What's best for the future of Puerto Rico? I say Commonwealth--the road to both
freedom and justice through a partnership with the United States.
The time has come for the 3.3 million American citizens in Puerto Rico to
receive the full rights of citizenship through statehood; common decency for all will tolerate
Since 1898, Puerto Rico has been a problem for the United States, and the United
States has been a problem for Puerto Rico. The only solution for both nations is
Good evening. I'm Michael Dukakis, and it's a pleasure to welcome you to this
very special bilingual edition of THE ADVOCATES on the future status of the Commonwealth of
Puerto Rico. Should Puerto Rico be a Commonwealth as it is now; should it become one of the
United States; or should it be an independent nation? This may be a relatively new question for
many of us in the United States, but it is an ancient debate in Puerto Rico. The island was
settled more than a century before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock; and during the 400
years of Spanish Colonial rule, Puerto Rico gained increasing autonomy. In fact, by the outbreak
of the Spanish-American War, Puerto Rico achieved a substantial measure of self-government from
the Spanish Government. But just seven months later, in 1898, American troops invaded the shores
of Puerto Rico; and at the end of the war, Spain ceded the island to the United States so that
our relationship with Puerto Rico really began with that island as the booty of war. In 1917,
the people who live on the island were granted citizenship subject to all United States laws.
But they still, to this day, have no voting representative in Congress, cannot vote for the
President of the United States, and could not even vote for their own governor until 1948.
Interestingly enough, we treat the status of Puerto Ricans differently, depending on whether
they live on the mainland of the United States or whether they live on the island. If they live
on the island, they are not obligated to pay federal income taxes; but they must serve in the
draft, if there is one. On the other hand, the one and a half million Puerto Ricans who live
here in the United States are subject to all of the rights and obligations of American citizens.
The present Commonwealth was created in 1952 by an act of the United States Congress, but even
today's advocates of commonwealth status want to modify that arrangement. Twice in the last ten
years, Congress has shelved proposals to increase autonomy for Puerto Rico. But now, change
seems inevitable; and the really important questions remaining are to what degree and
fundamentally, what kind of change. Let's turn now to our advocates. First speaking in favor of
the concept of commonwealth status for Puerto Rico is advocate Jaime Fuster, a professor and
former dean of the Law School at the University of Puerto Rico.
Commonwealth, or free association as it is known in Spanish, is the form of
political organization overwhelmingly chosen by the people of Puerto Rico in 1952 to end its
condition as a Colonial possession of the United States. Through free association, Puerto Ricans
have created a body politic that enjoys a full measure of self-government, much more so than a
state. But that is not an independent republic because it is linked to the United States through
a legal agreement that makes Puerto Rico a part of the Federal Union. This unique body politic
represents historically the predominant political tradition of Puerto Rico. In the 19th century,
while the other Latin American colonies chose to separate themselves totally from Spain, Puerto
Ricans sought instead to attain free association. That successful historical experience a
century ago set the precedent for our present relationship with the United States. With me
tonight is Mr. Jose Arsenio-Torres, a professor of political theory from the University of
Puerto Rico. We intend to show why both under Spain and in relation to the United States, Puerto
Ricans have opted for free association as a way of resolving the problem of Puerto Rican
Colonialism. Thank you very much.
Thank you very much, Mr. Fuster. And now, speaking for the cause of statehood,
advocate Joaquin Marquez, an attorney and administrator of the Washington office of the
Government of Puerto Rico.
Thank you, Governor. 81 years ago, the American flag was first unfurled
over our shores. Soon the quest for statehood began. In 1917, American citizenship was extended
to all Puerto Ricans. With me tonight to argue that only statehood-can fulfill the implied
promise of full equality and dignity of American citizenship is Reinaldo Paniagua, an attorney
from San Juan, who has served as Secretary of State and Lieutenant Governor of Puerto Rico.
While democracy flourishes in Puerto Rico, we still suffer the vestiges of Colonialism. How
would you feel if you could not vote for President or if you could not send a voting
representative to the Congress? How would you feel if you could not help elect the very Congress
which can send you young people to die in far-off battlefields? The democratic aspirations of
our people are no less strong than those of Californians, New Yorkers, or Iowans. A majority of
the Puerto Ricans favor statehood now. Voting statistics show that in every election since 1952,
more and more people have supported the statehood alternative. That is not the case with
independence or commonwealth. And recent Gallup polls show that more than two thirds of the
American electorate would support statehood for Puerto Rico if the Puerto Rican people ask for
it. The time for statehood is now!
Finally, speaking for independence, advocate Fernando Martin, also a Professor
of Law at the University of Puerto Rico Law School. Mr. Martin--
Good evening. We will be debating here not merely the future of the Puerto
Rican people, but the future of Puerto Rico as a nation. Although the concept of nationhood may
be difficult to define, it is a reality which is easy to understand. To be sure the United
States seems to have been a country in 1776, where at least people here in the Boston area at
least seem to think so; Puerto Rico is definitely a country today. Puerto Rico is a Latin
American country where Puerto Ricans have been thinking, speaking, laughing, fighting in Spanish
for hundreds of years. Our culture is rooted in a tradition as different from that of the United
States as that of Mexico's or that of Venezuela's. Providence has even granted us an island of
our own. Tonight, to defend the position of liberty, Mr. Ruben Berrios Martinez, the President
of the Independence Party, will be serving as my witness. There is, however, something about
this Puerto Rican nation. The people who live there are not the masters of their own house. They
are, in fact, wards of another country. It is high time that Puerto Ricans, that Puerto Rico
stands on its own two feet and join the rest of the nations, of the sovereign nations of the
world. I think the dignity and the welfare of Puerto Ricans and the survival of a nation demand
no less. Thank you very much.
Thank you very much, gentlemen. We'll be back to our cases in the debate in a
moment, but first a word about tonight's debate. As you can see, there will be only one witness
for each side this evening. The bilingual part of our program will emerge during
cross-examination of each witness, which will be in Spanish. Now, I speak a little Spanish, but
not enough to keep up with what I suspect is the rapid-fire nature that we're going to see in
that cross-examination this evening. So, I'm very fortunate to have with me Sylvia Schoenbaum,
who is a native of Honduras and is completely fluent in Spanish; and she is going to help me out
in case we get into trouble, or at least I get into trouble, during the course of that
cross-examination. Now let's turn to our debate this evening. Mr. Fuster, the floor is
I call Professor Jose Arsenio-Torres. Mr. Torres is a Ph.D. graduate from the
University of Chicago, Professor of Political Theory at the University of Puerto Rico, and a
former Senator of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Professor Torres, why do you support
commonwealth, or free association, as we call it?
I support commonwealth because it has worked. It has worked well for Puerto
Rico to solve its problems, and it has worked well for the U.S. in fulfilling the
responsibilities it assumed in 1898 upon the invasion of Puerto Rico.
Could you elaborate on the matter of how is it that it works well both for
Puerto Rico and the United States, please?
Puerto Rico has some obvious limitations as a small island. It is
over-populated, it is economically weak in natural resources; it is militarily weak. It has,
however, its own cultural distinctiveness. It is a people with a continuous experience along 500
years, and it has to deal with the limitations on the one hand for which it needs help; and it
has gotten that help from the U.S. through the commonwealth arrangement. At the same time, it
has to protect its own culture, its own language, its own sense of being a nation. Commonwealth
is a way of solving both problems in a non-nationalistic, non-destructive revolutionary way and
yet opening to the future the capacity of intelligence to adjust to evolving problems.
Well, Professor Torres, that's all and well for Puerto Rico, but what about the
United States? Are there any advantages to the United States in commonwealth? It's supposed to
be a partnership.
No partnership is convenient if it's not mutually beneficial. The commonwealth
arrangement is one in which both partners profit. The U.S., taken as a total economy, is making
money in Puerto Rico. It's making money through its investments in our industrial plants. It's
making money in the profits, in the interest, in the dividends, which our industrial economic
activities pay to the U.S. economy. It's making money in the process of our balance of commerce,
in which three and a half billion dollars are expended by Puerto Rico in the American market
which has a multiplying effect in the national economy of at least $7 billion which create more
than 200,000 jobs in the United States. So that, together with the military service, the
military bases, the example of how to deal with a small country in a rational and fair way, and
the example of how to deal with a Latin American country, all together amount to a decisive
balance of convenience for the United States in this relationship.
Well, Professor Torres, what do you have against statehood?
I have nothing against statehood for the United States. I am just not in favor
of statehood for Puerto Rico, because statehood for Puerto Rico will kill the possibility of
further economic and social development in Puerto Rico. It will represent a threat and a
destruction to our whole industrial setup because it will dry the sources of investment in the
Puerto Rican economy, which go there in the first place and principally not out of altruistic
motives, but to make money because they don't pay federal taxes from Puerto Rico. And, if
statehood came, the basic structure of the economy would be paralyzed or destroyed; and then,
the productive element that we pay into the federal government through the economic activity
would be substituted by dependence, by the dollar, and this is not good for Puerto Rico.
Gentlemen, I'm afraid I have to interrupt at this point. You'll have an
opportunity for a few more questions, Mr. Fuster, but we are going to turn to Mr. Marquez now,
who will have some questions for you, Professor Torres. Mr. Marquez--
Thank you, Mr. Dukakis. Good evening, Mr. Torres. You say commonwealth has
worked well for Puerto Rico and the United States. If commonwealth is so good, why have there
been three attempts to effect a change and all three rejected by Congress?
Because the democratic political process is far more complicated than the
statehood people think it is. When they say that the first time they'd demand statehood with a
mechanical majority of 51 percent, they'd get it or else switch to independence; they show a
simplistic ignorance of the American democratic political process.
Is not the reason for not obtaining the changes your asking for privileges
which the rest of the states do not enjoy?
If one thinks statehood is the only rational alternative or that Puerto Rico is
a small state, then you would be right. But if one gets rid of the notion that Puerto Rico is a
state and looks at it as an autonomous political entity, then it is logical to aim at a
relationship with the U.S. in which mutual interests will benefit both partners in this
experimental political journey.
Why, then, did Congress reject these changes? Because you went to the UN and
into a huddle with Castro-Communists and our own Communists to bring about a change in our
We went to the UN because the statehood and Independence parties got together
to make the UN declare Puerto Rico a colony whereas in 1953, the new constitutional status of
Puerto Rico was recognized under the UN charter; and what you call a "huddle with Communists,"
was the simple act of talking with them about mutual concerns like Baltazar Torrada's who isn't
here today because he is talking to the Chinese in China, which hasn't made him a leper.
Wouldn't it be better to convince the people of Puerto Rico rather than to go
and convince "friends" of Puerto Rico and the U.S., such as Cuba, Iraq, Czechoslovakia?
Our strategy is comprehensive in Puerto Rico, the U.S., the UN, wherever minds
are poorly informed or deliberately muddled by adversaries of the Commonwealth, that's where we
Thanks for the credit you give your adversaries. One more question: You are an
American citizen. Do you wish to vote for the President of the U.S.?
If Puerto Rico improved the Commonwealth structure and completed its autonomy,
and if thereafter an amended U.S. Constitution offered us the vote for the President, that would
do no harm. To vote for the President before this happens would substitute an empty symbol for
the real thing--power of Puerto Rico in Puerto Rico.
But don't you agree that the majority does not share your philosophy?
Whenever they were questioned specifically about the political status, 60
percent favored Commonwealth against your 39 percent. Another thing is your statistics confusing
elections on social and economic issues with the plebiscite. This misleads the American
Gentlemen, I'm sorry; but I have to interrupt at this point. Don't go away
Professor Torres. We're going to turn now to Mr. Martin, and he is going to have some questions
for you as well. Mr. Martin--
Good evening, Professor Torres
Professor Torres, how long has it been now since we've had the
In Puerto Rico 60 percent, 55 percent of our population are getting food
stamps. We have one of the highest rates of drug addiction. We have the highest cost of living
in the United States and the lowest salaries. How can you argue that the Commonwealth is the
most suitable status to solve our basic problems?
No supporter of Commonwealth can deny that development and modernization have
brought problems to Puerto Rico as happened in all countries which have been industrialized and
modernized. Yes, we do have problems. I think we may even agree on the diagnosis of the
problems. Where we differ is in the prescriptions because some, such as independence or
statehood, would kill the patient. Our conviction that the Commonwealth can deal with these
problems stems from the fact that in the past it has dealt with them, and if the necessary
economic power were to be added to this Commonwealth, we could deal with these problems as they
deal with them in other areas of the United States and in the world independently.
Thank you, Mr. Torres. Don't you believe that one of the fundamental causes for
those rates and this clinical picture is the absence of political power for Puerto Rico to
tackle these problems?
There are areas where the Commonwealth clearly needs political power to tackle
in Puerto Rico matters of priority for Puerto Rico, matters which need to be dealt with by the
Puerto- Rican leaders who know more about these problems! Improvement is needed in the
productive use of federal funds. They now create a dependency, even despair and impotence. They
should be used productively.
Very well. Then Puerto Rico will have better possibilities to solve its basic
problems as it takes over control of its destiny and acquires the political power to solve these
If this growth in power does not endanger the advantages we enjoy now, which is
improbable, given the two alternatives.
Thank you very much, Mr. Torres.
Gentlemen, I'm sorry I have to interrupt. Let's go back to Mr. Fuster now, who
has another question or two for you, Professor Torres.
Professor Torres, I don't want people to think that you are not a just man. So,
let's give equal time to independence. Why not independence for Puerto Rico?
An old man in my hometown used to say that if wishes were horses, beggars could
ride. I have nothing in principle against independence, but it seems to me that independence in
Puerto Rico has been defended on the basis of absolutistic abstract, juridical, rounded-out
definitions of freedom, instead of programmatic, concrete actions that would remedy the defects
in the life of the people. Independence in subtracting, in retiring and separating Puerto Rico
from the context that has made possible its development, the U.S. connection would do away with
all that. Secondly, it is politically impossible because it only has after these 27 years, from
1952 to 1976, it has gone down from a 20 percent of the electorate to 5 percent. So that really
it's a mission impossible in one sense. Thirdly, economically, they have not worked out the
mechanism through which they are going to deal with that vacuum. And personally, I think that it
would also lead to a cultural isolation.
Gentlemen, I'm sorry I have to interrupt. Professor Torres, thank you very,
very much for being with us on THE ADVOCATES. For those of you who may have joined us late, we
are debating the future status of Puerto Rico in a very exciting and very special bilingual
format, which you will be picking up and responding to from time to time. And Mr. Fuster, the
advocate in favor of continuing Puerto Rico's status as a commonwealth, has just presented his
witness, Professor Torres, who has been subjected to cross-examination not by one, but by two
advocates--one of whom favors statehood and the other of whom favors independence. We are now
going to turn to the advocate who favors statehood; Mr. Marquez, you are on with your
Thank you, Governor. I call as my witness Reinaldo Paniagua.
Welcome to THE ADVOCATES, Mr. Paniagua. Nice to have you with us.
Mr. Paniagua, you have been Secretary of State, and I guess that's the
equivalent of Lieutenant Governor in Puerto Rico, have you not?
Are you a statehooder?
Well, I believe that statehood is a culmination of the United States
citizenship. Obviously, I am a statehooder. So that is the basic reason. Now, I believe, also,
that statehood should provide for our people, for Puerto Ricans, equal rights dignified, a
dignified situation. Statehood should give us an opportunity to participate at national
standards, to vote, to participate in the political process of the United States, of the
nation... such. To be able to vote for the President of the United States and the Vice
President; to be able to participate of the federal programs; to be able to develop our economy
adequately with in-depth economic structure of the nation. Statehood is a position of dignity
for Puerto Ricans.
Let me ask you. Why are you dissatisfied with the present Commonwealth
I'm dissatisfied, as many Puerto Ricans, as the majority of Puerto Ricans are
dissatisfied today, with the present arrangement because under the actual circumstances, Puerto
Ricans do not enjoy the rights of citizenship as the rest of the nation does, as the rest of the
citizens of the United States. We don't have representation, adequate representation in
Congress, for instance. We lack the two senators and seven representatives that we would enjoy
if we were a state. Even our own men and women who are called are drafted into the Armed Forces,
cannot even vote for the Commander in Chief who is the President of the United States. It is
time for Puerto Rico to take the step since the majority of Puerto Ricans so desire, and it has
been proven electorally.
How do the people of Puerto Rico feel about statehood?
Well, if you look into the graphic that should be appearing in the cameras at
this moment, you will notice what the trend has been in Puerto Rico for the past 24 years. Since
1952 until 1976 independence, the two independence parties have added up to, from a 19.6
percent that they had originally at their highest peak, to a 6-point-some percent; Commonwealth
that once enjoyed 70 percent by 1952 has been reduced to about 45 percent; and the party
supporting statehood has incremented in such a fashion that today they are above Commonwealth
with over 48 percent; and they have the governorship, the House and the Senate of Puerto
What has happened after 1976?
Since 1976, we have been polling consistently; and the statehood trend has
continued growing; it is well over 50 percent today, while Commonwealth shows a reduction to
some 30 percent; independence has grown in about a 2 or 3 percent.
Has there been any internal party, primaries, that would indicate a--
Well, back in October, September--, October 1978, the National Democratic Party
held primaries in Puerto Rico; and the statehood movement won with a 375,000 persons coming into
the polls; and it was an absolute show of how people in Puerto Rico feel toward statehood, how
they want to participate in the national political process.
Let me ask you one further question, if we can. What if we ask for statehood
and Congress absolutely denies it?
A very brief answer, please.
Yes. Well, I don't believe that will happen. I have to be very brief, so let me
tell you--the principle of self-determination has been established from Eisenhower down and even
put in writing by President Jimmy Carter. If we ever felt rejected, definitely rejected,
convinced, not because somebody else says so, convinced of that, we don't have any other
dignified position than to turn to independence. I don't have any question in my mind about it,
but that will not happen because American democracy will stand and honor its commitments.
All right, gentlemen. Let's turn now to Mr. Martin who is going to have some
questions for you, Mr. Paniagua.
Good evening, Mr. Paniagua.
Do you think the Commonwealth has failed to solve the basic problems of Puerto
Yes, definitely. But I would like to qualify this answer. The Commonwealth has
served a certain purpose at a certain moment. When the Commonwealth came to be, it was better
than what we had before, no doubt. But years later it became clear that for the times we live
in, the Commonwealth is no longer adequate to solve our problems.
Do you believe that the Commonwealth's inability to solve our fundamental
problems has to do with the absence of political power in the hands of the Puerto Ricans?
It has to do with a number of factors.
But is this one of them?
It could be one, due to the state of indecision which exists now. We are
neither one thing nor the other.
Excellent! If your dream and my nightmare were to come true, what has statehood
to offer specifically to tackle what we all agree are the fundamental problems: unemployment,
chronic poverty, dependence, social and cultural disintegration? what has statehood- unlike
Commonwealth, that would let us expect effective solutions of these problems?
Well, there are 50 examples in the United States of what it is that makes a
Excellent! Do I understand, therefore, that statehood is a magic
mantle--whoever puts it on prospers?
No. I don't see it as some magic mantle, but as a well-fitting suit.
But do you believe that this well-fitting suit would mean anything for Puerto
Rico beyond, in the best of cases, if I'm right, --let me--
--a net increase of federal funds which would further aggravate the existing
dependence and economic and social castration?
Have you completed your question?
I'm ready for your reply.
Statehood would give us the equality we don't have within this democracy our
people have now. We could participate as equals among equals in the process of government and in
North American institutions. We would be a part of the nation.
We would be a minority within the nation.
Look, the term "minority" is relative today. The so-called Hispanic minority
are more than 12 million people now. At the pace we're going, and with our way of life, we might
one of these days be the majority in the United States.
That means you expect your acceptance of statehood--
Gentlemen, I'm sorry--. I'm sorry I have to interrupt. Don't go away Mr.
Paniagua. Mr. Fuster is going to ask you some questions, as well. Mr. Fuster--
Reinaldo Paniagua, what percentage of the votes did your party get in the last
If you look at the chart, I believe some 48 percent.
48 percent. Were the elections a plebiscite?
The one who wanted to turn them into a plebiscite was precisely the candidate
for Governor of your party who said that what the vote was about was the status of Puerto Rico.
The position of the party which advocates statehood is that the status was not at issue.
However, for those who paid attention to the candidate of your party, it was a plebiscite.
But who won the elections? Didn't you win them?
Thank God, we did.
Didn't your political boss say a vote for him was not a vote for statehood?
Wasn't this his basic campaign?
His campaign was not a commitment with respect to the status; and you are
talking not of my political boss, but of the Governor of Puerto Rico, your Governor and
I didn't vote for him!
One of these days--who knows? The attitude of Governor Carlos Romero Barcelo
was that a vote was not a vote on the status. There were so many issues, so much controversy and
so much confusion at the time; you surely remember what we went through in those days.
Nevertheless, your own party was waging a massive campaign that the election was a plebiscite. I
remember some radio broadcasts by Mr. Luis Munoz Marin who said a vote in elections, where one
picks government officials for four years, was not a plebiscite. But your candidate was against
Following your argument, only 43 percent were in favor of statehood.
Why 43 percent?
Yes, what you're saying is that our voters voted in a plebiscite and yours
Yes, but ours are for statehood. That's the advantage--we know how we're going to
There are more important things. You say that if you don't get statehood when
you ask for it, you would opt for independence. This means your American citizenship and the
attachment you feel for the American nation and your alleged commitment to equality and justice,
etc., are worth less than political "dignity" and equality?
What this means is that those of us who are for statehood, and, I trust, also
those who are for independence, do not believe that the Commonwealth represents that political
dignity which the people of Puerto Rico desire. This is what I refer to.
Well, a last question: What makes you think statehood can be obtained in view
of the serious problems it would present to the American people? Take one--a civil war--because
there are people who declared they would not hand over their destiny to a plebiscite, especially
if this destiny is statehood. Then there would be the incredible increases of federal funds at
the expense of the American taxpayer; the problem of a cultural entity to be absorbed by another
nation, with all the discord this creates. In view of this huge array of obstacles, how can you
expect the United States Senators and Representatives--
Mr. Fuster, we are running out of time.
He's making four questions, so--
I know that. I know that. A very brief answer and then you'll have an
opportunity to respond.
The Governor tells me the time is short. I'll proceed as far as my time will
allow. The first question you asked is significant. As to the supposed revolution and violence
which would break out--this precisely is the difference between those who are
pro-Commonwealth--some, not all, because there are brave ones, too, and those who are for
independence and statehood. We are not afraid, whereas you have lived in fear all your life.
Now--wait a minute--don't wiggle out of this--let me reply. We cannot permit that minorities
impose their will on majorities by the threat of violence. Victory must be gained by the ballot,
not the bullet.
I'm sorry gentlemen. We are going to go back to Mr. Marquez. I'm not sure
you've got any time left for another question. Make a brief one, a brief answer, and we are
going to have to finish it up.
Thank you, Governor. Mr. Paniagua, do you think that America is ready for a
Long time ago it has been ready for a Hispanic state. There is evidence of
that; I cannot expand because of the limitation of time; there are over 27 Spanish newspapers in
the States; they are bilingual states today. This program is a vivid example of bilingualism in
the United States, and it's about time to have a Spanish-speaking state. That doesn't mean that
we are going to lose our culture, that we are going to lose our language, I mean that snow is
going to start falling in Puerto Rico, or anything like that. But it's about time to have a
Spanish-speaking state in this nation.
Thank you, thank you, Mr. Paniagua.
On behalf of all of us who have spent a little time in Puerto Rico, let us
hope that snow does not fall in Puerto Rico. Mr. Paniagua, thank you very, very much for being
Don't worry. We'll keep the climate the same--even with statehood.
Thank you very much. Now, we are going to turn to Mr. Martin, and he will be
presenting his first witness. Mr. Martin--
I call Mr. Ruben Berrios Martinez.
Welcome to THE ADVOCATES. Nice to have you with us.
For those who consider these things important, Mr. Berrios has degrees from
the University of Georgetown, Yale University, Oxford University. He is an attorney, former
Senator, and now the President of the Puerto Rican Independence Party. Mr. Berrios, are Puerto
Definitely not. We are Latin Americans. The United States came into Puerto
Rico in 1898 by virtue of a Spanish-American War, no elections held as a matter of fact, they
came in with gunboat diplomacy and Puerto Rico was already a fully developed culture. We had our
poets, our painters, our musicians. We are a full blown civilization, and everything that we are
seeing here tonight shows us, even the patriotic English, that the other companions here have
spoken, shows that we are a different nation, and even this program format, half Spanish and
half English, shows that we are a nation.
Mr. Berrios, let me ask you--this Puerto Rican nation--what are the main
problems that it faces?
Well, I would summarize that very briefly. Our main problem is
Well, that's a pretty strong language here in Cambridge. Would you explain to
our audience what you are talking about?
It shouldn't be too hard to explain--in Boston, particularly, what Colonialism
is; but I imagine it was such a long time ago that they fought for independence here that they might
have forgotten about it. Colonialism is a system of government whereby the main decisions that
affect the life of a nation are taken in a foreign nation by a foreign king or by a foreign
Congress or by a foreign President. And I mean all sorts of important decisions--the basic
determinants of our life. For example, as already have been referred to, the draft of lives to
Puerto Rico, but also, the amount of alcohol or clorox we may have in the water, that's
determined by the federal government. Also, our minimum wages are determined by the federal
government. Our labor laws are determined by the federal government, our import-export laws, our
citizenship laws; so they command us from the outside. We are not masters of our own house; that
denies the very essence of representative democracy and a republican form of government.
Okay, Mr. Berrios, this Colonial situation, is this merely a juridical
problem, is sort of a theoretical problem, does that have anything to do with the real concrete
problems Puerto Rico has?
All the problems that have been admitted by our friends before are part of the
Puerto Rican colony. After all, they are not problems of the Puerto Rican republic because we
have no Puerto Rican republic. They are the problems of the American flag in Puerto Rico and
Colonialism in Puerto Rico. The championship of the world in drug addiction, in alcoholism, a 30
percent real unemployment, these are the real problems created by the colony of Puerto Rico,
together with all the rest of the demoralizing problems as we are seeing in our land whereby
people, in order to maintain their everyday life, have to live on the food stamps line every
day; 70 percent of our people are--
Mr. Berrios, what can independence do about this?
Well, it is important to point out that independence is not the solution for
everything. It is the status the political system without which these problems cannot be solved.
It is to regain the powers of government, of our commerce for our people, so we can deal with
our own problems. I'll give you two brief examples. For example, we have a big problem with
immigration in Puerto Rico whereby we have 30 percent real unemployment, and foreign workers are
displaced in Puerto Rican workers. We have no control over them. The United States decides that.
Take unemployment--we have no way of instituting a rational import substitution program. That
means that we have no way of producing in Puerto Rico what we import from the outside which can
be rationally produced in Puerto Rico because we have no way of raising a tariff wall like every
nation in the world has done, especially in the initial stages of its development. So there is a
very real connection between political status and the real problems of Puerto Rico. After all,
if we could solve this problem, my answer is: Why hasn't Commonwealth solved them? Is it that
the people who administer the commonwealth are bad? I think it's a lot more complicated than
that. I think it's a matter of the Puerto Rican political system and its inability, even if they
wanted to correct the problem, to correct it.
Mr. Martin, you're going to have a chance to get back and ask another question
to Mr. Berrios. Let's turn now to Mr. Fuster who will be asking some questions as
cross-examination. Mr. Fuster--
Good evening, Licenciado Berrios.
You expressed the opinion that Puerto Rico is still a colony; is statehood
away to resolve the Colonial problem of Puerto Rico?
No. Statehood is the culmination of Colonialism in Puerto Rico. It would mean
dissolving Puerto Rico in the United States.
Would you say that there are in Puerto Rico significant groups that are
vitally committed to the perspective you are talking about?
I don't know what you mean by "vitally." Please elaborate.
Commitments which they consider important, that is, moral conviction.
Oh, no doubt. The Independence Party of Puerto Rico, for instance.
Is this the only party which has it?
No. Other parties are also committed to independence.
Very well. You believe, then, that statehood is not a way to resolve the
problem of Colonialism. Now, our friend Paniagua told us that statehood is around the corner.
Doesn't this worry you since you reject statehood as a solution for our Colonial problem?
No, it doesn't--on two grounds. One is history; the other, the facts of United
States politics. The last time it was said that something was just around the corner was when
the Popular Party declared in 1939 that independence was just around the corner; and here we
are--still waiting. So, if today the NPP says that statehood is around the corner, it doesn't
mean a thing. Statehood is an illusion to get out the vote from people who are afraid of freedom
in Puerto Rico because we would cost the United States too much as a state; and besides, they
don't want us; so it's simply impossible.
Would you say that if there are in Puerto Rico some young people who believe,
perhaps a bit erroneously, that the way to stop statehood is by bullets, would you call these
people cowards, as Mr. Paniagua stated?
No, no, no--our party believes that bullets are not the way to stop
No, not your party--other people who think so--are they cowards?
No, no. One can stop statehood in various ways, and there are non-violent
means that do not imply cowardice. On the contrary, sometimes, as José Martí said, "Man's
greatest courage can lie in restraint."
Another question: Would you accept independence if Congress were to grant it
Yes, of course. But don't worry, Congress won't do that. The colony suits them
But would you accept it without any arrangement for an economic
No, but it wouldn't happen this way, for the simple reason that it's never
happened this way--nowhere in the world. It wouldn't suit the United States not to have
preliminary discussions; neither would it suit Puerto Rico. They have their interests. They have
$14 billion invested in Puerto Rico, and they sell us for $4 billion per year; and we have to
watch out for our export and other interests. Independence would come by a series of
conversations with the United States in a rational way; it's a divorce by mutual consent, not a
Gentlemen, I have to interrupt, I'm sorry. We are going to turn now to Mr.
Marquez, and he is going to have an opportunity to ask some questions as well.
Thank you, Governor Dukakis. Good evening, Mr. Berrios. I would like to clear
up a matter. I don't think that Mr. Paniagua said that those who are for independence are
cowards. I would like this to be quite clear.
I know that Mr. Paniagua knows that we of the Independence Party are no
The same goes for those who are for statehood. Tell me, is it true that if
Puerto Rico were independent, it would be a socialist republic?
Well, we--. If Puerto Rico were independent, it would be the kind of republic
which we Puerto Ricans would want. That's the advantage of independence as against commonwealth
or statehood. With independence, we are in command.
What would you prefer?
I prefer a democratic socialist republic. They vary--from the Dominican
Revolutionary Party of the Dominican Republic to the German Social Democrats of Willy Brandt, to
the Spanish SOE, to the Swedish Social Democrats. Each one has his way to see the socialist
democratic republic. These are all really democratic parliamentary forms of government that
respect civil rights and--independence.
Might not this have been the reason why the Independence Party lost votes in
the last elections?
No. I would say just the opposite: since we put democratic socialism on our
platform, we gained votes. You quoted some interesting figures--that the independence movement
decreased from 19 percent to 7 percent in the last elections. But it wasn't quite like that. It
went from 19 percent to 2 percent in 1968, and when we started with democratic socialism in
1970, we rose to 7 percent in the last elections.
How many representatives and senators did you elect in 1972?
We elected 76 local representatives in the--
In the Legislative Assembly?
None, because--Representation in Puerto Rico is very unfair, very
undemocratic; 7 percent--
You elected three in 1972. That's right, isn't it?
By adding up, with less votes.
And how many in 1976?
That's why--if I may--
I said it's very unfair; with 5 percent of the votes we elected three, and
with 7 percent we had none. You can see what kind of democracy we have in Puerto Rico.
Don't you think that two senators and seven representatives would be a
tremendous help to the cause of Hispanics in the United States and in Latin America?
I believe that seven--representatives and two senators in Congress would be
only a drop of water in a pail. After all, Congress has not solved the problems of Puerto Ricans
who live in the United States either, so why should it solve them for us in Puerto Rico?
Because these senators and representatives are not Puerto Ricans. Don't you
think that if they were Puerto Ricans, they'd--
No. They do have representatives. There is a Puerto Rican district
representative (without a vote) in proportion to the population. It would be the same. As to
solutions through statehood, the fact is that Puerto Rico would be a beggar state because we
wouldn't get any additional powers to remedy unemployment, our immigration problems--problems
which arise through lack of power. Statehood doesn't add a thing. The only thing it adds is more
federal funds because those senators and representatives would go around lobbying, so the food
stamp lines, instead of 70 percent we have now, would then by 95 percent. And who knows, my
friend, you and I may be on the line, too.
I have to interrupt. I'm sorry. And we are going to turn to Mr. Martin for
another question or two on direct examination. Mr. Martin--
Thank you. Mr. Berrios, why should the average American be all interested in
This answer will be in Spanish, right?
In English--this Colonialism gets us all mixed up. The average American should
be interested in this debate because this whole decaying political economical structure which
has more or less been accepted by all the participants, this decaying structure needs an influx
of federal funds in order not to explode, and then the federal funds are syphoned from the
American taxpayer and given to the Puerto Rican people in granting aid and food coupons and so
on. But then at the same time, the special interest in the United States takes out from Puerto
Rico the large multi-nationals, more than two thousand million dollars, $2 billion yearly, so
this is like an enormous racket whereby the American taxpayer subsidizes the large American
multi-nationals who pay no federal minimum wages in the majority of industries for the benefit
of this special interest. This is why the average American should have a stake, besides the
average American should be living his own Declaration of Independence. The United States should
hold by what it says it believes and you cannot have a colony and proclaim to the world that you
believe in the Declaration of Independence. The image of the United States is also hurt
internationally by holding a colony in Puerto Rico and by getting to the Puerto Rican problem
and solving it in the adequate manner of independence; the whole image of the United States will
be very benefited the world over.
I'm sorry; I have to interrupt, Mr. Berrios. Thank you very much for being
with us. We are going to turn now to our advocates who will have one minute for a closing
statement, and we'll begin that series of closing statements with Mr. Martin.
We have not come here tonight to argue that independence is the easy solution.
We've come here to tell the American public that independence is the best solution, that our
claims are fair, that they are just; and we demand nothing different from what all other nations
in the world have. It is too late in the day to argue that freedom and liberty are somehow
inconsistent with nationhood. Puerto Rico, like any country, is a historical project; a shared
vision of a future together as a people and as a nation. To be masters in our own house has been
our agenda for more than 150 years; and although we have bobbed and weaved somewhat in our
methods, in our formulations, we have not wavered in this quest for freedom. Statehood for
Puerto Rico is a perversion of this historical tradition and a denial of our nationality.
Commonwealth, the eternal political adolescence, is at best a dangerous and costly fiction and
at worst, a legitimation of dependence and subservice. Sooner or later, Puerto Rico will be
free. Thank you.
Mr. Marquez, your close.
We have shown that independence is impractical, unworkable, and unrealistic;
an option that has been consistently rejected by the vast majority of the Puerto Rican people.
Those who support Commonwealth would like to see Puerto Rico continue on federal dole, helpless
to change is own fate. Statehood is the only possible and logical alternative that makes sense
for all of us. That is why it is now supported by the majority of the people. The time has come
for us to join with you in a new and bold undertaking, the sign to grant our people economic
security and political equality. Let statehood be for us what it is for you: a source of pride
and strength, of growth and development, and above all, of dignity. Thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Marquez. Mr. Fuster, a minute for your close.
By way of conclusion, I would like to say this to the American people: Please
do not be offended by Puerto Rico's reluctance to become a state. We respect the United States,
and we share the American people's commitment to the principles of justice, liberty, and
democracy. We have no desire to sever our essentially and mutually beneficial ties with you, but
we are and must remain a distinct people with a Spanish language and culture which we simply
refuse to trade away at any price. President John Kennedy said in 1962, and I quote, "That
commonwealth has furnished an example to the world of the benefits that can be achieved by close
collaboration between a large community and a small community with limited resources like Puerto
Rico within the framework of freedom and mutual agreement." We in Puerto Rico want to preserve
such collaboration and develop it to its fullest potential; only in free association can such
aspirations for the common man can become a reality.
Thank you, Mr. Fuster. Now we hope we hear from you in our audience. What do
you think? How do you feel about this important question? Send us your vote on a postcard to THE
ADVOCATES, Box 1979, Boston, MA 02134. We hope you join us next week, and now we thank our very
distinguished advocates and witnesses and our hosts here at the Kennedy School of Government at
Harvard. Thank you very much and good night.