UNITED STATES SENATE
COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES
Thursday, May 6,1999
9:30 a.m. - SH-216
Transcript of Hearing To Consider The Results Of The
December 1998 Puerto Rico Political Status Plebiscite
The Honorable Frank H. Murkowski (R-AK),
The Honorable Pedro Rosselló,
Governor of Puerto Rico
The Honorable Aníbal Acevedo-Vilá,
President, Popular Democratic Party (PDP)
The Honorable Rubén Berrios Martínez,
President Puerto Rico Independence Party (PIP)
Luis Vega-Ramos, President PROELA
Zoraida F. Fonalledas, New Progressive
P R O C E E D I N G S
CHAIRMAN MURKOWSKI: Welcome to the Committee on Energy and
Natural Resources. The purpose of the hearing today -- I'm very
pleased to see so many people here that are interested in the
issue of self-determination for Puerto Rico, which is under way
even though the progress may be somewhat slower than people would
What we're here today to do is to consider the results of the
December 1998 plebiscite in Puerto Rico, as Puerto Rico continues
its march towards eventual self-determination. The Governor is
here to present the results of the plebiscite. Representatives
of the three political parties and the organization certified
to represent free association are here to discuss the results.
I want to point out this is not a hearing to discuss the pros
and cons of any individual status. I know you all have different
views on that.
We in this committee have an obligation to our fellow citizens
in Puerto Rico to assist them in their debate over political status
without dictating how to proceed or unfairly limiting their aspirations.
I grew up in the Territory of Alaska. I remember well the debates
over our status. I remember the frustration we felt when it appeared
that Washington really didn't care what we thought or what we
wanted, for that matter. Well, that's not going to happen in Puerto
Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, or the Northern
Mariana Islands while I and my colleagues on this committee meet
It does not matter whether the subject is the constitutional
issues of status in Puerto Rico or the control of an exotic species
in Guam or the brown snake issue. I intend to see that this committee,
this Congress, and the administration pays attention to the needs
and legitimate aspirations of our fellow American citizens.
A locally-conducted plebiscite on future political status is
one of the most important exercises of local self government and
popular democracy, and it certainly deserves our attention. We
are interesting in knowing what occurred in Puerto Rico in the
plebiscite process and why.
We are also interested in knowing what each of the witnesses
believes the next step should be and how we can be of assistance
without becoming involved or influencing the internal politics
of Puerto Rico between or within the various political parties
Given that next year is a general election year at the Federal
level and in Puerto Rico as well, I am not inclined to confuse
those debates with status nor to subject the very important issues
involved in status to election politics. If particular issues
or questions could be resolved, or at least illuminated, through
a workshop or another forum, I am willing to entertain any suggestions
that might come out of this hearing.
I do want to congratulate the residents of Puerto Rico who
participated in the plebiscite. Just as a historical note and
by way of comparison, when my State of Alaska went to the polls
in 1946 on the issue of status, less than 17,000 persons participated
-- about 23 percent of the population at that time. In your plebiscite,
71 percent of the eligible voters participated. That's about 40
percent participation. 71 percent of the eligible voters turned
out. That's much to your credit.
However each of the status advocates may interpret the results,
the voter turnout in this plebiscite and others, and in the general
elections in Puerto Rico, I think set an example of participatory
democracy for the rest of the United States.
As I stated, again this hearing is not on the merits or demerits
of individual status options, and I would encourage our Members
and witnesses to focus on the plebiscite itself and this very
important exercise of local self-government.
SENATOR BINGAMAN: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I welcome
the Governor here and, of course, all the other very distinguished
witnesses. I also welcome Congressman Romero Barcello, our good
friend who visits with your regularly on this same set of issues.
As I'm sure everyone here knows, the House did pass a bill
last year by a very slim margin that provided a process for determining
the ultimate political status of Puerto Rico. It's my understanding
that the Government of Puerto Rico scheduled the plebiscite that
did occur in December after Senator Lott, our Majority Leader
here in the Senate, made it clear that there would not be a bill
directing Federal action with respect to Puerto Rico's status
in the last Congress.
And my impression is that that is still his view with regard
to this Congress. I do think it's very important, though, that
we try to focus on what did occur in the plebiscite. The results
were confusing, and we would be very anxious, I would be, to learn
the perspective that different people bring to those results and
where we should go from here once it is possible to move ahead.
So, thank you very much for having the hearing, Mr. Chairman.
CHAIRMAN MURKOWSKI: Thank you very much, Senator Bingaman.
SENATOR GORTON: No statement.
CHAIRMAN MURKOWSKI: Senator Fitzgerald?
SENATOR FITZGERALD: Thank you, Mr. Murkowski. I appreciate
the opportunity to have this hearing, and I'd like to welcome
the Governor to this committee. I represent the State of Illinois,
which has well over 100,000 citizens of Puerto Rican ancestry,
and I commend their contribution to our State and Nation, and
I look forward to hearing the testimony from you and the other
witnesses today. Welcome to the committee.
CHAIRMAN MURKOWSKI: Thank you. Senator Thomas.
SENATOR THOMAS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I am interested in this hearing. We have several last year,
as you'll recall, so I'm very anxious to hear some reports on
the plebiscite that you had. Congressman Romero, with whom I served,
nice to see you, sir.
I must tell you it's confusing for someone who is not really
closely involved to see at least apparently a series of votes
and plebiscites in which everyone then comes up and says, well,
the questions weren't clear because we didn't know what we were
voting on and all those things. That becomes very confusing.
It seems to me that with the kind of sophistication that you
all have in your government that you could come up with something
that would be satisfactory in terms of choices. So I'm very anxious
to hear about that. I don't have the experience the Chairman does.
Wyoming came in earlier than Alaska.
But, at any rate, we'll look forward to it and appreciate your
CHAIRMAN MURKOWSKI: Thank you very much.
I think, GOVERNOR ROSSELLÓ, that we're fortunate we
have a little break as Members are coming in, so we can get started.
The rules ordinarily are to have presentations five to seven minutes.
It's my understanding you want a little more time, so we'll grant
you that time. Around twelve to fifteen minutes we'll get a little
uneasy, but I think you can conclude in that time.
We have another panel of four other witnesses, and we will
have that panel separate after your presentation. I do want to
advise you at 10:00 I have a meeting with the leadership, and
Senator Craig will be taking over the chair. It's my intention
to come back.
But I do look forward to your statement, Governor, and ask
you to please proceed.
STATEMENT OF HONORABLE PEDRO ROSSELLÓ, GOVERNOR
OF PUERTO RICO
GOVERNOR ROSSELLÓ: Thank you, Mr. Chairman and other
distinguished Members of the United States Committee on Energy
and Natural Resources.
My name is Pedro Rosselló, and since 1993 I have been
Governor of Puerto Rico. As Governor I last appeared before this
committee on April 2, 1998, during a workshop on the United States-Puerto
Rico Political Status Act.
It was exactly ten years ago that the leaders of all three
political parties in Puerto Rico issued a unanimous appeal to
the White House and the Congress. Those political leaders requested
substantive action that would permit the people of Puerto Rico
to make an informed decision on our ultimate civic destiny.
This Committee, under the leadership of then-Chairman J. Bennett
Johnston of Louisiana, and then-ranking Republican James McClure
of Idaho, grappled earnestly with that complex topic for the better
part of two years. Although no legislation emerged from those
diligent efforts, the endeavor definitely did set the stage for
the unprecedentedly constructive Puerto Rico status bill that
the House passed last year as H.R. 856.
The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources therefore
has made a very significant contribution to the arduous congressional
process of addressing and surmounting the challenges posed by
what has been accurately and succinctly described as American
democracy's unfinished business. And today, Mr. Chairman, I am
grateful to you and to the committee for building upon that legacy
by holding this hearing.
I am speaking as Governor, and in speaking as Governor I must
commence my presentation by placing the December 13, 1998, Puerto
Rican political status plebiscite within the proper historical
When I first stood for election to the governorship in 1992,
the tripartite status initiative of the 1989 through 1991 effort
was fresh in the collective memories of the Puerto Rican people.
Moreover, our voters had not been formally consulted on political
status since 1967. Accordingly, I promised that if elected I would
ask our legislative assembly to take immediate action on a status
And so it was that we held a plebiscite in 1993. However, that
venture turned out to be futile in two important respects. First
and most obviously, it proved futile because no political status
option polled an absolute majority of the votes. Therefore, it
failed to satisfy the fundamental democratic precept regarding
government by the consent of the governed.
But there was a second futility factor as well, a factor that
was more subtle than the first, but no less important. Factor
number two entered the picture because in a good faith attempt
to preserve the unanimous consensus that had been instrumental
in launching the 1989 self-determination quest, my administration
made a point of inviting Puerto Rico's three political parties
to define for themselves the political status option that they
would endorse in our 1993 plebiscite.
Regrettably, that good faith gesture resulted in inclusion
on the ballot of a Commonwealth definition that was utterly unrealistic.
And when I say utterly unrealistic, I do so in the context of
parameters that this very committee clearly stipulated during
its extensive examination of the subject from 1989 through 1991.
Undaunted by that congressional record, the proponents of commonwealth,
the Popular Democratic Party, campaigned in 1993 on behalf of
a definition which they literally proclaimed was the best of two
worlds solution to the status dilemma, a solution that would have
imbued Puerto Rico with many of the benefits of U.S. statehood
and many of the prerogatives of independence, while exempting
Puerto Rico from most of the responsibilities inherent in both
of these options.
The 1993 commonwealth ballot definition, in other words, amounted
to a wish list. It was both politically unattainable and constitutionally
inadmissible. So it is that the 1993 plebiscite failed in its
objective. Although commonwealth ostensibly won that plebiscite,
polling 48.6 percent of the vote, slightly ahead of U.S. statehood
at 46.3 percent, it is worth noting that nobody from the Popular
Democratic Party had the audacity to come up here to the Nation's
capital afterwards and argue for congressional enactment of that
Party's best of two worlds platform.
Instead, what happened was that the Legislative Assembly of
Puerto Rico adopted a concurrent resolution which formally requested
that Congress respond to our outcome of our 1993 status consultation.
The 104th Congress, upon convening in January 1995, acknowledged
our legislature's petition.
That Congress held hearings, drafted a bill which got the ball
rolling on a process that culminated in last year's House passage
of the United States-Puerto Rico Political Status Act. And it
was that comprehensive measure which provided the framework for
what ought to have been a foolproof plebiscite in 1998.
Under the United States-Puerto Rico Political Status Act, this
nation could have converted the historically clouded 100th anniversary
of America's unilateral seizure of Puerto Rico into an inspiring
occasion for undiluted celebration. This nation could have observed
that centennial by empowering our territory's electorate to make
a dignified, meaningful choice among destiny options delineated
for that express purpose by Puerto Rico's constitutionally designated
overseer, namely this institution, the United States Congress.
However, in the absence of that legislation, the 1998 centennial
observance unfolded against a different backdrop altogether, and
consequently a shadow fell over the celebration. We went ahead
with our commitment to hold a plebiscite, but lacking the empowering
impetus of a federal mandate, we were unable to employ a foolproof
or failsafe format.
You might ask why is that. Because a 1993 Puerto Rico Supreme
Court edict obliged us to offer our voters a fifth, undefined
alternative in addition to the options that were defined in H.R.
856. More than 71 percent of Puerto Rico's eligible voters participated
in the plebiscite on Sunday, December 13, 1998. And on that day,
to my mind, we the people of Puerto Rico dispatched two forceful
and unequivocal messages.
The first of those messages was irrefutably transmitted loud
and clear. A total of over 1.5 million persons cast ballots. Of
that total, exactly 933 voters marked their ballots in favor of
our current status as a territorial commonwealth. This means that
for every 1,577 persons who participated in the plebiscite, only
one person manifested support for the status quo. And that level
of support equals considerably less than one-tenth of one percent.
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, I respectfully submit
that this single fact speaks volumes. During this hearing it is
safe to assume that a variety of interpretations will be offered
regarding the significance of the plebiscite outcome. I would
urge, however, that in evaluating those interpretations you keep
foremost in your minds this one salient fact, because, whatever
else our plebiscite may have signified, it indisputably constituted
a unanimous rejection of the status quo.
Our people's massive disapproval of the status quo underscored
their contempt for what my predecessor has described as a democratic
deficit that afflicts Puerto Rico's current status. In the July-August
1998 edition of Foreign Affairs magazine, former Governor Rafael
Hernandez-Colon published an article entitled "Doing Right
By Puerto Rico: Congress Must Act."
In that article this lifelong advocate of commonwealth status
made the following affirmation about the political status debate
on our island: "All factions do agree on the need to end
the present undemocratic arrangement whereby Puerto Rico is subject
to the laws of Congress but cannot vote in it."
So there you have it. The political status with which Puerto
Rican must contend today and with which we have had to contend
in one guise or another for the past 100 years is a political
status that we, the people of Puerto Rico, emphatically reject
as an alternative for the future. And that categorical rejection
could not have been more firmly articulated than it was on December
Now let us move on to the second forceful and unequivocal message
that emerged from our recent plebiscite. This second message pertains
to the need for a responsible, conscientious definition of the
fifth ballot option that was vacuously denominated "none
of the preceding."
I readily concede that many voters selected that option for
reasons having nothing whatever to do with political status. Nevertheless,
it must not be ignored that one of our two principal political
parties urged voters to mark their ballots in favor of none of
the preceding while simultaneously urging that the people of Puerto
Rico be granted an opportunity to vote on a certain specifically-defined
option that had been excluded from the ballot because it was not
incorporated into H.R. 856, the bill which had previously been
approved earlier by the U.S. House of Representatives.
Both H.R. 856 and our plebiscite ballot had defined fully the
meanings of U.S. statehood, independent nationhood, and free association
under separate sovereignty, as well as the current territorial
But absent altogether was the option being supported by this
major political party that was urging our electorate to vote in
the blank, empty fifth column. For precisely that reason, a high
priority of this 106th Congress should be to examine thoroughly
the legislative viability and constitutional validity of this
additional alleged option -- this stealth option -- which was
surreptitiously promoted during our latest plebiscite via the
"none of the preceding" column on our ballot.
I respectfully invite this committee to take a hard, close
look at this fifth column alternative, an alternative which was
formally embraced by the Governing Board of Puerto Rico's Popular
Democratic Party on October 15, 1998, and which was presented
to our people as that Party's blueprint for developing the commonwealth
Take a hard, close look at what this "none of the preceding"
stealth option promises to the people of Puerto Rico. Observe
that it calls for a compact that cannot be invalidated or altered
Observe that this option stipulates that persons born in Puerto
Rico are Puerto Rican citizens by birth, while likewise stipulating
that people born in Puerto Rico will continue to be citizens of
the United States by birth and this citizenship will continue
to be protected by the Constitution of the United States and by
this compact and will not be unilaterally revocable.
Observe that these dual citizens are to be protected by all
the rights, privileges and immunities granted by the Constitution
of the United States and the Commonwealth.
Observe how this compact would guarantee that the Federal programs
that provide social and educational assistance directly to Puerto
Rico's residents, such as the nutritional assistance program,
Pell grants and educational loans, among others, will continue
and will be guided by applicable Federal and State regulations.
Observe that under this fifth column format the United States
is committed to providing the Commonwealth an annual block grant
adjusted for inflation, as well as the creation of special incentive
programs for investment in the island, and nowhere is there any
mention of making any contribution through the payment of Federal
Observe also, however, that the Commonwealth will have control
over international trade, and to that effect it will have the
capacity to enter into, among others, commercial and tax agreements
with other countries. Furthermore, the Commonwealth will be able
to enter into international agreements and belong to regional
and international organizations.
And what about the United States District Court for the District
of Puerto Rico? On that score, observe that, under this Popular
Democratic Party proposal, the Federal Court will have jurisdiction
over matters that arise from provisions of the Constitution of
the United States and of the Federal laws that apply to Puerto
Rico, consistent with this compact and not in violation of the
dispositions of the Constitution of Puerto Rico.
Finally, observe too that this compact contemplates the creation
of a specific agreement regarding the applicability of legislation
approved by the Congress of the United States after the adoption
of the compact and which the people of Puerto Rico desire to have
made applicable to Puerto Rico.
All of the above items are contained in the other option that
was presented to the Puerto Rican people as a reason for endorsing
the ballot column labeled "none of the preceding" and
this compact is the only Puerto Rico destiny option that has yet
to be studied and declared legitimate by Congress and by judicial
Accordingly, I respectfully submit that in addressing American
democracy's unfinished business this committee should place a
high priority on scrutinizing this other option, which has been
officially endorsed by the leadership of Puerto Rico's pro-Commonwealth
political party. Our Nation's most basic civic values demand that
the neither this committee nor the Senate nor the Congress as
a whole shirk the constitutional duty to make all needful rules
and regulations respecting the territory and other properties
belonging to the United States as set forth in the Constitution's
Article IV, section 3, clause 2.
On December 24, 1998, the Washington Post last year's plebiscite
in an editorial. Several key passages from that essay merit repeating,
and I quote: "The biggest vote, 50.2 percent, went to a "none
of the above" catch-all category supported in good part by
pro-Commonwealth voters who were indulging a best of both worlds
fantasy definition of commonwealth -- many privileges, few obligations
-- that Congress would never approve. The plebiscite was a flop.
It measured on erratically, not conclusively, the sentiments on
the island. But it is not only the Puerto Ricans who have been
unable to get their act together. Congress is at similar fault.
"Here lies a fault that must be remedied. Congress must
select and fairly define the Puerto Rican status choices it would
be prepared to accept. Nothing less will satisfy the obligation
to convert an imperial property into a place of dignity for American
citizens who are equal in rights to all others."
And I must say I totally agree.
Now, once more let me quote a passage from last summer's Foreign
Affairs article by my immediate predecessor. "It is morally
unacceptable, unfair, and harmful to Puerto Rico and the United
States for Congress to relegate the issues to business as usual
-- that is, to do nothing, wait for a Puerto Rican initiative,
play with it for a while but take no action, wait for the next
initiative, and then repeat the cycle. Such insensitivity undermines
Puerto Rico's capacity for self-government, inflicts considerable
hardship on its society, and drains the United States Treasury."
Again, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, I agree with
those declarations by Rafael Hernandez-Colon, who served as a
pro-Commonwealth governor of Puerto Rico.
Last but not least, former United States Attorney General Dick
Thornburgh has carefully scrutinized the results of our 1998 plebiscite,
and the following sentences are excerpted from essays that Mr.
Thornburgh has written on the topic, and I quote:
"Suggestions that a large but indecipherable vote for
'none of the above' constitutes approval of the status quo border
on the absurd. Only Congress can define terms for statehood, separate
nationhood or continuation of the current status so that informed
self-determination is possible.
"Territorial history demonstrates that the recent vote
in Puerto Rico was but one step in a larger self-determination
process for which Congress is ultimately responsible. For example,
in the territory of Wisconsin the vote for statehood was 25 percent
in 1842, 30 percent in 1843, and 22 percent in 1844. After each
of those setbacks, pro-statehood leaders petitioned Congress to
set the terms for admission so a more informed vote could occur,
just as Puerto Rico's elected leaders are doing.
"Once Congress responded by defining the terms for admission,
the pro-statehood vote in Wisconsin soared to 83 percent, resulting
In conclusion, there is one more paragraph of Mr. Thornburgh
that should be quoted in its entirety, and I quote: "So instead
of being puzzled because elected statehood leaders in Puerto Rico
are asking Congress to act on the basis of the recent plebiscite,
let's remember that America became the greatest nation in the
history of the world by empowering people with the tools for informed
self-determination. Sooner or later Congress will have to do the
same for Puerto Rico, and the sooner the better for Puerto Rico
and the nation as a whole."
To that I can only, Amen.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee.
CHAIRMAN MURKOWSKI: Thank you very much, Governor, for that
very strong statement.
CHAIRMAN MURKOWSKI: You have some very enthusiastic supporters
out there, and one I would like to recognize if the first lady
of Puerto Rico, the Governor's wife, Mrs. Rosselló.
CHAIRMAN MURKOWSKI: Thank you very much.
Governor, we're going to open the questions to you at this
time. I want to express my regrets for the tragic accident that
happened at Vieques. It's my opinion that with the population
on that island and the necessity of having an area where we can
initiate exercises with the exposure of the population, I think
it's fair to say we're either going to have to change our procedures
or find another place to go.
And I did want to express my deep concern for that tragedy
GOVERNOR ROSSELLÓ: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
CHAIRMAN MURKOWSKI: Governor, I'm going to leave the podium
to Senator Craig, as I indicated earlier, and would encourage
my colleagues to proceed with questions at this time. It's my
intention to come back. I wish you a good day, and again I want
to thank you for your very strong and powerful statement. We'll
look forward to hearing statements from the other witnesses as
GOVERNOR ROSSELLÓ: Thank you.
SENATOR CRAIG: (Presiding) Governor, thank you very much. I
apologize for coming in the middle of your testimony, and so I
will read it in its full text. But we do appreciate you being
here for the purpose of this hearing.
As you know, last year I was one of the primary sponsors of
legislation that would move us toward some definition. We were
unable to deal with that legislation here in the Senate and, of
course, your plebiscite went forward. I certainly cannot disagree
with your comments and the results when it was not well defined
There are two roles to be played here, a role for Congress
and a role for Puerto Ricans, and those roles have to get defined
much more clearly than they have been if we're to expect a definitive
and conclusive response.
With that, let me turn to my colleague, the ranking member
of the committee from New Mexico, Senator Bingaman. Senator.
SENATOR BINGAMAN: Governor, thank you very much for your very
strong statement. Let me sort of give you my paraphrase of a point
you're making there.
It seems that this fifth option that most people voted for
was sort of the free beer and barbecue option, where everybody
got everything and there was no pain involved. Is that essentially
your view of it? That's why it was so strongly supported by people?
GOVERNOR ROSSELLÓ: I think, Senator, you've put it most
SENATOR BINGAMAN: Your other major point, as I understand it,
is that Congress should get on with passing a bill that does clearly
define what the options are for Puerto Rico, and do that as soon
as possible so that the status of Puerto Rico can be finally resolved
in a rational way, in a democratic way, by the people, and you
would prefer to see that happen in this Congress rather than a
future Congress. Is that correct?
GOVERNOR ROSSELLÓ: That is correct, Senator. I think,
as has been mentioned many times, we have been a territory of
the United States for over 100 years. There is no territory except
for one, the former territory of Oklahoma, that had a longer history
as a territory of the United States without being defined as to
its final status.
Save for Oklahoma, every other territory of the United States
had a final resolution of their status, their political status,
before the 100-year mark. So I think it is incumbent, first, for
this Congress to accept and adopt its responsibilities under the
Constitution. They're very clearly defined, as to making the necessary
rules concerning territories, to finish what is obviously not
a permanent solution, a solution that right now has very little
support from all political aspects and from all ideological points
of view in Puerto Rico.
All political views in Puerto Rico would come up here and tell
you, I think, very straight that the final resolution of Puerto
Rico's political status should be under a status that is not under
the so-called territorial clause. So yes, in a short answer to
your question, we would expect Congress to assume its responsibility
and certainly after 100 years of waiting we would expect this
Congress to act on those responsibilities.
SENATOR BINGAMAN: Thank you very much. That's all I had.
SENATOR CRAIG: Thank you, Senator. Let me turn to Senator Craig
SENATOR THOMAS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Governor, you're very open on your definition of the Congress's
responsibility. What about your responsibilities? What job did
you have to make the questions before the voters be accurate?
GOVERNOR ROSSELLÓ: My personal responsibilities?
SENATOR THOMAS: Yes. You are the Governor, aren't you?
GOVERNOR ROSSELLÓ: Yes. My personal responsibility is
to take this for the people of Puerto Rico to finally resolve
this status, lingering status discussion.
SENATOR THOMAS: I'm talking about the language. You refer always
that the language wasn't clear. What did you do about that? You
did this in '93. The results were basically the same. You apparently
went through the same process. You are the governor. Why didn't
you change things so that you would have had fair questions?
GOVERNOR ROSSELLÓ: Well, let me again go over a point
that I made in my statement. In 1993, we allowed each political
party to define its own formula. I did that. I sent the bill to
our legislature. I assume full responsibility. But now it say
it was a major mistake, because you cannot allow simply the political
parties to set up a wish list of what they want.
If I had acted as a statehooder, under that premise I could
have probably defined a statehood where Puerto Rico would come
in with four Senators instead of two Senators, but that is not
constitutionally valid. So yes, I agree. In my responsibility,
I made a mistake in 1993 by allowing the political parties to
make the definition.
I think that mistake has to be corrected and the definitions
have to be placed where they belong, in the Congress. In 1998,
again we used Congress's definitions, and those that were in H.R.
856. We took them and we put it in our ballot. But I must say
that in the bill that I presented to the legislature there was
no fifth column.
The fifth column was added by our legislature on the basis
of jurisprudence that was established by our Supreme Court, State
Supreme Court, that said that in any event like this a fifth column,
maybe in the case, for example, of a candidate a write-in column,
should be added.
That was a definition for a blank space that was not gone over
by this Congress and was not included in H.R. 856. My responsibility
was to take whatever Congress did, and I had hoped that this committee
and this Senate had acted in accordance with the House to make
sure that this would have been mandated.
SENATOR THOMAS: I understand, but let me share with you some
frustration, and I'm open on this issue. I'm not one side or the
other, but you constantly come here and shift the blame to the
Congress. You knew that the Court had made this decision in '93.
Why didn't your legislature change it?
GOVERNOR ROSSELLÓ: I'm not trying to place blame, Senator.
SENATOR THOMAS: But you do. That's all you talk about, is the
responsibility of somebody else.
GOVERNOR ROSSELLÓ: Nobody can make you feel blame unless
you feel that you have some part of it.
SENATOR THOMAS: And you have some part of it.
GOVERNOR ROSSELLÓ: I do, and so do you.
SENATOR THOMAS: But you knew this was going to happen. You
knew the Court had made that decision. You knew the fifth column
would be there, so why didn't you and the legislature and all
your people who say that doesn't work do something about it?
GOVERNOR ROSSELLÓ: Because in the same way that you
have differences in political parties here, you sometimes cannot
reach agreement, in this Congress and this Committee and this
And so this is a byproduct of the political process, and what
I'm saying is that if you want to take it as blame, you take it
as blame. But what I'm saying is that you have a responsibility
under the Constitution, which you cannot deny, of making certain
that this is, this unfinished business of democracy --
SENATOR THOMAS: You already said that. You don't need to keep
saying it, Governor.
GOVERNOR ROSSELLÓ: -- is finally resolved.
SENATOR THOMAS: But understand what I'm saying to you. You
have some responsibility as well.
GOVERNOR ROSSELLÓ: Yes, I agree.
SENATOR THOMAS: You've been here a number of times, and frankly
I'm getting a little impatient with always it's always our responsibility.
GOVERNOR ROSSELLÓ: No. I'm getting a little impatient
every time we come up and say that it's our responsibility.
SENATOR THOMAS: Fine. Fine.
SENATOR CRAIG: I think everyone appreciates applause. It will
only lengthen the process. Thank you.
SENATOR THOMAS: I had another comment, but I just need to make
that point, and I don't want to pursue it any further. But I think
it's something you need to understand, that most -- many people,
for example, also will not agree with your analysis of the 50.3
votes in that category. Isn't that true?
GOVERNOR ROSSELLÓ: I agree that I need to understand
that, and we will keep coming back until you also understand.
SENATOR THOMAS: This is not a matter of understanding. There
are people who have analyzed the 50.3 and come up with quite a
different version than yours.
GOVERNOR ROSSELLÓ: Sure.
SENATOR THOMAS: I just wanted to make that clear. Very well,
thank you, sir.
SENATOR CRAIG: Thank you, Senator. Now Senator Akaka.
SENATOR AKAKA: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
I want to welcome the good Governor to the Senate here, and
I want to thank our Chairman for holding this hearing.
As you point out, this is unfinished business for the Senate
and for the Congress and for the United States Government in dealing
with your desires here. I want to tell you, and you know this,
that the relationship between you and the United States government
is dependent upon the desires of its citizens, and you point out
the history very well.
I'm so glad that you did recall the precedence that was set
in the State of Wisconsin and also in Oklahoma, and, as you know,
I come from the youngest State, Hawaii, into the Union here, and
I say that only to tell you that I share what you are going through,
that we had to go through these too.
And we had a difficult time. There was a lot of opposition.
We had to deal at that time with a territorial legislature and
with individuals, as well as with the Congress. And fortunately
it worked out. The leadership at that time of the nation, as well
as of the Congress, was such that it was able to work out here.
And, as I know it, LBJ had an important part, and Rayburn also
had an important part in bringing this about for Hawaii and for
Alaska. I know you have been struggling, struggling over the years
of plebiscites that you've had, in trying to determine the desires
of the citizens of Puerto Rico.
And now you have come to us to ask whether we would take a
lead in this. I tell you that I hope that we'll be able to deal
with this as quickly as we can and expeditiously as we can. And
I know, Governor, that you've really worked hard, and your people,
in trying to bring a case to us, and we've heard from the independence
people, we've heard from the commonwealth, and we've heard from
the statehood people as well.
And so we also have a tough job to do here, to do what's right
for Puerto Rico and for our nation. There's no question that Puerto
Rico has played a huge part in serving our country. If we go back
to patronage as well as your people who participated in the wars
of our country, Puerto Rico has contributed so much to us.
Again, I look forward to working with you and with our committee
in trying to bring determination to what you bring before us.
I look forward to hearing from the other panelists as well today.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
GOVERNOR ROSSELLÓ: Thank you, Senator.
SENATOR CRAIG: Thank you very much, Senator Akaka. Excuse me,
Governor, did you wish to comment?
GOVERNOR ROSSELLÓ: No. I just want to thank the Senator,
because I think he feels the pain, maybe more than many others,
because, as the Senator said, Hawaii is the most recent addition
to the union, has in its mind and probably in its experience the
freshest memories of the difficult road that this entails. And
so I am grateful for his comments.
SENATOR AKAKA: Mr. Chairman, may I ask a question? Governor,
I know you've been through the plebiscites and all that, but when
will the citizens -- and I'm interested in citizens relationships
-- be prepared to vote on status options again, and what must
happen in Puerto Rico before you would recommend another plebiscite
or referendum, if that's what you desire?
GOVERNOR ROSSELLÓ: I think the one remaining factor
that has been missing is a role by Congress in defining the options,
as I mentioned before, as has been made in other territories throughout
the history of the United States.
Once this Congress assumes its responsibility -- it doesn't
have to make the decision; it just has to define the valid options
-- then I think that is the time to present this to the people
of Puerto Rico again and for Congress to then respond to a clear
picture of what the will of the people of Puerto Rico is.
SENATOR AKAKA: Do you have anything to say to Members of Congress
who are reluctant to consider Federal legislation to authorize
plebiscite question because they fear that it may change the balance
of power among parties?
GOVERNOR ROSSELLÓ: Well, I think that I would say to
those that this is a valid consideration, but it should not be
the overwhelming consideration. This is a question of disenfranchisement
of nearly four million U.S. citizens, and political party considerations
aside this is something that has to be resolved.
I think all of the Senators, all of the Representatives in
the House are here to look after the business of the nation. It
is true they belong to different parties, but their ultimate responsibility
is to look for the business of the nation, and I think that should
be the major consideration.
We can discuss it. We can maybe look for a manner where this
is responded to. Hawaii and Alaska, as you know, came in under
an unwritten pact that one would be Democratic and one would be
Republican, so that that issue was skirted. It is interesting
-- and I know the Senator knows -- that it was projected that
Hawaii would be forever Republican, and that Alaska would be forever
Democrat. History has shown us that we are very poor predictors
of the future.
SENATOR AKAKA: That's interesting, and you are correct, that
at that time Alaska was very Democratic and Hawaii was very Republican.
And as a result and because of the leadership in the Congress
at that time, Alaska went first. It was Democratic, and because
they were received into the Union I think they couldn't keep Hawaii
out at that time. So we were able to come in right after Alaska.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
SENATOR CRAIG: Thank you, Senator Akaka. Senator Bayh.
SENATOR BAYH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Governor, I'd like to ask you a question. As you know, our
nation is currently involved in hostilities in the Balkans and
Puerto Ricans have a long and honorable tradition of military
service. In fact, Puerto Ricans can be compelled through the draft
to serve in our military.
I'd like to ask you how do the young men and women of Puerto
Rico feel about a system in which a government can compel them
to possibly give their lives defending a country and yet they
have no right to vote for that government or the representatives
that might possibly send them to war.
GOVERNOR ROSSELLÓ: Senator Bayh, I think the spontaneous
response reiterates what our people feel about that. Certainly
it's a grave inconsistency that the commander-in-chief of the
United States can order, recruit and send to war Puerto Ricans
who have no say in either the decisions that are made by this
Congress or in the election of the President of the United States.
I think Puerto Rico has responded in a very generous manner
to those calls for sacrifice in defending democracy. Puerto Rico
has a higher per capita casualties, deaths, in wars or participation
than most of the States, and I dare say all of the States. So
I would say that this is one of the things that, when we look
at in the workings of democracy and we look at merely four million
U.S. citizens that are compelled by our commander-in-chief to
go to war, and have no say in the decisions of this nation, that
that's the major inconsistency. That's the unfinished business
of democracy that we're talking about.
SENATOR BAYH: Thank you, Governor. I recall from my own days
being governor economic growth, job creation are very important,
and I know it's important to expanding the welfare of the people
of Puerto Rico, just as it is the citizens of my State of Indiana.
One of the things that I get to do as a member of the Banking
Committee, another committee on which I serve, is to spend time
with Alan Greenspan and Bob Rubin and the architects of the strong
economy we have today, and it's their feeling that investment
is critically important to job creation, to increase competitiveness,
to rising wages and a better standard of living.
I'm wondering, as Governor, certainty is very important for
investment. This uncertainty surrounding the status of the territory,
does that have an impact on economic growth, investment, job creation,
for your citizens?
GOVERNOR ROSSELLÓ: Absolutely, Senator. I think this
is evident not only in what you have stated but also historically.
We have seen how every territory of the Union that became a state,
its economy, once it became a State, flourished compared to the
territorial economy. The most recent case is Hawaii. Hawaii was
growing at a pace of four percent per year increase in the gross
product as a territory. Once it became a State, for the next decade
it grew at seven percent, nearly doubling its growth in its economy.
It's a historical certainty that this will happen. I think
one big factor is that uncertainty in terms of investment in a
territory where you don't know what the final option is going
to be. But also a territory has limitations in terms of its instruments
compared to States. It is no mystery that when you look over the
past fifty years at the growth of the economy of Puerto Rico compared
to the States, the difference that exists between the economy
of Puerto Rico, in any parameter that you want to follow, be it
jobs, employment, gross product, whatever, if you look at the
difference, it has remained the same.
Puerto Rico has gotten better, yes, but the difference, the
deficit has remained the same. It is a structural problem. Unless
you eliminate that structural problem, you will always have a
dependent territory that cannot be a full partner with the rest
of the States.
SENATOR BAYH: I'd like to ask a question about the results
of the plebiscite. Mr. Chairman, I'd like to say also that, at
least speaking for myself, I am glad that one of our Courts can't
order the placement of "none of the above" on the ballot,
or I might not be sitting here questioning you today. Perhaps
that applies to some other members of this body as well.
But putting that aside, I'm pleased to see that you're here
asking for certainty, and I did look at the way the questions
were put. Is it your analysis that really the only thing we can
determine from these results is that the status quo, the current
situation, was rejected? Is that your interpretation?
GOVERNOR ROSSELLÓ: I think it's the strongest message.
We've been hearing here from Congress that we have to get our
act together, and I assume that responsibility. So if you look
at the results, there's one overwhelming factor. Less than .1
percent, less than one-tenth of a percent is in favor of the current
status, as has been defined by this Congress through the House
That means that all options that we should have for the future
are options of change, different options from the current territorial
status. All -- and I think I speak for all Puerto Ricans -- all
Puerto Ricans would not accept a territorial status that maintains
Puerto Rico under the territorial clause.
So yes, I think that the most powerful, the most eloquent message
of this plebiscite is that we have to look for other change options,
not the current status. The current status has been limited in
SENATOR BAYH: My final question, Governor, then one point of
personal privilege, and we can get on with the rest of the hearing
My colleague, Senator Craig, spoke about our mutual responsibilities
under the Constitutional system and surely we all bear responsibilities
for resolving this situation and bringing some clarity to the
future status of Puerto Rico, of the territory.
Is it true that under the Constitution the ultimate responsibility
lies with the Federal Government for determining the admission
to the Union as a State, for setting the qualifications, establishing
the procedure, that sort of thing?
GOVERNOR ROSSELLÓ: Absolutely. I think it's very clear
that the Constitution provides for this Congress, for Congress
to have the basically absolute determination, absolute power over
U.S. territories. This is very clear. I don't think that anybody
would argue on that point.
It has been that way throughout history. It has been that way
every time a territory has become a State. And so that responsibility
does not lie anywhere than in this Congress.
SENATOR BAYH: I recall from my years as Governor dealing with
my own State legislature, and they're good people and we all did
the best we could to try and resolve the issues that faced my
State, but sometimes there was division, sometimes there was difference
of opinion. My understanding under our Constitutional system is
that for issues of this importance, explicitly in this case in
the Constitution, while we do have a Federal system and there
is allocation of responsibilities between the Federal and the
State level, the ultimate responsibility, with your help and cooperation,
the ultimate responsibility does rest with the Federal Government
in this case.
Governor, I would like thank you for being here. I had the
privilege of serving with you for many years in the Governors
Association. I appreciate your leadership of the territory, and,
along with our Chairman, want to acknowledge the presence of your
lovely First Lady, Maga, in the audience. As is the case with
me, my citizens frequently tell me they voted for the First Lady's
husband. So I thank you for your presence today and appreciate
GOVERNOR ROSSELLÓ: Thank you, Senator.
SENATOR CRAIG: Well, Governor, now we know why Senator Bayh
is Senator. Thank you very much, Senator.
Now Senator Landrieu.
SENATOR LANDRIEU: Thank you.
Let me begin by thanking the Chairman, even I his absence,
for calling this hearing. Several of us requested and thought
it would be a good thing to have a hearing to try to bring some
clarity to the plebiscite vote and to give you the opportunity,
Governor, to return and speak as eloquently as you always do before
this committee in trying to help us understand where we are.
I also want to thank you, Senator, for your good work, Senator
Craig, as the key sponsor of the bill and the efforts that this
committee has made, and to acknowledge, as you did in your statement,
the many years actually that this committee has spent.
It is my hope that this hearing will be helpful to bring some
clarity and that we can, as a committee, help to make these definitions
more clear, so that we could perhaps make some progress this year
on this issue.
I want to agree with you, Governor, and thank you for your
statement that one of the things that should be very clear from
this morning's meeting is that the plebiscite was a rejection
of the status quo. I'm actually amazed, as Senator Bayh pointed
out, that with "none of the above," which is a very
attractive option -- it's a free beer, free barbecue, free lunch,
free beignet. You can sort of vote --
GOVERNOR ROSSELLÓ: How about gumbo?
SENATOR LANDRIEU: Free gumbo. If you could get away with voting
-- if we could get away with --
SENATOR GRAHAM: We charge for orange juice.
SENATOR LANDRIEU: Free orange juice. Bob says they charge for
If people were given that option, I think it would win all
the time on every ballot, and it's a sort of a false choice because
there are no free lunches and free barbecues and free beer. And
I recognize it was a dilemma between your legislature and your
courts, your legislature afraid that if they didn't include it
the plebiscite might be thrown out, as it was before, by the courts
because the other option wasn't put on.
So I have to say to Senator Thomas that there has been a valiant
struggle here to present steady and clear options, and it's not
any one particular person's fault. But it's our responsibility
now, I think, as this Congress to give the right and clear options,
and I'm hoping that we can do that.
SENATOR LANDRIEU: So in order to help that I have some questions
that I want to ask, not at this time but the Commonwealth Party
if they could more clearly define. I've read with some interest
some of the options that are on the Web page, and I'm going to
be asking them about some of the things that they believe Commonwealth
represents, if Puerto Rico would have the right to veto laws passed
by the Congress, to continue the subsidy that is currently received,
to be able to enter into treaties on their own.
These are things that I think they may throw out but are not
really legitimate possibilities under the choices we have. So
I'm going to be asking some questions and hopefully can stay here
long enough to do that.
But I just want to thank the Chairman for calling this hearing,
thanking you for your leadership. I think you have been surprisingly
evenhanded, given your strong feeling toward statehood and trying
to help Puerto Rico make the right decision for itself, and being
willing to live by it, but trying to help us all get to a point
where we can make honest choices and not be given these none of
the above and free lunches kinds of options.
So I want to continue to work with you and thank you, Governor,
very much, and your lovely wife, for being here.
GOVERNOR ROSSELLÓ: Thank you, Senator.
SENATOR CRAIG: Thank you, Senator Landrieu.
SENATOR GRAHAM: Thank you, Senator. I also wish to thank Senator
Murkowski for holding this hearing and welcome my good friend,
the Governor, for his returning to answer some of the questions
that we and the people of the United States have as to what are
current political circumstances in Puerto Rico. And I am pleased
that so many others who represent the full range of opinion in
Puerto Rico have joined in this discussion.
Governor, let me ask what do you think Congress should consider
at this point in Puerto Rico's political history as the next step?
We spent the better part of five years attempting to develop a
plebiscite that would have Congressional sanction, including Congressional
statement of what the different options would mean, defining,
meaning by what the Congress would be willing to actually enact
and provide for Puerto Rico.
That failed in 1998 and I think you, with a great of political
courage, requested the Puerto Rican people to have their own plebiscite,
which they did at the end of last year. With that summary of history,
what do you think is the next step?
GOVERNOR ROSSELLÓ: Senator, I think that I look at this
as a process. In the long range, it's a process that has lasted
over 100 years, but in the shorter range it's a process that was
initiated actually in this committee ten years ago, when the political
leaders of Puerto Rico unanimously requested action by Congress
and by the President.
I think a lot has been advanced. I must grant you that I would
have liked a faster pace, but I also have to acknowledge that
a lot has been advanced. We have discussed amply from every perspective
the different options that could be considered valid by this Congress,
and I think the only remaining issue to settle is whether this
other definition that has been hanging in the air has the validity
to be presented to the people of Puerto Rico.
Once that is addressed, once that is decided, then I think
Congress is in a position to say to Puerto Rico, these are the
options. These are the options that Congress is willing to accept.
These are valid. You can vote with full confidence on these different
things and not have the phenomenon that we have here of voting
for an empty column.
That's the only, the only element that is remaining in this
effort that is a decade long. Once that is achieved, I think then
the people of Puerto Rico will have the responsibility directly
of taking action on those options. Then we will have no other
excuse or no other reason to say that we have been undefined on
I think it is fair to accept that the current status is not
only not supported but I think in the minds of everybody it has
been historically a transitional status, not a permanent status.
Under the U.S. Constitution, you can be either a State or you
can be a territory. But the territory has not been conceived as
a permanent status.
So I think that this committee, this Senate, this Congress
has to only build up on what has already been achieved. There
are some very small steps that has to be taken, but a very significant
one, and that is defining if there is another option, defining
if that option is valid and what its component are so that we
can take an honest and clear option to the people of Puerto Rico.
SENATOR GRAHAM: With that suggestion of a roadmap, let me ask
another question. Are there any changes in the current organic
law that outlines the relationship between Puerto Rico and the
United States of America that you would recommend changing? I'm
asking you this question, but I'm also asking it over your shoulder
to the people that will be testifying in the next panel, because
unfortunately I am going to have to leave at approximately 11:00
and probably won't be able to ask them that question.
But I'd like to have, with as much specificity as possible,
what changes persons who represent different points of view on
what the ultimate political status of Puerto Rico should be, what
changes they would recommend in the current organic law.
GOVERNOR ROSSELLÓ: Senator, I don't have any changes
to recommend, because I feel the change has to be a different
relationship. If you continue to make changes on the periphery,
then the relationship that was established in 1898 and which has
continued with changes but no major change in the relationship
between Puerto Rico and the rest of the States in the United States,
then we're basically at the same state.
Puerto Rico has been a territory of the United States since
1898. It has changed its form but not in the relationship between
Puerto Rico and the United States. For the first two years it
was under a military regime. For the next half century it was
under a civil regime, but by appointment by the President of the
governors of Puerto Rico, and basically very limited local self
Since 1952 it was increased to have local self government,
but certainly the relationship between Puerto Rico and the rest
of the United States remained unaltered. For over 100 years that
has not been changed. So I would not urge this Congress to change
things in the periphery on the outside.
We have to look at changing the essence of that relationship
because, as I stated before, it is not a permanent relationship
and it should be changed in its substance and not in simply the
SENATOR GRAHAM: Thank you, Governor.
GOVERNOR ROSSELLÓ: Thank you, sir.
SENATOR CRAIG: Senator Graham, thank you very much.
Governor, we thank you very much for your testimony. The choices
that are going to have to be made are clearly those that are available
under the Constitution. You know, Puerto Rico's current territorial
status I think must be resolved at some point in the future. That's
why I have expressed what I have in the past and will continue
to do so.
But when that is depends on Puerto Ricans and the Congress
of the United States. The Constitution defines the relationship,
and Public Law 600, if you will, fleshes it out, gives those options
clarity within that constitutional relationship. I don't think
any of us can deny that or deny the Constitution. And ultimately
these choices will have to be made.
Building a majority in the United States Congress to be able
to bring those expressions about under our Constitutional responsibility
is not easy, as you know, as is similar with your state legislature
and the people, the citizens of Puerto Rico.
So, anyway, I do thank you today for attempting to clarify
what the December plebiscite meant, and it is important that we
hear it from you and other Puerto Ricans so that we have a better
understanding of what we may be able to do here in bringing about
Thank you so much for being with us today.
GOVERNOR ROSSELLÓ: Thank you, sir.
SENATOR CRAIG: Thank you all very much. And now, for the sake
of time, let us move quickly to our panel, and if those of you
who understand that I do not speak Spanish fluently will give
me that courtesy, we will work at the introduction of our next
The Honorable Aníbal Acevedo-Vilá, the President
of the Popular Democratic Party; the Honorable Rubén BERRIOS
MARTÍNEZ, President of the Puerto Rico Independence Party;
Luis Vega Ramos, President of PROELA; and this marvelous lady
who I should never struggle with her name, because I know her
well, Zoraida Fonalledas.
MS. FONALLEDAS: Zoraida Fonalledas, that's right.
SENATOR CRAIG: Work with me on this again, Zoraida.
MS. FONALLEDAS: Zoraida, but you can call me Zori.
SENATOR CRAIG: All right, representing the New Progressive
Party. Thank you very much for being with us today, and now let
us turn to the Honorable Aníbal Acevedo-Vilá.
STATEMENT OF HON. Aníbal
Acevedo-Vilá, PRESIDENT, POPULAR DEMOCRATIC PARTY
MR. ACEVEDO-VILÁ: Good morning, Senator, other members
of this committee. Thank you very much for your invitation to
testify before you in this hearing to consider the results of
the 1998 plebiscite. My name is Aníbal Acevedo-Acevedo-Vila
Acevedo-Vilá, and I'm the President of the Popular Democratic
Party, the longstanding defender of the Commonwealth of Puerto
In the ballot of December 13, 1998, political status consultation,
there was no commonwealth option as we know it. Therefore, the
Popular Democratic Party asked voters to reject all the status
alternatives and vote for the option titled none of the above.
As you know, our position prevailed, and we obtained an absolute
majority of the votes.
We won the plebiscite and therefore hold the mandate on behalf
of the people. In order to assist this committee in reviewing
these results, it would be useful to divide my presentation into
five concise aspects. But before I get into that issue, it is
my duty as President of the Popular Democratic Party and as a
citizen of Puerto Rico to call your attention to the current situation
in the island of Vieques to which the Chairman made reference,
a small island off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico.
Vieques is a municipality of Puerto Rico; more than 10,000
Puerto Ricans live there. Of the island's total 33,000 acres,
the U.S. Navy owns approximately 22,600. For many years the United
States Navy has been conducting maneuvers with live ammunition
in Vieques, right next to the civilian population.
These actions have continuously put in danger the lives and
property of the people of Vieques. As recent as two weeks ago,
the life of a young civilian worker of the base was lost because
of misfire bomb. I'm a strong believer in the common defense between
Puerto Rico and the United States, but the people of Vieques are
paying too high a cost for our common defense.
The common goals of Puerto Rico and the United States have
always been for the benefit of both nations, but the use of live
ammunition has to stop once and for all, and the eventually devolution
of lands to the people of Vieques should start as soon as possible.
That is the consensus among all political and social sectors
in Puerto Rico. The civil rights of the people of Vieques must
be protected. I request the intervention of this committee in
order to find a prompt solution to this situation.
Let's go now to the plebiscite vote. Why we had the vote? I
will be brief on this issue since I believe that this committee
is well versed on the reasons why the Governor of Puerto Rico
wanted to have the status plebiscite in Puerto Rico. Suffice it
to say the Governor decided to call his own vote once it became
clear that the Congress would not enact a pro-statehood legislation
authorizing a plebiscite.
Moreover, the Governor was in desperate need to fabricate an
electoral mandate for statehood in order to force statehood legislation
before this Congress. While some individuals have blamed Congress
for not enacting legislation, I do not believe Congress can be
blamed for its judgment.
No legislation was enacted because supporters of statehood
were more concerned with getting a bill tilted toward their option
than with obtaining a bill that would provide a workable framework
for a democratic vote and an all-encompassing solution to this
Second, the plebiscite ballot. When the Governor announced
that he would organize a vote under the laws of the Commonwealth,
we in the Popular Democratic Party were doubtful of the usefulness
and intentions behind this vote, but we, nevertheless, accepted
the challenge. Unfortunately, the pro-statehood majority in the
legislative assembly excluded us from the process of drafting
Supporters of Commonwealth were faced with a ballot in which
our preferred option was not included. Additionally, the misleading
definition of Commonwealth under column one contained several
legally inaccurate statements, which made it intolerable.
On the issue of citizenship, for example, pro-statehood forces
wanted to be able to claim in their propaganda campaign that the
citizenship of Puerto Ricans was at risk unless people voted for
statehood. They were able to make this false claim by writing
a description of Commonwealth which failed to recognize that our
citizenship is protected by the U.S. Constitution. Even the Young
bill, which was so biased against Commonwealth, recognized constitutional
protections of the U.S. citizenship we enjoy.
The description under column one also failed to recognize that
our relationship with the United States is based on mutual consent.
Even the definition in the Young bill said that the relationship
was based on mutual consent.
It is common knowledge that each and every one of the status
options can be described in numerous different ways, but for the
process to work each option must be described fairly.
Imagine that the PDP had controlled this process and had included
the following description of statehood on the ballot: Puerto Rico
loses all existing international identity separate from the United
States in order to become a state of the Union subject to the
uniform application of all Federal laws, including the full imposition
of Federal income tax system by a Congress in which Puerto Rico
would have less than 1.5 percent of the voting power and where
more than 90 percent of the members do not speak Spanish and represent
districts with populations that are culturally different from
that of Puerto Rico, and with a geography that is different from
that of Puerto Rico.
That is certainly not a very appealing description of statehood.
It is admittedly biased against statehood, but it's 100 percent
accurate as a matter of fact and law. The description of Commonwealth
under column one was biased against Commonwealth and it also was
Accordingly, we have no alternative but to support the option
titled None of The Above.
While the PDP has always maintained our interest and belief
in developing the Commonwealth status, as I indicated before,
we were not permitted to present voters in the petitions ballot
with a proposal for development of Commonwealth. Accordingly,
our next best option was to support what we have under Commonwealth
right now. We could do that only with a vote for none of the above.
Third, the campaign. The first issue that must be mentioned
with regards to the campaign is the unfairness in terms of financial
resources. And I heard a lot about free lunch here. Supporters
of statehood wrote the law authorizing the vote in a manner that
purposely denied the Popular Democratic Party access to public
funds to support our campaign. All other political parties got
$666,000 from public funds in their campaign.
We did not receive a single center from public funds. In the
end, based on reports filed with the State Elections Commission
and on an analysis of the ads broadcast on TV and radio, supporters
of statehood spent between $13 million and $15 million in their
campaign. Supporters of the fifth column and the PDP spent only
between $3 million and $ million in support of a vote for none
of the above.
Some statehood advocates have complained that another vote
is necessary because voters were somehow confused, and that voters
need further clarification of the options. I strongly reject such
a condescending attitude towards the voters, and I believe that
this committee should not be a part of such an insult to the intelligence
of our voters.
The fact is that if voters were confused, which I do not think
is the case, statehood advocates only have themselves to blame
because of their demagogue campaign issues. Television ads constantly
aired by the statehood forces gave voters a highly distorted view
of statehood, as the following quotes from the televised campaign
And I have a copy here of those ads, which I'm going to hand
to the Chairman and we're going to be handing copies to everyone.
SENATOR CRAIG: We will make that a part of the record. Thank
MR. ACEVEDO-VILÁ: One ad proudly proclaimed the laughable
notion that as a State of the Union Puerto Rico would be able
to maintain its separate Olympic representation in competition
against Team USA. And I'm quoting the ad: "With statehood
we will continue to keep our Olympic team."
Several ads proclaimed that statehood would be an economic
bonanza for Puerto Rico as a result of additional Federal welfare
benefits, paying less taxes, and the bonus that everyone would
receive with the earned income tax credit -- and you have a copy.
The most visually stimulating of these ads is the one in which
a never-ending river of dollar signs is seen flowing from Washington
to Puerto Rico. Another of the ads said, with statehood you will
pay less taxes than you pay now. If you are a head of a household
and earn $12,000, you will pay $99 and will receive an earned
income tax credit of $2,195.
Several ads were almost militant in their conviction that under
statehood everything will continue in Spanish. One of them said:
With statehood we will remain what we are. We enter the nation
with our language and our culture stronger than ever. Speaking
Spanish, statehood. Your language, your culture, your future.
The statehood in Spanish --
SENATOR CRAIG: Sir, would you attempt to wrap up, please? I'm
giving each one of you ten minutes so that we have adequate time
MR. ACEVEDO-VILÁ: The invitation said fifteen minutes,
and I have it here. I can try to summarize.
SENATOR CRAIG: The invitation said fifteen? I'll give you another
five. I didn't send the invitation out. Please continue. You have
five more minutes.
MR. ACEVEDO-VILÁ: I will summarize.
Clearly those quotes demonstrate that the statehood leaders
knew that the statehood that they try to sell here in Washington
-- with Puerto Ricans eager to assimilate -- is neither popular
nor acceptable in Puerto Rico. In spite of this doublespeak, the
people of Puerto Rico were either not fooled or they simply decided
that they are not interested in statehood even if it is all in
Spanish, with less taxes or more welfare benefits.
The campaign in favor of none of the above centered on the
fact that Commonwealth in which we have lived over the last 46
years was not included under any of the ballot options. We also
reached out to voters who wanted to defeat statehood and to reject
the one-sided and imposed nature of the process that led to the
These are votes who agree with us that any process to resolve
the Puerto Rico political status must be based on consensus.
The absolutely majority vote for none of the above is a clear
rejection of statehood. Furthermore, voters understood perfectly
well that by rejecting the status alternative in the ballot the
Commonwealth relationship as we know it will continue. That is
a fact which nobody can dispute. Any further attempt to psychoanalyze
voters will certainly serve no purpose other than to indulge the
complaints of losers in a democratic event.
The vote result. While today it is universally understood that
statehood lost, some supporters of statehood still do not want
to accept the truth. In spite of these disturbing post-election
distortion of the outcome, people quickly understood that statehood
had lost and that the people of Puerto Rico had found a way to
confirm their support for Commonwealth. That was the message conveyed
to the American people by virtually all newspapers that editorialized
on this issue.
As I stated above, I do recognize that some of the people who
voted for none of the above are not necessarily supporters of
Commonwealth but instead voted with us to reject the whole process
and to defeat statehood. Accordingly, I'm not here to argue that
the vote is a mandate for the development of Commonwealth.
I'm here, however, to make sure that this committee understands
that the people of Puerto Rico were unambiguous in their rejection
of statehood, especially when the Governor continues to show his
lack of respect to the will of the people and insists that statehood
The truth is clear. For the second time in five years the people
of Puerto Rico have rejected statehood in two plebiscites called
by and organized by the statehood party.
While I believe that the vote results are clear, I recognize
that the status issue has not bee resolved. Those of us who support
Commonwealth have an unfinished agenda to develop Commonwealth.
What should Congress do? In light of the undeniable fact that
the people of Puerto Rico have repeatedly rejected statehood and
independence, Congress should concentrate on an agenda to develop
Commonwealth in a way that will benefit both Puerto Rico and the
United States. While I recognize the difficulty of moving forward
on the development of Commonwealth while the Governor of Puerto
Rico is against Commonwealth, I am more than willing to sit down
with any Member of Congress who is interested in pursuing that
SENATOR CRAIG: Thank you very much. I'm going to break protocol
here for just a moment. Senator Landrieu needs to leave, and she
did want to ask a couple of questions of you before she left,
so if other panelists will stand by for a second, I'll turn to
SENATOR LANDRIEU: Thank you, Senator. I really appreciate,
because I have actually two meetings and need to leave and I want
to get these questions in just briefly. It will take just short
answers. Because I really do want to help this committee to work
on a more clear definition of Commonwealth, because it seems to
be one of the problems that we've had not being able to put some
of this actually in writing and to understand what it really means.
But I want to say I know you feel strongly. I don't know how
you say in Spanish "spin," but that's how we say it
in English, spin. And I'm from Louisiana and James Carville does
a great job, and I just have to say that I'm looking here at the
results of the plebiscite, and I know people can say sort of interpret
But I just want for the audience to know, if they don't have
it, that Commonwealth got one percent, free association got one
percent, statehood got almost 47 percent, independence got 2.6
percent, and then none of the above got 50 percent.
But there was some polling done afterwards, and if you dispute
this please submit this in writing, to the 50 percent that voted
for the blank, and it says, according to this polling data, that
somewhere between 40 to 42 percent liked some version of statehood,
less than 20 percent various definitions of Commonwealth, a few
were unsure, and then a few were just aggravated at Congress,
and that's what the choices were, but even that the majority or
a significant amount, 40 percent of those in that column.
I think it's just inappropriate to say that there's not support
for statehood. Now I think what's maybe appropriate to say is
maybe people aren't clear about exactly what statehood would mean
or what exactly Commonwealth, so I want to ask a few short questions
just for your party, if I could.
MR. ACEVEDO-VILÁ: May I comment on the facts?
SENATOR LANDRIEU: Let me just ask you questions, and then if
you could just submit that in writing.
Under your definition of Commonwealth -- I know people have
different definitions, but I want to ask you -- would you suggest
that Puerto Rico under Commonwealth would have its right to enter
into its own commercial and tax treaties with foreign nations?
Yes or no?
MR. ACEVEDO-VILÁ: Let me just react first --
SENATOR LANDRIEU: Yes or no. I'd just like a yes or no answer.
Do you think --
MR. ACEVEDO-VILÁ: I think that for the future we should
sit down and work an arrangement where Puerto Rico would get more
economic tools for development, and one of them is to allow the
Puerto Rican government to enter into commercial agreements with
other countries for economic development consistent with U.S.
SENATOR LANDRIEU: Okay. So --
MR. ACEVEDO-VILÁ: What we want is economic development.
SENATOR LANDRIEU: Well, what is consistent with U.S. policy
is that you couldn't enter into your own treaties outside of the
United States treaties. Would you be suggesting that as a Commonwealth
in the future you could do that?
MR. ACEVEDO-VILÁ: Yes. I think we can sit down and work
that for the future.
SENATOR LANDRIEU: What do you think about Puerto Rico being
able to join as separate sovereign nation in the U.S. World Trade
Organization or the United Nations? Should that be allowed?
MR. ACEVEDO-VILÁ: I think that in terms of those organizations
we need to sit down. What is most important is regional organizations
that help economic development. As a matter of fact, we have done
it under Commonwealth in the past. Under Commonwealth we have
participated in some international, especially regional for the
Caribbean organizations for development.
And I repeat it again. What we want is economic tools and that
proposal you're discussing was not in the ballot.
SENATOR LANDRIEU: Would you also agree that Puerto Rico would
be allowed to selectively veto Acts of Congress?
MR. ACEVEDO-VILÁ: No, it's not that way. No. What we're
saying is that we shall sit down and work a special arrangement
where we can identify areas of Federal law that instead of helping
economic development for Puerto Rico are hurting our economic
development, and that we should create a mechanism so for the
future we could work.
Like right now, for example, the IRS code does not apply to
Puerto Rico, and we just want to identify other areas that, if
they don't apply, would be helpful.
SENATOR LANDRIEU: Because if this were possible for Puerto
Rico, Louisiana might like to have this. This would be very popular
at home, for us to be able to veto the IRS.
SENATOR LANDRIEU: Mr. Chairman, if you all can write this,
we may want it.
Just one more question. Does your party think that the Constitution
of Puerto Rico would take precedence over the United States Constitution?
MR. ACEVEDO-VILÁ: No. It has to be consistent. It has
to be consistent, but if under our Constitution we give more rights
to the people of Puerto Rico, more rights not less, more rights,
we should respect those rights.
SENATOR LANDRIEU: Let me just say in
closing that, Mr. Chairman, I've asked this line of questions
to just indicate that we're not going to get anywhere and we've
been struggling with this for many years, and we're not going
to get anywhere unless the Commonwealth parties put in writing
exactly what Commonwealth will mean so we can then use that information.
So I'm going to submit in writing these questions to all of
you all, and I'm sorry I can't be here, but I will read your testimony,
because I'm very anxious to try to get some clarity on what the
Commonwealth real choices would be -- choices that this Congress
would validate and not false choices.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
MR. ACEVEDO-VILÁ: Senator, I appreciate your interest,
and we're willing to do sit down with any Member of Congress to
discuss the future and --
SENATOR LANDRIEU: I don't want to discuss it. I want you to
put it in writing, and that's what's important, because that's
the only way.
SENATOR LANDRIEU: I don't want to discuss it.
And let me just say in closing, if I could, just a minute.
I think that's been part of the problem. We've had too much discussion
and what you need is to put things in writing so people can go
to the ballot and read the ballot and vote.
And let me say we can't control what's on television. We don't
do a good job controlling our own advertisements and they exaggerate
many times, as we're familiar with. But what we can control is
the words on the ballot and that people can read for themselves
and make their own decision.
And that's what I want to help do. So I don't want to discuss
it. I want to see it in writing.
MR. ACEVEDO-VILÁ: The only reason our proposal was not
on the ballot is because we weren't allowed to present it to the
SENATOR LANDRIEU: We're going to try to help you get an opportunity
to write something to put on the ballot this time.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SENATOR CRAIG: Senator, thank you very much.
STATEMENT OF HONORABLE RUBÉN
BERRIOS MARTÍNEZ, PRESIDENT, PUERTO RICO INDEPENDENCE PARTY
MR. BERRIOS MARTÍNEZ: -- Vice President of the Puerto
Rico Independence Party, and myself shall violate Federal law
by trespassing into Federally-restricted military target practice
areas in the island municipality of Vieques, Puerto Rico. Such
action is the first stop in a broader strategy of civil disobedience
designed to force the U.S. Navy to permanently discontinue its
abusive military maneuvers, bombings and target practice at get
out of Vieques.
The U.S. Navy, through its occupation of two-thirds of the
33,000 acres of Vieques, has jeopardized the life, health, and
safety and tranquility of 9,000 Puerto Ricans living there and
has strangled Vieques' economic development for over half a century.
In recent weeks, in what can at best be regarded as negligent
disregard for the human rights of Puerto Ricans in Vieques, U.S.
Navy bombs have been responsible for the death of one civilian
and for having wounded several others. Needless to say, the recent
developments have sparked indignation among all sectors of Puerto
In the same spirit in which we defied the Navy's abusive behavior
in the island municipality of Culebra in 1971, leading to our
imprisonment and the subsequent withdrawal of the Navy from that
island, we stand ready today to again defy the Navy's abusive
practices with the moral force of militant nonviolence, even at
the price of personal liberty.
But the tragedy of Vieques is not an isolated incident in the
history of U.S. colonialism in Puerto Rico. On the contrary, the
problem of Vieques is at the heart of the problem which brings
us before this committee, Puerto Rico's colonial status.
The main reasons for the us invasion of Puerto Rico in 1898
were geopolitical and military, and the U.S. Navy has always been
a crucial factor in the determination of U.S. policy towards Puerto
Rico. Throughout this century its attitude has always been to
oppose change and to support the status quo.
We are here today because in the dawn of the twenty-first century
Puerto Rico, Latin-American nation, is still a territory of the
U.S. And Puerto Rico is a territory because the U.S. Government
and the U.S. Congress have failed to fulfill their constitutional
duty to dispose of the territory, as well as their legal obligation
under international law to decolonize Puerto Rico.
Since 1953 Congress has refused every meager petition for reforms
to the present status. And since 1989 Congress has repeatedly
failed to authorize a federally-sponsored referendum, even when
all Puerto Rican political parties have unanimously endorsed such
Let us not pretend any longer. The reason for such inaction
is the unwillingness of the Congress, under a Democratic majority
in 1991 and under a Republican majority last year, to include
statehood in a federally-mandated referendum, for the simple reason
that Puerto Rico is a Latin-American nation and it is not merely
a territory populated by Americans, as the Governor would have
The Congressional excuse for such inaction has always been
the same, that Puerto Rico should take the initiative before Congress
acts. However, we have held two referenda -- in 1993 and in 1998--
and Congress still refuses to act.
In the 1993 referendum, the absolute majority of Puerto Ricans
favored sovereign nationhood, either through association based
on a bilateral pact outside the territory clause that could not
be altered unilaterally by Congress, or through independence.
Moreover, the absolute majority rejected statehood. And Congress
refused to act.
In the 1998 referendum last December, even though the inclusion
of a none of the above column frustrated a majority mandate, an
absolute majority of the voters once again refused to vote for
As regards territorial status, all political parties in Puerto
Rico have rejected that alternative. The Puerto Rican voters have
rejected both statehood and territorial status, neither of which,
contrary to independence, represents an inalienable right of the
people of Puerto Rico. But still the U.S. Congress has failed
The U.S. seems thus to be developing a new type of colonial
policy in flagrant violation of the will of the Puerto Rican people.
It consists of a systematic process of inaction, combined with
public hearings and hollow rhetoric regarding self-determination,
which always ends up in the continuation of territorial status
by default. It is a colonial policy attuned to public relations
objectives of the late twentieth century.
But the time of anti-democratic strategies and attitudes is
no longer tolerable. It is no longer tolerable to hear the same
excuses, nor to ask Puerto Ricans to take the initiative. For
that we have done.
The U.S. exercises juridical, political and economic power
over Puerto Rico. Responsibility is a function of power, and the
U.S. has failed to fulfill its responsibility both under U.S.
and international law. The time has come for the U.S. to seriously
face Puerto Rico's status and decolonize the island.
What should Congress do in order to fulfill its juridical and
political obligation regarding Puerto Rico?
Since statehood and territorial status have twice been rejected
by Puerto Ricans in less than a decade, Congress should take no
for a final answer regarding both of those options. In light of
these realities, Congress should formally declare its willingness
to decolonize Puerto Rico and offer a choice between a sovereign,
non-colonial, non-territorial free associated state on the one
hand, and independence, an inalienable right which therefore must
always be present as an option, on the other.
There are various procedural mechanisms to achieve this goal,
ranging from constituent assemblies to plebiscites, but the end
result should be the achievement of sovereign nationhood.
In the meantime, and as an urgent matter, the United States
Government should manifest its good will and commitment to genuine
self-determination by liberating the Puerto Rican political prisoners
held in Federal prisons and announcing the definitive withdrawal
of the U.S. Navy from the island of Vieques.
There is, Mr. Chairman, of course, an alternative course of
action. The administration can continue its ambivalent discourse
and conduct towards Puerto Rico. Congress can continue its inaction.
The Navy and its commander-in-chief can persist in bombing Vieques,
threatening its people, and damaging its environment; and the
U.S. Government can imprison those of us who through civil disobedience
refuse to bow to injustice.
But whatever happens, rest assured that in the end colonialism
will be defeated in Puerto Rico, and Puerto Rico will become a
sovereign nation. It is up to you to let the people of Puerto
Rico and the world community know which side you are on, colonialism
Thank you very much.
SENATOR CRAIG: Senator, thank you very much. And I do appreciate
your expression as it relates to Vieques. As you know, live fire
has been suspended there, pending the investigation. I will submit
a letter today to the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee
to do oversight hearings on that issue. I think it is justifiable,
clearly it is, to get to the bottom line of this issue, and I
thank you and others --
SENATOR CRAIG: -- for drawing it more clearly to our attention.
Now let me turn to --
MR. BERRIOS MARTÍNEZ: I want to thank you, Mr. Chairman,
for what you have just said. While you do that, we'll keep the
pressure on the Navy.
SENATOR CRAIG: It sounds like you will.
Now let me turn to Luis Vega-Ramos, President of the PROELA.
STATEMENT OF LUIS VEGA-RAMOS,
MR. VEGA-RAMOS: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Nice to
be here. My name, for the record, is Luis Vega-Ramos, and PROELA
is a civic organization that for twenty-two years has advocated
in Puerto Rico Federal and international forums for the development
of the current political status within the context of a compact
of free association based on Puerto Rican national sovereignty.
I am its president and an attorney at law in Puerto Rico.
On December 13, 1998, the people of Puerto Rico voted in a
status plebiscite sponsored by the government of Puerto Rico.
As the results of that plebiscite proved inconclusive, the United
States now has the duty to clarify the real options for Puerto
Rico and to fashion a true process of self-determination that
fully meets the responsibilities that Congress and the administration
have to the millions of U.S. citizens that comprise the Puerto
But before I present our views regarding last year's plebiscite,
let me bring to your attention an issue that has been mentioned
here, and that evokes a sense of unity and urgency among the people
of Puerto Rico. Last April 19, during a military exercise on our
island municipality of Vieques, an aircraft shot projectiles which
took the life of one civilian, Mr. David Sanes, whose name has
not been mentioned in this hearing -- and I think his name and
his face, you know -- sometimes these type of tragedies are mentioned
without faces and without names, and I wish to remind us that
that person who died had a name and had a family, had a faith,
and his name was David Sanes. He was filled and four others were
This is but the latest in a series of tragedies that for decades
have threatened the life, safety and quality of living of the
residents of Vieques.
Some media outlets in the United States reported that this
tragedy occurred on the uninhabited island of Vieques. That is
simply not true, as we know, and as you have mentioned in this
hearing. Vieques is indeed populated by around 10,000 souls, and
as U.S. citizens and human beings they have an inalienable right
to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Those rights are
being violated by the U.S. Navy. This must stop at once.
We come to this committee in solidarity with the people of
Vieques, in remembrance of the victims, and as trustees of our
future generations' right to have Vieques back in our hands. We
demand the swift, concrete and unilateral withdrawal of U.S. naval
forces from that embattled island. We hope to persuade you into
action in favor of this just and urgent initiative. And I do recognize,
Mr. Chairman, Senator Craig, that statement that you just made
that you're going to ask for oversight hearings on this matter.
I congratulate you on that, and I certainly commend you for taking
To further understand our position on defense and security
issues, we refer you to a document filed by our executive director
last year which is part already of the legislative record, but
which we are also reintroducing as part of the record of this
Now let's go to the plebiscite and its result. Last year, the
U.S. House of Representatives narrowly approved H.R. 856, a bill
that would have called a plebiscite. This bill had the strong
endorsement of the pro-statehood government and of the Independence
Party, and the equally strong opposition of the Popular Democratic
Party, the pro-Commonwealth party, and other sectors of our political
spectrum. The U.S. Senate, however, did not pass any bill.
In an unapproved chairman's draft, this Energy Committee and
its chairman substituted statehood for an offer of incorporated
territory. That I think is very important. As you well know, incorporated
territory means the extension of Federal taxation without the
corresponding political representation.
Thus, with that clear message sent from this Committee, the
Government of Puerto Rico decided to call a vote on their own
terms. They defined the options as territorial commonwealth, free
association, statehood, independence, and none of the above. The
pro-commonwealth party was upset with both the definitions and
the process and chose the none of the above column. We represented
free association, assuming all the risks of not following our
During the campaign PROELA served as the official and legal
representative of the free association option contained on column
number two of the ballot. We were lawfully certified by Puerto
Rico's State Electoral Commission as such and feel very proud
to have been the first organization in the history of Puerto Rico
recognized as the electoral trustee of free association. Being
a civic organization and not a political party on the island,
we had to comply with special requisites provided by law. We have
done so to the full extent of what was required.
As part of our campaign, we coordinated work with various other
organizations who support free association like Juventud Autonomista,
Accion Democratica Puertorriquena and Impulso Autonomista. We
also had the fortune of counting our ranks with people of the
caliber and reputation, in Puerto Rico and in the United States,
of Miguel Lausell, Antonio Fernos, a renowned constitutional scholar,
Juan Fernandez, who was a former University of Puerto Rico at
Rio Piedras Chancellor, Judge Jose Antonio Casilla, obviously
retired, Dr. Richard Machado, a prominent figure in the health
care sector, medical doctor Enrique Vazuez Quintana, a former
Secretary of Health under GOVERNOR ROSSELLÓ's administration,
and former Puerto Rican legislators from the Popular Democratic
Party Marco Rigau and Juan Lopez-Hernandez.
We ran a civic and educational campaign. But the majority parties
ran a warm-up for the next gubernatorial election between Governor
Pedro Rosselló and San Juan Mayor Sila Calderon. Let me
give you an example of this. The main issue of the campaign was
not the discussion of the benefits and drawbacks of each of the
options. Rather, it was whether or not Governor Rosselló
and Mayor Calderon would meet, head to head, in a televised debate.
For weeks Governor Rosselló and Mayor Calderon danced
around each other, taunting and retreating. It became clear that
there was not going to be a debate, nor a serious discussion of
the issues. Instead, we had the first electoral skirmish between
future political foes.
In the end, Mayor Sila Calderon handily won her preliminary
battle with Governor Rosselló. None of the above garnered
more than 50 percent of the votes. Statehood did not advance even
one percentage point from the 46 percent it got in 1993. As for
us, in the partisan polarization that took place, our support
dwindled to a reduced core.
Succinctly stated, the December vote means five things. Number
one, no single option has a majority. Number two -- and I think
it's the most important -- 53 percent of the electorate clearly,
unequivocally, affirms Puerto Rican nationhood and rejects assimilation.
And let me point out that that's exactly the same proportion produced
by the 1993 plebiscite, so the forces of annexation and assimilation
have not moved one percentage point from the votes that they got
in 1993. And I think that's very important and very relevant.
Number three, the approach contained in 1998's H.R. 856 was
also rejected by a majority of voters.
Number four, the pro-statehood Governor suffered a sound defeat
at the hands of his likeliest contender, the Mayor of San Juan.
And five, locally-sponsored plebiscites are no longer respected
as useful tools for the solution of the status dilemma.
The political initiative from Puerto Rico in terms of status
has been given to the leaders of the pro-commonwealth party. Commonwealth,
free association and independence backers coalesced in a none
of the above column to reject what they perceived as imminent
dangers. Now the leaders of that coalition, if they wish to keep
it together, must find a common ground proposal.
Last October 15, the governing board of the Popular Democratic
Party approved a plan to develop commonwealth toward sovereignty,
a bilateral compact and international powers. Whether they call
it as such or not, that definition is a form of free association.
Therefore, we endorse its inclusion in any process as a form of
As a matter of fact, we're submitting that text for the record,
a text and definition that PROELA wholeheartedly supports and
What's the next step? What should Congress do? For Congress,
the result of the plebiscite means one thing. Puerto Ricans are
not going to make a final determination on status until Congress
and the Executive Branch engage the issue and commit themselves
to responding to the people's will. Under the U.S. Constitutional
system, Congress can only do that by approving a federal statute.
It has yet to do that. We urge you to do it soon.
In order to avoid conflict and confusion with the upcoming
electoral year, we feel that no other process should be convened
in Puerto Rico until after the year 2000. However, that does not
mean we favor inaction until that time. Congress could still enact
a process before the end of this term and set it in motion after
the electoral cycle. Thus, there would be time and space to take
on both the serious responsibility of selecting a government and
the serious responsibility of selecting a status.
On a related matter, let me state that PROELA strongly opposes
any initiative to impose federal income taxes on the Commonwealth.
That is a proposal that is clearly rejected by an overwhelming
majority of Puerto Ricans.
The advocacy of federal taxation on Puerto Rico is but a ploy
of those who, unable to prevail in the ballot box, wish to surreptitiously
impose a specific status change without popular consent. Federal
taxation is nothing but concealed incorporation. And that, constitutionally
speaking, means the promise of eventual statehood. No one has
voted for that in Puerto Rico. Therefore, we will join forces
with all sectors and parties to combat this undemocratic and immoral
strategy. We trust that you will see its transparency.
However, PROELA wholeheartedly welcomes the structuring of
a process in which a dialogue with the political leadership of
Puerto Rico is held and the viable political options can be clarified
and set apart from the unfeasible ones. It is our desire to support
that process, as we have done in the past, and to represent, on
equal footing with all other options and their proponents, the
formula of free association between Puerto Rico and the United
In setting up this process, we urge you to consider the proposal
submitted by the Mayor of Ponce, the Honorable Rafael Cordero-Santiago,
on a February 10 letter to the President of the United States
in which he calls for a panel of constitutional experts of each
option to be convened to discuss matters with representatives
of the administration and of the Congress.
I am enclosing as part of our testimony a copy of that letter,
and we urge you to take a very close look at it. We think that
this might be a sound approach to a very difficult issue, and
we hope that the committee evaluates it thoroughly.
We are now well into the first year of the second century of
Congressional unwillingness of inability to take the Puerto Rican
status issue by the horns and solve it. This committee has engaged
the issue very thoroughly on various instances during the last
ten years. We all know the hot potatoes, the trouble spots, and
the hard choices that need to be made in order to solve the problem.
There is nothing new under the sun, Mr. Chairman. We know what
it is all about. It's just a question of making those choices,
setting them on paper, and putting them with assurances of Congress
that they are going to respond to the vote to the people of Puerto
Puerto Rico in the end is a distinct nation made up of U.S.
citizens. And that might be the contradictory nature of the status
dilemma. Puerto Rico is a nation made up of citizens of a foreign
nation. Territorial options are unacceptable. They were before;
they are today. They should be unacceptable tomorrow.
This reality has clearly produced a limited set of options.
In the end, the real choice is between eventual statehood via
incorporation and assimilation or Puerto Rican nationhood via
free association, which we support, or independence. Offer them,
put them in writing, commit yourself to respond to the plebiscite,
and set the process in motion to have a vote sometime in the year
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and we are ready to answer
any questions that you may have on this issue.
SENATOR CRAIG: Thank you very much for your testimony, and
your letter that you've submitted will become a part of the record.
I understand, Senator, you have to leave to catch an airplane,
so will excuse you, and the record will be left open. We will
submit some questions in writing. I have one question of you,
though. When I look at the 1993 status vote, independence received
about 4.4 percent of the vote.
And I see that that's a decline of about 2.5 percent from the
last vote. Do you have an explanation for that?
MR. BERRIOS MARTÍNEZ: Yes, Senator. There's an immediate
explanation and a more far-reaching explanation for the four percent
and for the two percent.
The immediate explanation is quite simple. The Governor of
Puerto Rico insisted on celebrating this plebiscite just after
a very, very damaging hurricane passed through Puerto Rico. We
all petitioned him to postpone. That fact accelerated the anti-government
impetus in Puerto Rico, and therefore some of the people who usually
vote for independence opted for the catch-all none of the above
in order to strike a blow at the Governor.
The other reason was that some believers in independence opted,
under those circumstances, for abstention. But the independistas
are there in Puerto Rico, and the drop in the plebiscite vote
was due to that factor.
Of course the general factor which accounts for the percentage
of independence voters as compared to others is very simple. A
hundred years of dependency, all free things you can imagine,
not only the ones you mentioned here, are put forth as a benefits
of commonwealth and much more under statehood with two Senators
and seven Representatives, a cornucopia of federal funds for free.
We have to compete under those dependence conditions. And before,
particularly in the middle part and the earlier part of the century,
the horrendous persecution of independence continued all throughout
the seventies and eighties, and we still have political prisoners
in U.S. jails.
So all those factors together are the ones which account. For
us, the vote for independence is the tip of the iceberg. It represents
the salient feature of a nation that refuses to die. And I must
remind the Chairman that one year before independence became --
or at least one year before the Declaration of Independence, George
Washington said, no thinking man in America will opt for independence.
SENATOR CRAIG: George wasn't always right.
MR. BERRIOS MARTÍNEZ: But he was right there, because
one year later the Declaration of Independence came through and
then, after a prolonged struggle you obtained your freedom.
SENATOR CRAIG: Sure. Senator, thank you, and you are excused.
MR. BERRIOS MARTÍNEZ: Thank you for your kindness.
MR. VEGA-RAMOS: Mr. Chairman, if I may, just a minute, you
said you accepted for the record the letter that we submitted.
I just want to point out that we submitted a whole other set of
SENATOR CRAIG: And that will all become a part of the record.
MR. VEGA-RAMOS: I just wanted to make that point.
SENATOR CRAIG: All of your documents and your statements and
position papers will be included in the record.
Now let me turn to Zoraida Fonalledas, the New Progressive
STATEMENT OF ZORAIDA FONALLEDAS,
NEW PROGRESSIVE PARTY
MS. FONALLEDAS: Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee,
my name is Zoraida Fonalledas. I am the Republican National Committeewoman
from Puerto Rico. At the invitation of GOVERNOR ROSSELLÓ,
I appear today on behalf of the New Progressive Party.
I would like your permission to submit additional information
for the record.
SENATOR CRAIG: Without objection.
MS. FONALLEDAS: As noted already, 46.5 percent of the voters
have now told Congress we are ready for statehood. Yet 50.3 percent
of the voters, including many statehood and independence supporters,
chose the none of the above option to address issues in addition
to status. Still, one message is very clear: 99.9 percent of the
governed do not consent to continuation of territorial commonwealth.
Popular Democratic Party leaders found none of the above very
convenient, because they did not have to defend their ideology
that commonwealth is not territorial. But the PDP cannot run away
from its past. In 1993 the commonwealth party wrote its own ballot
option. That commonwealth definition, which received 48 percent
in that plebiscite, borrowed the core elements of statehood: permanent
union and irrevocable U.S. citizenship.
At the same time, the 1993 definition of commonwealth also
borrowed from the core elements of independence -- including a
mythical bilateral nation-to-nation compact Congress supposedly
cannot alter without Puerto Rico's consent.
Congress has not approved the 1993 commonwealth party proposal.
This is because it is an obviously misleading option, based on
a false premise of the benefits of both statehood and independence,
without the full responsibilities of either.
However, the 95 percent combined vote for statehood and commonwealth
in 1993 must be viewed as an overwhelming mandate for permanent
union and irrevocable U.S. citizenship. Our very real differences
with the commonwealth party are over how such a permanent status
can be achieved.
Local party differences aside, when the 1993 vote is considered
alongside 99 percent voter rejection of territorial commonwealth
in 1998, Congress is presented with two very fundamental questions:
Are you willing to offer permanent union and irrevocable U.S.
citizenship to Puerto Rico? If so, how can that be achieved in
accordance with the U.S. Constitution? Historically, permanent
union and guaranteed citizenship meant statehood, as in the case
of Hawaii and Alaska. Separate sovereignty and nationality meant
independence, like the Philippines and Cuba.
But for decades now the commonwealth party has told our people
that Puerto Rico has entered the Union permanently like a state,
while also being a nation with a zone of sovereignty beyond the
reach of Congress. Do you agree that Congress has divested the
territorial clause power to alter federal laws granting limited
autonomy to Puerto Rico? Is there a nation-to-nation confederacy?
We are calling on Congress to end its silence on these questions,
because Puerto Rico cannot send a clear signal to Congress until
Congress sends a clear signal to Puerto Rico.
That is why we urge Congress to approve legislation defining
the full range of permanent status alternatives that are valid
under the U.S. Constitution. That will eliminate all invalid alternatives.
Only then can the American principle of self-determination
be redeemed for Puerto Rico, leading ultimately to equal rights,
political stability, and economic prosperity for Puerto Rico.
This represents a cause so just and so urgent that it soon will
produce bipartisan consensus throughout America.
As the mother of four children, I know that all the children
of Puerto Rico, as Americans, deserve better than to grow up with
uncertainty about the future status or ambiguity about their rights.
Our highest duty as Americans is to pass to the next generation
a better life. Those who say commonwealth is the best we can do,
or the status quo is the most we deserve, are wrong.
Americans have never accepted permanent inequality, and we
are Americans. We are ready to do the hard work of democracy to
achieve full dignity. May God bless us all in completing this
quest for equality and justice in America.
Thank you so much, Mr. Chairman.
SENATOR CRAIG: Thank you very much. I am going to ask one question
that I would wish the three of you to respond to. We will leave
the record open for a period of two weeks, and you will be submitted
some questions in writing that we would ask you to respond back
In attempting to understand the plebiscite -- and that's, of
course, the intent of this hearing -- and to see the breakout
of the vote, one of the things that would help us understand it,
and let me read you this question because on January 24 the San
Juan Star published the result of a poll by Pablo Ramos of Precision
The poll had a margin of error of four percent, and broke out
the "none of the above" vote, and I think that's what
this committee is trying to understand, not only the politics
and the dynamics of the politics and all that went on down there
during the election that might help us more clearly define what
we can do.
But the poll broke it out this way. Of those 50.2 or 3 percent
who voted for none of the above, 57.8 wanted to leave things as
they were, 14.7 percent wanted to defeat statehood, 7.2 wanted
to express displeasure with the Governor, 5.8 wanted the plebiscite
postponed, 4.3 were opposed to the sale of the telephone company,
and 4 percent were motivated by the former Governor, Hernandez-Colon,
in his call to vote that way.
So that was the polling breakout. Do you generally agree that
that's how you sensed the none of the above fell into place?
MR. ACEVEDO-VILÁ: Could you repeat again the first number?
SENATOR CRAIG: The first number was about 57 percent, a little
more than half, of the 50 percent, said leave things as they are.
Then the rest broke out in a variety of other ways.
MR. ACEVEDO-VILÁ: You have to add to those who said
that former Governor Hernandez-Colon motivated them to vote. His
speech was for commonwealth and against statehood. So in a way,
I don't know why it was --
SENATOR CRAIG: Oh, I see. You would technically add that to
the 57, that 4 percent.
MR. ACEVEDO-VILÁ: His speech was basically we have to
vote none of the above to defeat statehood and preserve commonwealth
for the future.
We can try to make different polls, but there are some facts
that are there. For example, in 1993, 48.6 voted for commonwealth.
Where did they go? Obviously they went to none of the above. So
we are the first one to recognize that some people voted on none
of the above for other reasons.
But we have to be clear that those who believe in commonwealth,
the only alternative they had was voting for none of the above,
and that 48.6 percent of 1993 went to become the 50.3 with the
The other thing we know is that every person that made the
decision to vote none of the above knew that the result would
be keep things as they are right now. It doesn't mean that they
may be for the changes, but to say that they voted against commonwealth,
which has been the argument of some people here, really makes
no sense because they knew that by voting for none of the above
next day commonwealth would be there, with no mandate for change.
So even those who believe in independence and might have voted
there to defeat statehood, even those who believe in statehood
and might have voted that just to send a message against the governor,
they knew that by voting on none of the above they were preserving
commonwealth until any new development for the future.
But the vast majority of those who voted for none of the above
are believing in commonwealth, and that's the reason -- and that
was the basic element of our campaign.
SENATOR CRAIG: Thank you very much. Mr. VEGA-RAMOS.
MR. VEGA-RAMOS: Sure. First of all, as I stated I our presentation,
I think that the more the campaign became parties and became a
warm-up for the next general election, the less it was about status.
And that goes, I think, to the heart of the matter. People are
not taking local plebiscites as useful instruments for status,
so they take it to do something else, which may be to vent frustration
at the Governor, strengthen the possible opposing candidate in
that other election.
I think a lot of that happened. Let me give you an example.
There was a poll early in the campaign that measured the support
of free association between 15 and 18 percent of the votes, and
I think it was made by Pablo VEGA-RAMOS as well, and that was
before the whole partisan campaign started. And as it became clear
that this may be a two-way race to whether to give Governor Rosselló
a pat on the back or not, then people started coalescing on the
option that they thought could put a dagger on GOVERNOR ROSSELLÓ's
chances in the year 2000.
And that I think is one of the main reasons that none of the
above became the big container in which different forces for different
reasons wanted to vote against Rosselló and against assimilation.
Puerto Rico is divided, I think, and you can say that safely from
the last two plebiscites, in two big chunks -- the chunk that
favors statehood, which is around 46.5 percent, if you take the
last results of the last two plebiscites, and the chunk that believes
that Puerto Rico should not go in the way of integration but rather
should have a relationship with the United States that affirms,
recognizes and promotes Puerto Rican national identity as a distinct
And the problem that we have to face now, and I think that's
sort of the problem that the result gives us, is that we know
that over 54 percent of the people of Puerto Rico want to take
the route of national identity and more power on the hands of
Puerto Rico, and we just don't know how that's going to break.
The interesting thing about the poll, and I have just been
handed the result, is that 37.3 percent of the people who voted
for none of the above, according to the poll, supported another
definition of commonwealth. That definition of commonwealth may
very well be this one, the definition that was approved by the
governing board of the Popular Democratic Party, my party, a definition
that I support, a definition that PROELA institutionally endorses,
and which we believe, because we've done the analysis that our
experts can, and we put some time into it, that it's basically
a form of free association.
You may want to call it like that or not for political expediency
reasons, but in the end if you take that and you take that 37
percent and you take our percentage and independence percentage,
and I think fairly the whole of it we're talking about people
who want a relationship with the U.S. but don't want to assimilate
to the U.S., and you have to work on that majority who has clearly
taken sides on the last two plebiscites.
Another important aspect of that poll, I think, which I mentioned,
is that over ten percent did not think that U.S. Congress would
take the result seriously. I think that percentage is even higher.
SENATOR CRAIG: I've got three minutes left to get to a vote,
and I certainly want the lady to have the last word. How's that?
MS. FONALLEDAS: Mr. Chairman, I think that really the thing
here is that 99 percent of the voters in Puerto Rico reject the
current commonwealth status. They only got one percent of the
And let me explain this none of the above, what it really mean,
it doesn't mean anything. You know, it's a blank space. How can
you vote for a blank space? But I can imagine what those might
mean, but there's nothing in writing there.
So let me tell you, many probably vote in this blank space
because they were against the privatization of the telephone company
or maybe because of the hurricanes, or maybe because it was a
season close to Christmas, many probably because they were against
the Governor. But that's an imagination, because really we cannot
see what is there.
So I think the thing to do here, and that is what I came here
and I urge Congress, is that we need a congressionally-sponsored
plebiscite. It's necessary. The people of Puerto Rico want the
process of self-determination, and I think it's an obligation
of the Congress to define the status options very clearly and
very concise, so we can proceed to a mechanism and then have our
plebiscite with Congressional definition.
And I think that what's done in the House of Representatives
by passing the Young bill, there were clear definitions which
were Constitutionally permissible under the law. So I think that
I am in here as a mother and as a lawyer and as a woman. I'm representing
the people of Puerto Rico. I really ask Congress to please do
something and pass this congressionally-sponsored plebiscite.
And I thank you very much for taking the time and receiving
us and making this hearing possible. Thank you so much.
SENATOR CRAIG: I'm not going to take any more comment. I really
can't. I've got the cloakroom holding the vote open so I can get
over there and vote.
Let me thank the three of you very much, and the Senator, who
has already left, for your comments. As you know, this is an issue
that I and others, including all of you, don't plan to let go
away. There is a responsibility here, and Congress must assume
their constitutional responsibility, and we've tried and will
continue to try to clarify those definitions so that, while we
will all differ some and certainly expressions as to a plebiscite
will be there, I would hope that at least Congress could have
a clearer definition and present that to the people of Puerto
Rico so that expression can come forward.
That's my goal, and I think it's a goal that generally all
of you accept.
Let me recognize in the room, before I close, that there are
twenty eighth graders from Hopwood Junior High School of the Commonwealth
of the Northern Mariana Islands who are with us today. We are
pleased to have them in the room. They're members of the Junior
National Honor Society visiting our nation's capital. There they
SENATOR CRAIG: And, quite remarkably and congratulations to
all of them, they did their own fundraising to make the trip possible.
I'd also like to welcome the students and their teachers, Mr.
Sabino and Mr. McAlister, to Washington and to the Senate Energy
and Natural Resources Committee. Thanks for attending.
Ladies and gentlemen and Americans all, thank you for being
here today. I'm sure that this is an issue that we will continue
to work with and a thank you for attending.
The Committee is adjourned.
(Whereupon, the Committee was adjourned.)