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 You are in: Bureaus/Offices Reporting Directly to the Secretary > Policy Planning Staff > Secretary's Open Forum > Proceedings > 2001 - 2002

Self-Determination, Civil Rights and the Future of Puerto Rico

Dr. Pedro Rossello, Former Governor of Puerto Rico
Remarks to the Open Forum
Washington, DC
October 23, 2001

Biographical information on Dr. Rossello

Photo of Dr. Pedro RosselloThe State Department is charged with responsibility for foreign affairs. Why then some would ask, are we having here a dialogue on Puerto Rican-U.S. affairs, which to most would seem like a domestic issue?

In short, one may argue that it is because of the ambiguity of Puerto Ricoís political status that has caused mixed signals from the federal government and from Puerto Rico. This ambiguity has been validated even by our Supreme Court, which in one of its most infamous decisions established that Puerto Rico was "foreign in a domestic sense."

So it may be appropriate that here, in the U.S. State Department, we discuss the results of this ambiguous, and even oxymoronic policy towards Puerto Rico, which because of its "foreign" component may well be a valid matter of discussion in the seat of U.S. foreign relations. Why is Puerto Rico foreign? Certainly not because it is outside U.S. sovereignty -- it is not! Not because it is inhabited by foreigners or aliens -- it is not. On the contrary, its residents are U.S. citizens by birth, natural born citizens. Is it because there is a different culture? Not so, as the economic and political culture is strictly American, and the social culture shares its history, heritage and values with the many Hispanic communities in the U.S. that enjoy the full rights of citizens and the full protections of the Constitution.

So why is Puerto Rico "foreign in a domestic sense" and what are the consequences of such a situation?  Let us start with a bit of history.

The sinking of the "Maine" in Havana Harbor became the immediate cause of what then-Secretary of State John Hay characterized as "The Splendid Little War". This war, lasting less than a year, set the course that changed the fundamental nature of the young American nation, the United States of America as it entered the 20th Century. What had been conceived, and had existed for over a century, as a republic, became a colonial empire, modeled after the same European concept that triggered the rebellion of the original 13 colonies against British colonialism. This chapter of American history began when Congress formally declared war on Spain on April 25, 1898.

Although the acquisition of Puerto Rico was not an original objective in the Spanish-American War, after a brief and successful campaign in Cuba, the U.S. forces led by General Nelson Myles invaded Puerto Rico on July 25,1898. Events followed swiftly. The disembarking military troops quickly established control over the island, with almost total absence of resistance. An armistice was announced on the 12th of August. Before the year was over, barely 8 months after the Declaration of War, the Treaty of Paris was signed on December 15, 1898. Four centuries of Spanish sovereignty and colonialism in Puerto Rico ended; and a new century under U.S. sovereignty and colonialism was born. Puerto Rico, together with Guam and the Philippines, was ceded to the United States.

The Treaty language left entirely up to Congress the fate of the inhabitants of the newly acquired territories. In its pertinent section it states: "the civil rights and the political status of the native inhabitants of the territories ceded to the U.S. shall be determined by Congress".

What followed the war was the establishment of a new doctrine that permitted, for the first time in the history of the nation, the management of the new territories as permanent colonies. And in the course of these events, changed the very essence, the very soul of the United States.

These events occurred in the context of a national and international scenario at the beginning of a new century that promised to establish the United States as a world power. This resulted in a very spirited debate as to the new role of the nation in world affairs and the presidential campaign of 1900 provided a very public forum for this debate. To quote Judge Juan Torruella: "The presidential campaign that followed between President McKinley and his perennial foe, William Jennings Bryan, became a plebiscite for the controversy regarding territorial expansion, this question being the predominant issue of that contest. McKinley with no other than Theodore Roosevelt as his running mate, thoroughly trounced Bryan. This was considered carte blanche to proceed as to Puerto Rico and the Philippines, and provided the immediate setting against which the Supreme Court decided the Insular Cases".

The so-called Insular Cases became the foundation of a new doctrine of colonial expansion. The Insular Cases, as commonly referred to collectively, are a series of Supreme Court cases decided from 1901 to 1922, that in conjunction, established and refined the doctrine of incorporated versus unincorporated territories. When referring to this set of court decisions, it is generally acknowledged that the pacesetter case is Downes v. Bidwell (1901) and that the final significant decision came with Balzac v. Puerto Rico (1922). It was through the application of the decisions on these cases, that in the words of the current Chief Judge of the 1st Circuit of Appeals, "the Supreme Court placed its imprimatur on a colonial relationship in which Congress could exercise virtually unchecked power over the unincorporated territories ad infinitum".

The result of the 1900 presidential elections had settled the political question of imperial expansion, but the validation of derivative issues remained.

The issue was whether the full scope of the Constitution applied to the newly acquired territories or not. The metaphor which surfaced to capture the constitutional question was whether "The Constitution followed the flag" -- whether or not, as described by Judge Cabranes, "Certain peoples could be permanently excluded from the American political community and deprived of equal rights". Through the Insular Cases, Judge Cabranes continues "the court effectively answered in the affirmative the question whether it was constitutionally permissible for the United States to possess colonies indefinitely."

A change of major proportions took place through these Court decisions-not only for the territories concerned, but for the essence of the nation. Some consider that a fundamental change in the Constitution, without an outright amendment, was effected. From a constitutionalistís point of view, Professor Sanford Levinson argues that: "the Constitution had in effect been amended as the result of the events of 1898 and the ratifying election that took place two years later."

What so dramatically changed the nature and the self-image of the nation was the novel doctrine of incorporation of territories. In essence, although no mention of this is found in the Constitution, the Court ruled that there were two types of territories: those incorporated, where after a territorial transition, statehood would be granted and the full force of the Constitution was to be in effect; and those non-incorporated, where the privileges and immunities guaranteed by the Constitution need not be extended to their citizens, and where the fate of the territory was to be ruled under the plenary powers of Congress.

Judge Torruella characterized these decisions as the "Doctrine of Separate and Unequal". An interesting historical tidbit is that the same Supreme Court that established the Insular Cases Doctrine, The Fuller Court, has the distinction of creating the infamous "separate and equal" doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson, that gave validation to the practice of racial segregation. It took the Supreme Court 58 years to reverse that discriminatory doctrine with its Brown v. Board of Education decision. However, it is now over one century, and counting, that the equally abhorrent doctrine of "separate and unequal" persists. I believe the time is ripe for a similar reversal of this egregious dictum by the federal courts.

What are the consequences of this sad state of affairs? Let us focus on one of the most fundamental rights of a citizen in a democratic society, and in particular in American democracy- the right to vote.

The history of the citizen right to vote in the nation has been a history of progressive enfranchisement. Chief Justice Earl Warren in 1964 put it in perspective: " . . . history has seen a continuing expansion of the scope of the right of suffrage in this country. The right to vote freely for the candidate of oneís choice is the essence of a democratic society, and any restrictions on that right strike at the heart of representative government."

But today that history is incomplete. Today we still face an unfinished business of American democracy.

The colonial period was characterized by a markedly limited (from our current perspective) voting franchise extended only to white protestant male property owners. This situation left many totally disenfranchised in the early years of the nation: Women, African-Americans, men without property, those under 21 years old, and non-Protestants. Even the white American male was not totally enfranchised. From this nascent vision of the new democratic experiment that gave birth to the new American republic, a course of progressive inclusion of additional citizen groups has been relentlessly followed. This course has been illustrated by changes in the demographic and immigration patterns, in the social circumstances, and indeed, in the added pressure provided by every expansion of suffrage to citizens.

Donald Rogers describes the very early expectations of this unfolding process in the new democratic republic: "Tocqueville regarded United Statesí expansion of voting rights as a reflection of Americanís unique democratic spirit. Because of this spirit, he concluded, Americans had embarked on an unswerving path toward the condition of universal suffrage, in which nearly all adult Americans -- black and white, male or female, rich or poor -- would have the right to vote."

This predictive vision of a relentless march towards full universal suffrage indeed describes the historical business of democracy in the United States. The goal is ever nearer, but as we shall see, there still remains unfinished business.

The waves of immigrants during the 1830ís to the 1850ís brought about pressure that resulted in the expansion of the voting franchise to more white males.

The Civil War brought an end to the large immigration wave of the mid-nineteenth century, but opened the door to further recognition of citizen voting rights. At the conclusion of the war, the nation ended slavery by adopting the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865. Subsequently, voting rights specifically took a quantum leap as the Fifteenth Amendment clearly prohibited restrictions on voting based on "race, color or previous condition of servitude." In legal terms, this constituted a major expansion of the recognized voting franchise; in pragmatic terms it opened the doors of democratic participation to thousands of previously disenfranchised blacks, through the period of the reconstruction. However, this enhanced participation by black citizens was rapidly curtailed in the post reconstruction era, by state laws and regulations.

In 1896, the Supreme Court justified and validated this retrenchment of the achievements of post Civil War Reconstruction when, in Plessy v. Ferguson, it found that state mandated racial segregation was compatible with the Constitutional Doctrine of equality before the law. Thus was born, and lived for decades the abhorrent doctrine of "separate and equal". Of note is the fact that this same Court, the Fuller Court, applying similar racist undertones, went on to establish the doctrine of "separate and unequal" that to this date applies to the U.S. territories acquired after the Spanish-American War of 1898. The same concept that allowed for legal discrimination of African-Americans was utilized to allow the legal disenfranchisement of citizens of the American territories.

The next Constitutional amplification of the voting franchise had to wait until 1920. But then another quantum leap was accomplished by opening the door of democratic participation to fully half of the potential (or rightful) electorate. This achievement became the expanded platform for women to seek full recognition of their civil rights. The enfranchisement of women permitted, indeed stimulated, the claim to all citizen rights for equality under the law. Another pertinent parallel was thus established in history to the current situation of disenfranchised U.S. citizens, who today demand their voting rights as a preamble to their entitlement to all other rights recognized and protected by the Constitution.

Other Amendments followed, expanding and securing the voting franchise. The 23rd Amendment granted the Presidential vote to citizens of the District of Columbia in 1961 (in a "non-state" territory). The 24th Amendment in 1964 established that the rights of citizens of the United States to vote ... shall not be denied or abridged ... by reason of failure to pay poll tax or other tax (significant in the uncoupling of voting rights and payment of taxes). The 26th Amendment of 1971 that stated that the right of citizens of the United States who are 18 years or older to vote cannot be denied or abridged on account of age.

Along with these Constitutional amendments, Congress legislated to expand and protect the civil and voting rights of U.S. citizens: the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and 1964; the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and its extensions in 1970, and 1975 which banned the use of literacy tests for voting access. Of particular interest is the outlawing of voting discrimination based on membership in a language minority group.

A relatively recent expansion of the electoral franchise occurred with the enactment of the Uniformed and Overseas Citizen Absentee Voting Act. This Act recognizes the voting rights (through federal absentee ballots) "to persons who reside outside the United States, but that for such a residence would be qualified to vote in the place in which the person was domiciled before leaving the United States". It explicitly removes residence as a factor to deny the right to vote of a citizen, as had been previously established for elements of race, color, prior servitude, gender, payment of taxes, or age. However, in its exclusion of residence as a cause for limiting voting rights of U.S. citizens, the Act leaves a gaping hole, which affects U.S. citizens in the territories and Puerto Rico. By defining "United States" to mean "the several states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands and American Samoa" the disposition that recognizes the right of those "outside the United States", to vote, do not apply to Puerto Rico or the territories, since they are "in the United States." Thus, there still remains a geographically defined ghetto, wherein national voting rights disappear. In all the expanse of the globe, Puerto Rico and the territories remain as the only jurisdictions, a political black hole, where the voting rights of U.S. citizens immediately disappear. United States citizens can vote in national elections no matter where they choose to reside, inside or outside the U.S., except in Puerto Rico and the territories.

And so we arrive at the end of a long story of definition and progressive expansion of suffrage in the U.S. The relentless march towards the goal of universal adult suffrage has almost been reached, in legal terms. In practical terms, still some obstacles remain as demonstrated by the recent 2000 presidential election, but these are being addressed currently. However, a most obvious deficit of democracy remains. Nearly 4 million United States citizens, residents of Puerto Rico, remain disenfranchised, lawfully and practically -- both "de jure" and "de facto". Today Puerto Ricans remain as disenfranchised stepchildren within the great American family. In the progress towards a more perfect union, the achievement of universal suffrage remains a goal unfulfilled.

The same conditions that prevented, at some times in the past for non-Protestants, non-landowners, slaves, blacks, women or overseas citizens to exercise their full voting rights, still persist, after more than a century for the residents of Puerto Rico and the territories.

Two cases have been recently filed to try to secure this most fundamental right for Puerto Ricoís residents. Both are based on the premise that voting rights are inherent in citizenship within a democracy, and further that this fundamental right should supercede any voting procedural consideration. Although the Courts have not yet moved to redress a century of discrimination, these cases have served to advance the awareness of the untenable situation of unrecognized rights of U.S. citizens.

Particularly pertinent is the concurrent opinion in one of those cases, of first Circuit Chief Judge Juan Torruella, a Puerto Rican, who reviews the relevant history of disenfranchisement in Puerto Rico concludes: "Although this is not the case, nor perhaps the time, for a federal court to take remedial action to correct what is a patently intolerable situation, it is time to serve notice upon the political branches of government that it is incumbent upon them, in the first instance, to take appropriate steps to correct what amounts to an outrageous disregard for the rights of a substantial segment of its citizenry. A failure to do so countenances corrective judicial action. It may be that the federal courts will be required to take extraordinary measures as necessary to protect discrete groups "completely under the sovereignty and dominion of the United States".

Maybe then, the question to the federal courts is when is the time, and which is the case, "to take remedial action to correct what is a patently intolerable situation?" It took the Supreme Court 58 years to reverse the egregiously outrageous "equal and separate" doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). It is now over a century since the equally outrageous doctrine of "unequal and separate" of the Insular Cases was established by the same Fuller Court. When is the time? Which is the case? What will be the threshold required for the federal courts "to take extraordinary measures as necessary to protect discrete groups completely under the sovereignty and dominion of the United States? When will, in the words of Judge Torruella, "the conspicuous inattention of the judiciary end?"

But we must ask, why are we hopeful that this longstanding problem can be brought to the forefront and solved with finality? For one, there is a very strong general consensus that the current status must change-although admittedly the direction of change is passionately and violently debated by different observers and engaged groups. What is clear however is that all agree on the need for change. At the same time consensus also exists around the Wilsonian element of self-determination: "For the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own government,". Judge Cabranes summarizes the situation thus: "In short it is fair to say that all of Puerto Ricoís political movements seek to chart a path towards a post colonial future, whatever form it may take. The central political problem of Puerto Rico remains as ever, de-colonization and how it is to be fully achieved".

Dissatisfaction with the status quo is a powerful element in the eventual resolution of this status conundrum. The fact that the leadership of the Popular Party (Commonwealth), which has represented a position in favor of the status quo over the past half century, now agrees as to the colonial nature of the current relationship, allows for consensus on the urgent need for change. No less an exponent of the Commonwealth status, and one of its founders, former Puerto Rico Chief Justice Jose Trias Monge, now points to the inherent "injustice according to law". He states, "There is no equality or comparability of rights between American citizens residing in Puerto Rico and American citizens residing in the United States".

One conclusion emerges clearly: there is ample consensus for action. As Judge Torruella contends: "on the Puerto Rican side there is almost unanimous agreement on one fact: the present status is unacceptable."

As divisive an issue as the manner and content of de-colonization is, it is fair to say that at least there is another common basis for agreement in the need for change from the status quo. The common element in all diverging visions is for an explicit recognition of the principle of the "consent of the governed," the full participation of the citizen in government. This indeed is the basic foundation of democracy.

Former Governor of Puerto Rico, Rafael Hernandez Colon, a firm advocate of the Commonwealth option, has sensed that, "all factions do agree to end the present undemocratic arrangement, whereby Puerto Rico is subject to the laws of Congress but cannot vote in it".

It is accepted, then, that to unravel the Gordian knot of colonialism in Puerto Rico, both the people of Puerto Rico and the United States Government must engage in defining the valid and effective road to de-colonization. The consequences of continued inaction to both Puerto Rico and the United States would be destructive.

A major responsibility for untangling this century old imbroglio lies unequivocally with the federal government. All three branches of the United States Government must weigh in to eliminate this embarrassing stain on American democracy. But to date that responsibility has not been exercised by any one of the national government branches. Describing the laisse-faire attitude of the federal government, Roberto Aponte Toro writes: "Laid back in their seats, the United States and Congress will constantly reply that they only want to help, but do not know how; that it is the Puerto Ricansí own fault; that they just do not get their act together." In fact, a majority of Puerto Ricans have come together many times, but to no avail. Waiting for clear signs from the political branches, the third branch, the Supreme Court, which originally through the Insular Cases offered leqitimating consent to the empire, now carefully avoids the issue".

Unless the federal government finally resolves to implement a process for decolonization and self-determination, the ambivalence, the immobility, the frustrations, and the dysfunction of the present will continue. Unfortunately, the United States Government has never done this. But it must. Despite very clear calls from all sectors of the Puerto Rican society and from the political parties and leaders for a major change in the status quo, the United States Federal Government has so far been unwilling or unable to move the process forward in a definitive manner.

Constitutional researcher Christina Burnett weighs in on this discussion: "The status problem may look like Puerto Ricoís problem; mostly it is. The destructive effects of colonialism have played out in Puerto Rico almost entirely unnoticed by the vast majority of Americans. But Puerto Ricoís status is not Puerto Ricoís problem alone. Congressional implementation of a process of self-determination offering viable status alternatives is the only way forward."

It is clear that a nation that portends to be the beacon of democracy for the world in the 21st century must act affirmatively to confirm its commitment to its fundamental democratic values and sense of justice.

One must understand first which options would offer a solution for change and which would not. It has to be clear that the current status quo, even with superficial modifications, is no answer to final resolution.

As summarized by Trias, "The first step in taking a hard new look at Puerto Rico should therefore be to understand what is wrong with Puerto Ricoís present situation -- why it has indisputably earned the title of the 'oldest colony in the world'."

What options then are valid and de-colonizing? It is conceivable, though improbable, that one route could be the enactment of a Constitutional amendment that would create a new status within the U.S. federation that is neither a territory (under territorial clause and the plenary powers of Congress), or a state (with all the rights and responsibilities on an equal footing, and the individual immunities and protection of the Constitution for its citizens). As currently contained in the United States Constitution, those two are the only recognized political status jurisdictions under United States sovereignty.

However, the real options that would provide finality to this century old dilemma are the definitive definition of Puerto Ricoís status under a separate sovereignty, or under U.S. sovereignty with full citizenship rights, that is, statehood. I agree with a House of Representatives report that states that, "full self-government for Puerto Rico is attainable only through establishment of political status which is based on either separate Puerto Rican sovereignty and nationality, or full and equal United States nationality and citizenship through membership in the union and under which Puerto Rico is no longer an unincorporated territory subject to the plenary authority of Congress arising from the Territorial Clause."

Suffice it to say here that the political branches of the federal government, the executive and legislative, should and must act to recognize fundamental citizen rights by instituting a process of de-colonization toward either of these options. It is redundant, but necessary to add that in choosing the remedy to finally resolve the civil rights and political status conundrum, the rights to self-determination of the people of Puerto Rico have to be central to the process.

We remain hopeful that the federal government will recognize and exert its responsibilities; similarly, that Puerto Rico recognize and exerts its own. It is incumbent on the federal government to validate the option under the U.S. sovereignty, namely statehood, as well as its willingness to enter into any agreements with a new nation with a separate sovereignty. It is then imperative that the informed citizenry of Puerto Rico make a decision as to its final political status. The only status that will not resolve the quandary is the status quo; indeed, the status quo is the problem.

Question and Answer Segment:

Alan Lang: Can you tell us more about on-going public education efforts related to self-determination in Puerto Rico and throughout the United States?

Dr. Rossello: Well, there is an on-going process in Puerto Rico that has been changed with some ups and downs. But I think the most significant part, the most significant new element is the one that President Clinton submitted to Congress. Congress approved funding for a process of education concerning the different alternatives, valid alternatives that Puerto Rico would have in a process of self-determination. This funding has already been signed. It has not been utilized. Let me make a plea for those already-appropriated funds to be used at this time so that real valid education concerning options for decolonization can be presented in a very forthright manner to Puerto Rico.

Question: Governor Rossello, Iím from Arecibo, Puerto Rico and Iím with the State Department. One of the many benefits that we enjoy as U.S. citizens is the freedom to pick up and reside wherever we want in the United States. In addressing the status question, would the vote be limited to those Puerto Ricans who reside on the island or would Puerto Ricans who may be residents of other states also be able to vote in that referendum?

Dr. Rossello: Well, acknowledging that there are different views about this, I will just speak to my own personal view. My own personal view is that the vote should be a right of those that reside in the jurisdiction. Obviously including those that by Puerto Rico law could submit absentee ballots which is something that is available now. But essentially if we extend that concept of maybe allowing votes by people that do not reside in Puerto Rico, then I think we would be going against the established practice that really the citizen should vote for issues that they will in essence have a benefit of or have the negative consequences of. So I think that not speaking to the issue of how you would define who is a Puerto Rican that can vote that does not reside in Puerto Rico which I think is another very difficult question to answer. Because you can say, well is the definition going to be one who is born in Puerto Rico, or is it going to be one who has parents born in Puerto Rico, or is it going to be one that can trace his heritage to three generations ago, or is it the baby that was born in Puerto Rico because his mother was a tourist at some point and happened to give birth in Puerto Rico? Thatís another issue that is very difficult to answer. I think the clearest way to address this issue is to say that those that are given the right to vote in Puerto Rico would be the ones that would be voting in any decisive referendum on this question.

Question: Iím from the General Accounting Office. My question is concerning the future of the pro-statehood movement in Puerto Rico. Do you think the development of the pro-statehood movement in Puerto Rico independent of the PNP (Statehood) party is critical? Iím very intrigued about the fact that some people, like me, support statehood but perhaps feel uncomfortable supporting the PNP party?

Dr. Rossello: Well, I would urge you to support statehood. Let me say that itís true that the political parties in Puerto Rico are defined on the basis of their vision as to the political status. Even though that is true there is obviously a group of persons or citizens who do not sympathize with any one of the parties but do have a commitment or feeling towards one of the different political status options. So I think that the movement towards statehood is bigger than the political party that represents statehood. The truth of the matter is, to effect the change you need an instrument and a political set-up. A party that is committed to effecting that change would in pragmatic terms needs to be supported. One can say that one is for statehood or one is for independence in letís say in it ideological form, but is slow to support the specific party. I think thatís fine except that you have to realize that the less you get a political party movement behind the goals, probably the goal would never be achieved.

Question: Iím a private citizen. Over the years there have been a number of congressional commissions and committees that Iíve tried to at least try to understand the Puerto Rico dilemma. Every time including the last one, the Congressman Don Young commission, they failed to capture the boiling of status politics in Puerto Rico. Thatís where more acid couldnít escape. How would you convince Congress since they are the ones that hold preliminary powers on Puerto Rico to revisit the issue and this time finally reach a decision as to what we are going to do?

Dr. Rossello: I think itís a very complicated endeavor and I think that itís not just at one level or at one of the different points of the spectrum of the political and government structure. True, Congress is central to whatever effort has to be made, but let me suggest to you that maybe thereís other ways where you can indirectly, in addition to, directly appealing to Congress. Have some influence so that Congress will act and I mentioned one of them, which is through the courts.

I think itís clear in our history that at times the federal government, the political branches of the federal government have been unwilling to act on certain issues. It has taken court decisions to in essence stimulate or force the federal government to act. I think in addition to the efforts that have to continue with the presidency, with the federal agencies on the executive branch, with Congress, we also have to look at opening up an avenue in the judiciary. I make this parallel with the Plessy vs. Ferguson case which to me is enlightening because of the similarity of the concepts of time that it was adopted by Supreme Court of the same justices that made those decisions. It seems to me that we should also look at the judiciary as a place where we can recur to a knot, an occurring knot. If the political branches have been unwilling for many years and many decades to do something. Let us think about the possibility of taking what Judge Hoya says, the case and the time. What is the case? We have to look at that. The Brown vs. Board of Education case did not just come up. It was really a very studied approach to reversing a very, very sad doctrine that was in place. So I think we should also look at that new avenue. And Iím pleased to say there have been some attempts over the past few years to try to bring this to the floor. We have to look for the adequate case. We have to make sure the Supreme Court looks at this, under strict scrutiny and not necessary whether itís reasonable or not for different treatment to the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico and the territories. So I submit to you that we have a task before us of maybe opening up a new front that could then in essence direct the federal government in its legislative and executive branches to solve the problem, not necessarily to tell Congress or to tell the Presidency what the solution is, but basically to state that the current situation is untenable.

Question: Iím an attorney. My issue here is really economic. You are looking for political equality for Puerto Ricans. The Congress to some extent sustain a large number of unemployed people in Puerto Rico. What are your thoughts of improving the economic commonwealth of Puerto Rico? What areas you are looking at because I think this would have to be done in order to look at political sustainability of statehood?

Dr. Rossello: Let me say first that maybe you have placed the question the other way around. I contend that the Puerto Rican economic situation would not improve vis a vis the nation unless you do away with the obstacles that being a territory imply. We have seen this. It's been half a century since the so-called commonwealth was established. The difference in economic terms between Puerto Rico and the poor state Mississippi, or any of the states has not budged. It will not. If you have a certain structure you can make improvements on the edges, but if you want to make real changes you have to change the structure. History also tells us that every territory that subsequently became a state improved its economy, without an exception. The latest chapter was Hawaii. Hawaii as a territory was growing in its growth product at approximately 4% per year. In the decade after it became a state it almost doubled that growth and so it makes sense to change the structure so that you can achieve new levels of economic development. I suggest to you that unless you do it you will not get the improvement that you are seeking. The argument then becomes an obstacle for economic development.

Thank you.



Released on June 13, 2002

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