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PUERTO RICO HERALD
California Legislators Present Self-Determination
Resolution to Puerto Rico Senate
October 9, 1999
Copyright © 1999 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.
SAN JUAN - Two California legislators left San Juan today after
a five-day visit to Puerto Rico. While on the island, California
Senator Majority Leader Richard Polanco and his Senate colleague,
Martha Escutia, presented a resolution to the Puerto Rico Senate,
recently passed by the 20 member Latino Caucus of the California
Senate. The resolution advocates U.S. Congressional action for
a bill permitting the American citizens of this Caribbean island
to vote on a permanent political status. In part, it states, "
As we approach a new millennium, we recognize that the time has
come for Puerto Rico to have the opportunity to express itself
regarding its desire to attain full self-government."
In an address to the Puerto Rico Senate, coinciding with Hispanic
Heritage Month, Senator Polanco told the assembly that "this
resolution should be read as an act of solidarity between the
Hispanic Community of California and the people of Puerto Rico."
Quoting from the Resolution he said that "California's great
history, including its ascension to statehood, is intertwined
with our Hispanic heritage, " and that " the State of
California has a significant Puerto Rican community and an ever-increasing
Hispanic population," and that "we (Californians) recognize
the many social, economic, and political contributions the 3.8
million United States citizens residing in Puerto Rico make to
preserve and enhance this nation's democratic values."
Polanco later told reporters that the resolution was the Latino
Caucus' response to the U.S. Congress' failure to provide a mechanism
for the Puerto Rican people to choose a permanent political status.
Since the U.S. gained possession of Puerto Rico at the end of
the Spanish American War, the island has remained an Unincorporated
Territory of the United States, subject to the will of the U.S.
Congress. On March 4, 1998, the US House of Representative passed
HR 856, providing language for three status options, Independence,
US Statehood and the status quo Commonwealth arrangement. The
US Senate, however, failed to take up the measure. A subsequent
locally-sponsored referendum held on the island in December of
1998 showed statehood leading all status options by a wide margin,
but none of the five ballot options received a majority of votes.
During their stay on the island, the Senators met with Puerto
Rican government and private sector leaders. Governor Pedro Rossello
welcomed the delegation and the discussion turned to Puerto Rico's
public health care system, which Senator Escutia termed, "in
many ways superior to that of California." In a meeting with
Norman Maldonado, President of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR)
and other educational officials, the Californians discussed the
possibility of academic exchanges between students and faculty
of UPR and institutions of higher learning in the "Golden
State." At the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Company
(PRIDCO) the Senators discussed business and trade opportunities
between Puerto Rico and the nation's most populous state.
Before leaving San Juan, Senator Richard Polanco gave the Puerto
Rico Herald an exclusive interview. An edited text of the interview
HERALD: Senator Polanco, please
give us an overview of trip to Puerto Rico.
SEN. POLANCO: Well, we had the privilege of meeting
with the governor, we talked about his program on healthcare.
A lot more progressive than California, so a credit to this governor,
in that here they're getting close to everyone having health coverage.
We also presented the governor with a resolution from the Latino
Caucus supporting the issue of self-determination. This is a very,
very important issue to Puerto Ricans, but it's also important
to those who are not Puerto Ricans, who view this as a self-determination
question, who view it as a civil rights issue. Also, we had the
opportunity also to meet with the president of the University
of Puerto Rico, Doctor Maldonado, a medical doctor. One of the
reasons we're here is to see how we can begin to improve the relationships;
in education, with cultural exchanges, and then to see how we
can enhance business opportunities and economic development between
California and Puerto Rico.
HERALD: You also met with
your counterparts in the Puerto Rican Senate, did you not?
SEN. POLANCO: My good friend, Senator Charlie Rodriguez,
President of the Puerto Rican Senate, was kind enough to introduce
me and I made a presentation to the assembled Senators restating
the importance of self-determination. I mean, 200,000 Puerto Ricans
have fought for this great country of ours, and yet they are not
able to vote for the most important office on earth, the presidency
of the United States. That's wrong. It's not acceptable. In modern
times, we will see, in the next several years I think a swelling
of support from civil rights groups, from elected officials, from
the professional associations, from veterans' groups who fought
side by side with Puerto Ricans, to keep this country what it
is, and make it a full democracy. And until the issue of self-determination
in Puerto Rico is resolved, by the will of the people, true democracy
in the purest form is not fully available to the Puerto Ricans
HERALD: In your remarks before
the Senate, you placed a great deal of emphasis on the Hispanic
community. Could you give us an overview of the Hispanic community
SEN. POLANCO: What is taking place in California, and throughout
the Southwest is a phenomenon. People who historically did not
participate in the political process are now engaged. Since 1994
in California, 1.2 million Latinos were registered voters. In
a four-year period of time, it grew to 2.2. The attacks on the
immigrant population by politicians for political reasons, galvanized
like never before, this community. There are 5.2 million legal
permanent residents who are eligible to become naturalized citizens
of this great country of ours. And we have exercised and implemented
strategies and programs to fully integrate this population. Fully
integrate them so that they can ultimately participate in true
democracy by voting. That has propelled itself to a real shift
in the political structure of California. Today, for the first
time in this century, we now have a lieutenant governor, Cruz
Bustamante, who is of Mexican ancestry, who was our first Speaker.
We followed with Antonio Villa Aregoz as our second Speaker. I
serve as the Majority Leader, the second Mexican American to hold
that position. And we see the importance of participating in the
political process, because it is from there, from which the social
and the public policy debate are carried out.
HERALD: How has this newly
found political power translated into a political agenda?
SEN. POLANCO: It is not a radical agenda. It's an agenda
that is about America; it's an American agenda, as we say, in
the true sense, and that's we want decent jobs, we want safer
neighborhoods, we want good schools, we want the opportunity to
compete like anyone else, in higher education, and we really are
there advocating that of what is the best. That of what makes
American the great country that it is.
HERALD: How do Puerto Ricans
fit within the Hispanic political dynamic?
SEN. POLANCO: From my vantage point, and from our caucus
position in support of self-determination, there would be a tremendous
presence, a tremendous change of representation in the halls of
Congress if Puerto Rico was to become a state. We would see, in
this era, two Hispanic U.S. Senators. We would then see the expansion
of a congressional delegation of Hispanics by as many as five
or six. That potends a tremendous opportunity to address those
special issues that affect the Puerto Rican community. Much like
what was done in California. This is an era where we should not
allow, be it in California or Puerto Rico, the disenfranchisement
of any population. And so, I would hope that the people of Puerto
Rico really take seriously the tremendous advantage of being full
partners in a democracy that can work for them, by them, for them,
by giving themselves the opportunity to create that mechanism.
HERALD: Senator Polanco,
if a majority of the US citizens of Puerto Rico decide to petition
the US government for statehood, do you think that that petition
would be respected by the US Congress and accepted by the American
SEN. POLANCO: Let me answer the question this way. The
decision for statehood always will stay with the people of Puerto
Rico. The decision and the question of process go beyond the Puerto
Rican community. It is a process that is supposed to be fair and
open. It is a process that is important because it is in that
process that you begin to address the issues that matter to the
Puerto Ricans.. How is it that the Puerto Ricans who are U.S.
citizens, who have fought for this country, who have given so
much to the betterment of this country, are not allowed to have
a process? How un-American is that? That is wrong, for Congress
not to move forward. Congress has a duty to bring forth a process
by which those issues can be aired out and remedied. For it to
do otherwise is a slap in the face, not just to the Puerto Rican
community, but a slap in the face to the millions of Hispanics
who understand that democracy cannot work in its true form if
HERALD: Senator Richard
Palanco, we appreciate your being with us and sharing your thoughts
about Puerto Rico and the Hispanic community, and the solidarity
that you would like to establish between Puerto Ricans and Californians.
Thank you very much.
SEN. POLANCO: Thank you for having me. I've enjoyed
it very much.