law that says "from now on it's gonna be 435 plus whatever number of delegates Puerto Rico brings in." And we have learned from the House, we thought it was unfounded for people to say that, but people still believed it and it was a big issue.

And I assure you that on the Senate and whatever comes out of the Senate will address that issue, by stating that if Puerto Rico chooses to be a state and if it's granted admission, as part of the enabling act we will amend the law. It's a simple amendment allowing for admission of the delegation in addition to the 435.

SUAREZ: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

John in Baltimore, thanks a lot for your call. Sarah is next here in Washington. Hi, Sarah.

CALLER: Hi. I've come up with an idea. Since I live in the District of Columbia, another disenfranchised, non-state, that there ought to be a third thing for the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, District of Columbia, Samoa, Guam, whatever other pieces of colonies might want to join. And that perhaps we would have something totally different, one senator and fewer representatives or something.

And that that concept might more easily pass the number of states required for a constitutional amendment than the effort of making DC a state ever did or any of the other solutions. I'm interested in your guests' comments.

SUAREZ: Well Fernando, I'm gonna guess that that doesn't meet any of your requirements, a sort of new halfway status.

GARCIA: No, of course. But that does raise other problems. The people in DC have been worrying about should they sort of rejoin for senatorial purposes Virginia or Maryland and then have an extra --have a member of the House and they share their senator -- the senators with Virginia.

It's been talked about in the question of the Pacific. What do you do about Guam? Should it become a county of Hawaii for purposes of representation? But of course, these are all the issues that surge when you have the remnants of empire and you have to try to see how you are going to deal with them.

In the case of Puerto Rico, of course, it is large enough in terms of people so that the -- from that point of view the issue of statehood doesn't seem an unreal one because it has enough people and it's viable from that point of view.

I think that the important thing here is -- Xavier and I could probably argue until tomorrow morning and we would not convince each of the other whether when the time comes, the United States would or would not want Puerto Rico to be a state.

But what I think is the important thing -- I'm of course convinced that it won't and for very good reasons. If I were an American, I would be opposed. But in any case, what's really important is that this process that is going on now, first in the House, now in the Senate, is forcing a process that will make the Congress have to eventually face that question.

And of course I think that is the good news of the day, is that we are finally moving in to a direction where these matters will have to solved once and for all. And...

SUAREZ: But Fernando, let's go back to Sarah's question. I'm -- she's trying to think creatively about how to incorporate far-flung peoples into the metropol in effect. And over the centuries, France has done this with representation from Martinique and Guadeloupe and New Caledonia, they tried it with Algeria but that came to grief, maybe that's a counter-example.

But there have been attempts and some of them have worked to have representation from former colonial empires in the capital, to have members who sit like a member from a district in Paris or Toulouse.

GARCIA: Well Ray, I think this would never work in Puerto Rico for a very simple reason, because for people like Xavier, anything less than full and equal representation as a state would be unacceptable. And for me as a believer in independence, anything less than the full recognition of Puerto Rican sovereignty would be unacceptable.

So there is no constituency in Puerto Rico for that kind of a tie-up with the United States, even if it were constitutionally feasible at some point.

SUAREZ: We have about 30 seconds until break.

ROMEU: I think Fernando is absolutely right. Let me just quickly mention that the D -- the District of Columbia issue is different than Puerto Rico because the Constitution recognizes that the District is a seat of government. There are only three types of sovereignty under the U.S. Constitution; the seat of government, a state of the union, and then a territory which of course does not have full rights.

Admission of DC in to the union would require a constitutional amendment, admission of Puerto Rico would not. In the case of the Virgin Islands and American Samoa, they simply lack the population to even raise the question, even though I happen to be personally aware of their plight which is similar to that of Puerto Rico.

SUAREZ: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Ray Suarez.

My guests are Xavier Romeu and Fernando Martin Garcia. We're going to take a short break right now. When we return we'll talk to a political analyst who supports Puerto Rico's continued association with the U.S. through dual citizenship.

We'll take more of your calls at 800-989-8255. You can e-mail us here at or send us a card or letter to:

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At 33 minutes past the hour, it's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News

Welcome back to the program. I'm Ray Suarez.

Today, we're talking about the future political status of Puerto Rico. It's part one of a three-part series marking the 100th anniversary of the U.S. occupation of the island during the Spanish-American War.

Now, we're joined by Juan Manuel Garcia Pasalaqua (ph), political analyst for WSKN radio, and WAPA TV, and for the San Juan Star. Welcome to the program.


SUAREZ: Well, let's talk a little bit about where commonwealth stands in the latest debates. Has it -- has it moved from the way it was structured in 1952, and has functioned all this time?

PASALAQUA: Well most certainly, the commonwealth option is now not favored by anybody in Puerto Rico, or in the White House, or in the Senate, or in the House of Representatives. The commonwealth party, the Popular Democratic Party, appeared before the Senate last week to demand a new free associated state that would be a sovereign country, with dual citizenship, with the United States.

Therefore, the Popular Democratic Party has a adopted a completely new stance that in effect wipes out the territorial condition that was agreed to in 1952, and initiates a new era in the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States.

SUAREZ: And what would that new status look like? Not statehood and not an independent sovereign nation?

PASALAQUA: Well, the resolutions of the United Nations, particularly resolution 1451, say that you have three options to decolonize -- integration, independence, or what is known in the international arena as free association.

Therefore, the Popular Democratic Party, again through testimony of its president before the Senate last week, has opted for free association with the United States, which is basically union by treaty instead of union by admission. It's a form of agreement between two nations to unite on the basis of a treaty.

SUAREZ: But Puerto Rico has called itself "Estado Libre Associado" (ph), associated free state, for almost 50 years. What would be different about this new status that you're talking about?

PASALAQUA: Well, what would be different is that it would be a sovereign nation that enters into a treaty of union with the United States. That is completely different from the Estado Libre Associado that has existed, that has been a territorial, colonial condition subject to the plenary powers of the Congress.

SUAREZ: And, would Puerto Rico be able to, for instance, open a channel of communications to Cuba? Would it have, in its cabinet, a minister of Caribbean affairs who could have state-to-state conversations with the Dominican Republic and Haiti and so on?

PASALAQUA: The answers are yes.

SUAREZ: So, this would be more -- more like independent status, except there'd be a unified currency, Puerto Rico would remain under the umbrella of the United States military, but it would be able to have a limited autonomous foreign policy? Let me see if I'm following this correctly.

PASALAQUA: Well it -- it's -- again, it's very simple. I mean, if you use the example, say, of Maastricht (ph) or the European Union, you can understand it very clearly. It's -- as you said, it would be a sovereign nation that enters into a treaty with the United States on four issues -- defense, currency, market, and dual citizenship.

And that's that.

SUAREZ: Juan Manuel Garcia Pasalaqua is with us from San Juan, along with Xavier Romeu, who's with me here in Washington, and Fernando Martin Garcia, who joins us also from San Juan. Our number is 800-989-8255.

Eduardo is with us from Chicago. Hi.

CALLER: Hello. I just wanted to say that this debate is really -- you know, has been historically stagnating, the issue of Puerto Rico, because Puerto Rico -- what Puerto Rico needs is independence, because if we look at the history that is there, Puerto Rico has been a nation at war for 100 years.

And in order to end this war, Puerto Rico has to be the nation that was declared in 1865 at El Greco De Lades (ph). And the evidence of this war, you can find with 15 Puerto Rican political prisoners, and prisoners of war that are in jails all across the United States.

SUAREZ: But Eduardo, when you refer to the country as a nation at war, isn't it more like a nation that's basically doesn't think of itself as at war with 20- or 30- or maybe 40,000 people who do think of themselves at war? That lives and swims within this whole national body?

CALLER: Um, I didn't understand your question.

SUAREZ: I mean, when you go to Puerto Rico, you don't feel like you're in a place where 3.8 million people are at war. There are -- there are people who across the decades, like Lolita Lebraun (ph) have felt that they are at war with the United States...

CALLER: Yes, well it's also...

SUAREZ: ... but that is not shared by most other people on the island.

CALLER: Yes, but we also have to look at culturally. We're culturally at war. Our culture is a culture of resistance. Our language has been at war since 19 -- 1898, when they tried to impose English on the language.

Our very person -- even the diaspora here, with racism and poverty and many things, Puerto is a very rich country, the lands, and Puerto Ricans need to take control of their own territory and their own lands, and make decisions for themselves.

And we're a kind people. You know, we love -- we love people all around the world, and to be at war for so long, to have to inherit the problems of this -- you know, we need to go back to 1898, when the Treaty of Paris was signed, and they left out Puerto Rico in that discussion, between the United States and Spain, and they also left out the Philippines and Cuba.

So -- and historically, there's been soldiers from Albisso Campos (ph) to General Juan Rios Sciverra (ph), to Lolita Lebraun, to the current prisoners, always, constantly, and unfortunately, I'm afraid that that will continue until Puerto Rico becomes independent, and it will become -- we will see other names and other figures in the future.

SUAREZ: Eduardo, thanks a lot for your call.

CALLER: Thank you, Ray.

SUAREZ: Eduardo joining us from Chicago. Dan is with us now from Panama City, Florida. Hi ya, Dan.

CALLER: Hey, how you doing?


CALLER: Yeah, I've got a comment. I'd like to remind the independence movement people that they're gonna be a -- a puppet one way or the other. You know, the -- those islands down in the Caribbean have always been dominated by -- by larger powers. And, I have one question, who's gonna protect you?

Are you -- are we gonna have a treaty with the United States for military protection? I can see, possibly, a Papa Doc there in Puerto Rico.

SUAREZ: Well Dan, history doesn't point to that. I mean, I -- I think the United States would be glad to have 90-plus percent of its population turn out on election day, the way you have in Puerto Rico, and to get a Papa Doc, you have to have something going on besides elections. But it's a fair question to Fernando Martin.

Who defends Puerto Rico if it becomes an independent nation?

GARCIA: Yeah, well, let me -- let me tell you, Ray, and Dan, the only invasion Puerto Rico has suffered in the last 200 years is the U.S. invasion, which toppled the existing government in Puerto then. Our aspiration as Puerto Rican independentistas is for Puerto Rica to be a demilitarized country.

We don't need an army, and we certainly don't need bases from other armies in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico has no natural enemies, and I'm quite sure that Puerto Ricans will manage quite nicely by themselves.

The vision that Dan from Florida seems to presume is that anybody who is not American and who lives in the Caribbean is destined to be a dictatorship. I think -- I think that says a lot of his stereotype of what it is be a member of a Caribbean nation.

But history bears out quite abundantly the Puerto Rican's capacity for civic action, and for democratic -- for democratic rule. And if anything, the struggle for independence is precisely a struggle for democracy, for the capacity to govern oneself without outside interference.

There can be no higher democratic aspiration than that.

SUAREZ: Juan Manuel Garcia, is Dan's question really part of the rationale that leads you to the conclusion that remaining associated with the United States is important?

PASALAQUA: Oh, I think Dan's question is offensive to the dignity of the Puerto Rican people. I mean, I agree that we have no way of becoming a dictatorship. We have had 24 consecutive fair elections in this century. We know more democracy than the United States knows about, and we have a percentage of participation, as you said, of 80 percent or more, which is almost double that of the United States.

So, I'm not gonna get lessons from anybody from Florida on democracy.

SUAREZ: No, but as far as the -- the military question of -- of protection and security and so on.

PASALAQUA: That is the difference between the independence movement and the free association movement. The independence movement, as Fernando has so aptly stated, feels that Puerto Rico should be demilitarized. Those of us that believe in free association accept that there has to be a defense agreement between Puerto Rico and the United States, and that that defense agreement can be very easily described as present level of funding in exchange for present level of forces when we become sovereign.

And then, we freeze that situation, both funding and forces, and that would, in effect, provide Puerto Rico with the compensation, in lieu of rent, that it deserves after 100 years of colonialism. You see the problem here, and I'm sure the other two friends will agree with me, is that the United States of America signed the Treaty of Paris on the 10th of December, 1898, and committed themselves that Congress would determine the status of the island and its inhabitants, and Congress has taken 100 years to do that.

And 100 years, it has not fulfilled its responsibilities under the Treaty of Paris. So, I think we are all happy that it's finally biting the bullet. We're looking forward to a vote on next Wednesday, in the committee, and we expect that some senators will introduce the free association alternative as an amendment to the existing bill.

SUAREZ: Dan in Panama City, Florida, thanks for your call. Lauren's next in San Francisco.

CALLER: Hi, I noticed this was an all-guy discussion. I was wondering if there were any women who are important political leaders in Puerto Rico.

ROMEU: Yes, most certainly. Of course. Most notably, the equivalent of the lieutenant governor in Puerto Rico, the secretary of state, and indeed the person who is in charge of conducting the day-to-day gubernatorial functions is the Secretary of State Norba Woodrose (ph).

She is a much-admired, a much-loved member of our administration, as is Senore Ellis (ph), who is the Secretary of the Treasury. So in short, that answer is that yes, in Puerto Rico, women have come quite a way and are now at the highest levels of government in the island.

SUAREZ: What if we were to visit the House and Senate? Would a lot of the seats also be filled by women?

ROMEU: I think the fair -- the answer is: what is a lot of the seats? I think they would be -- there is a fair comparison between the House and the Senate in Puerto Rico and -- and what you would see at the federal level here in the continental United States.

SUAREZ: I doubt that's turning Lauren on, the idea that it's comparable to the United States when it comes to women's representation, huh Lauren?

CALLER: Uh, yes, that doesn't sound terrific to me. And I was also wondering if there was a gender gap in attitudes towards independence or statehood.

SUAREZ: Now, that's an interesting question. Since -- since there are, on many issues here in mainland politics, does the men's and women's vote split for or away from independence, statehood, or commonwealth during the past plebiscites?

ROMEU: Well, I don't have the numbers, Lauren, but do remember that we have elections every four years, and that the local parties in the island are specifically and exclusively identified with status options. So if you take a look at the -- the popularity of the current governor, who is a governor that got for the first time over 1 million votes in Puerto Rico, and you see that he enjoys popularity on both genders, then the answer would be that certainly, those who have voted for him, and have voted for him because he is for statehood, do cross party -- do cross gender.

SUAREZ: Lauren in San Francisco, thanks a lot for your call. Paul is with now from Dallas, Texas. Hi ya, Paul.

CALLER: Hi Ray. I don't have very terribly strong opinions one way or the other how this should come out. I do think that the Puerto Rican people should make their decision first. But I did want to correct Mr. Fernando Martin on one issue, and that is that the United States can and has taken in sovereign states, it took in the Republic of Texas in 1845, and there's no reason Puerto Rico can't be treated the same way.

Frankly, it seems to me that putting the Puerto Ricans to a three-way, immediate choice makes it more difficult for them, and that really what we should is let them have their independence with the option to come back as a state if they'd like to.

SUAREZ: But weren't all the members of the Texas government basically born in the old United States? Well, if not all, I mean, most?

CALLER: Well, most of them, I suppose were. Although there were a number of Hispanics that were involved with the Texas government, as there were some French people.

GARCIA: Well, if I may intervene, Ray.


GARCIA: With our friend Paul from Dallas. Much proud as I'm sure he is about the Texan heritage, the historical truth of the matter, of course, was the -- the Texan republic was a kind of historical and legal figment made by U.S. settlers who had occupied Mexican territory, and that was just a stepping stone towards becoming a state.

So, there was never any real idea that there would ever be a real Texas Republic. As to the issue...

CALLER: Well, except there was a Texas Republic, and it was recognized by other sovereign nations.

GARCIA: But that it was a -- part of a historical project towards becoming a state. There was never a real will that there would be an independent Texas Republic from the United States, as a --as a long-run project at all. As to the three options, of course it would be easier, better, and juster, if there were in fact two options.

The op -- the two options should be: are you -- do you want to remain -- do you want to become part of the United States as a state? Or, do you want to become a separate sovereign?

That's the way the options should in effect stack up. And the notion of separate sovereignty should have as it -- as it is now contemplated in the bills -- two modalities. One of the them, as a fully independent nation, and the other, as a freely associated state, which is -- of course is not actual commonwealth...

SUAREZ: You're listening to TALK OF -- hold on just a second -- you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Juan Manuel Garcia, you wanted to say.

PASALAQUA: Yes, I want to agree with Fernando on that. I think the issue, really, should be put in very easy terms. It should -- the ballot should read "American sovereignty -- have the American flag and have the description of statehood under it, and then in another quadrant, Puerto Rican sovereignty with the Puerto Rican flag, and two designations, one for independence and one for free association, and the people of Puerto Rico would vote either under the American flag or the Puerto Rican flag.

And that is the easiest plebiscite of them all. And I hope that's what's gonna come out of the Senate next Wednesday.

SUAREZ: Harold is with us now, also from Washington, DC. Harold, welcome.

CALLER: Yeah, I wanted to say...


... I have a quick -- I have a quick observation. The gentleman ahead of me just took one of my questions away, although I do think --so I want to change what I was going to say to this. For the gentleman there who's advocating statehood, I would suggest to you sir that you are badly underestimating what the language issue has come to mean here in the Unit -- here, you know, on I guess the mainland.

And I -- I think that it's -- I would submit to you that it's gonna be a lot tougher going politically to get the -- given the mood in this country, and the sort of ideological bent of the electorally active part of the U.S. population, and this country and its -- you know, its posturing on a lot of these kinds of issues.

I would suggest to you that you are badly underestimating just how much a language issue is going to become a factor. And I think some of the people who've called in have kind of danced around that, and used coded words, but that's -- that's what I would suggest to you.

To the gentleman who's advocating independence, I guess my -- the only I've got left is: what do you -- would you do -- what is your position -- if someone says OK, fine, let's assume that you had an up or down vote -- statehood one way, independence the other, the vote is for independence, and the U.S. government says OK, fine.

Then that means that Puerto Ricans living in the United States are citizens of this new independent country, and they're not U.S. citizens. Last point real quick, Ray, I think you do need a show on the status of us here in the District of Columbia.

SUAREZ: Well, I'd like to do that, Harold. And I think it a worthwhile question, especially since people in DC are probably thinking, gee, there are more of us then there are of people in Wyoming, but they have two senators and they have a representative and all -- yes, very good question.

Harold, I think the legal question about the birthright of Puerto Ricans, you're grandfathered in. I mean, there's no question that mainland Puerto Ricans would suddenly become persons living in a -- in a foreign state with the -- with a declaration of independence on Puerto Rico. But it is -- but it is a good question, and what happens -- what happens after such declaration.

Let's return to Harold's point about English. I mean, Xavier, he said that you're underestimating the potency that that has on both sides of the question -- both there and here.

ROMEU: Well, but let me just say this, Harold. I am not in disagreement with you. I am the person in charge here, in Washington, DC, of making sure that 4 million U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico, who have fought and died for their country, the United States of America, and died in larger numbers than any other state of the union for a commander in chief for whom they cannot vote, fully understand that the issue of language is a national language.

We saw it in the house, with a number of movements, who incorrectly insisted that Puerto Ricans in the island, the U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico, were not interested in speaking in English. And nothing can be further from the truth. A simple trip down to Puerto Rico will disclose that everybody wants to learn English as a first, second language, whatever, because it is a language of opportunity. Here, it is a -- a big issue in Congress, more so in the House than in the Senate, but we believe like the African-American issue in the 1940s and '50s, it is a tough issue, but one that we will overcome, as did the African-American community.

SUAREZ: Harold in Washington, DC, thanks for your call. Thanks to everyone who called this hour, and to my guests. Fernando Martin Garcia, good to have you with us.

GARCIA: Thank you.

SUAREZ: Fernando Martin Garcia is the vice president of Puerto Rico's Independence Party. He joined us by phone from San Juan. And Juan Manuel Garcia Pasalaqua, pleasure to talk to you.

PASALAQUA: Thank you my friend. Thanks for having me.

SUAREZ: Juan Manuel Garcia Pasalaqua is a political analyst for WSKN radio, WAPA TV, and the San Juan Star in Puerto Rico. He joined us by phone from San Juan.

And Xavier Romeu, pleasure to have you here.

ROMEU: Thank you, Ray. It's a pleasure.

SUAREZ: Xavier Romeu is executive director and general counsel at the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration. He joined us here in studio 3A.

Tune into TALK OF THE NATION at this time tomorrow for part two of our three-part series on Puerto Rico, a look at the lives of those Puerto Ricans who have migrated to America, and the challenges of living in two cultures.

On Thursday, part three of the series is the July meeting of TALK OF THE NATION's Book Club of the Air. This month's selection: "The House on the Lagoon," by Puerto Rican author Rosario Ferre (ph).

I'm Ray Suarez, NPR News, in Washington.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


Content and programming copyright (c) 1998 National Public Radio, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. under license from National Public Radio, Inc. Formatting copyright (c) 1998 Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to National Public Radio, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission. For further information please contact NPR's Business Affairs at (202) 414-2954

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