March 3, 1998
The Administration strongly supports House passage of the Resources
Committee substitute to H.R. 856 which would provide a three-stage process
for determining the ultimate political status of the Commonwealth of
Puerto Rico's future status is the fundamental issue concerning the islands' 3.75 million residents and a pivotal question in determining many Federal and insular economic and social policies. The islands exercise governing authority similar to that of a State under the jointly established Commonwealth arrangement. The Federal Government has broad governing authority in the islands, but their residents are represented in it only by a Resident Commissioner -- who is limited to voting in House committees.
Many Presidents, a commission established by law, and the House (in 1990 with overwhelming support) have held Puerto Rico's options to include statehood and independence, as well as Commonwealth. The Congress in 1979 and several Administrations have committed to support a Puerto Rican status choice, and have repeatedly conveyed that commitment to international questioners of Puerto Rico's status.
Because Puerto Ricans cannot unilaterally determine what their relationship with the United States will be, they have petitioned for years for legislation that would provide options and for implementation of their choice. The President is committed to establishing such a process, and supporting a majority choice among all of the various, long-discussed options.
The committee substitute would provide for a referendum in which voters would choose from among three options: (1) retain Puerto Rico's current status; (2) full self-government through independence or free association; or (3) full self-government through statehood. If voters select the continuation of commonwealth status, the substitute provides for consideration of Puerto Rican economic and social development proposals within its current status. If voters approve full self-government through either independence or statehood, the President would be required to submit to the Congress a legislative transition plan, and, if approved by the Congress and Puerto Ricans, a joint resolution on implementation, which would also require both Congressional and Puerto Rican approval. While most of the Administration's concerns with the Committee-reported bill have been addressed in the substitute, the Administration intends to work for further improvements in the Senate.
The Administration objected when the original bill effectively eliminated Commonwealth an option and called for an option based on a proposal of Puerto Rico's Commonwealth party.
The Administration will similarly strongly oppose amendments that would effectively bar statehood as an option based on the islands' Hispanic culture. Puerto Rico's people have been citizens for 80 years; their culture is an asset to our country. To exclude them from full voting rights and responsibilities, if they so choose, would be wrong.