Thank you, Chairwoman Christensen, for holding this hearing today. I appreciate the opportunity to be here and offer my views on H.R. 1230, The Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2007.
The path to self-determination for the people of Puerto Rico has been a long, difficult one. It is full of complex factors that warrant thorough discussion in order to make an informed decision. Previous congressional initiatives have focused on defining what the options should be for the people of Puerto Rico. But the truth is – Puerto Ricans themselves should decide what their options are.
That is why I introduced, H.R. 1230, “The Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act”, along with Congressmen Gutierrez and Wicker, to recognize that it is the people of Puerto Rico who are best suited to determine their political future. The residents of the island need to reexamine the factors themselves – the economic, legal and social issues – that are coming into play. Most importantly, it must be done in a way that allows their opinions to be both heard and considered.
Puerto Rico has not only an inalienable right to self-determination, but it is also entitled to a process that allows an informed use of that right. You cannot ask, or even expect, people to choose their future without debating what their options are and what consequences may arise.
A democratic self-determination process ensures that people are able to debate the ideas and reach consensus themselves on how to proceed. Plebiscites or referendums do not lend themselves to a comprehensive and thoughtful process. Arbitrarily defined federal concepts that require the Puerto Rican people to choose in a yes or no format are not consistent with the practices of self-determination.
I want to take a moment to remind the committee today that this process will impact 8 million Puerto Ricans living in our states and on the island. Congressman Gutierrez, Serrano and myself have a significant number of Puerto Rican constituents in our districts, as well as family and friends still living on the island. We must make sure that all of their opinions are taken into account during this vital discussion.
It is for this reason that I am strongly encouraging that this sub-committee hold field hearings on this issue – in New York, Chicago, Orlando and of course, in Puerto Rico; so that local community leaders and the general public have an opportunity to participate in this historic process. These discussions cannot take place on Capitol Hill alone. It needs to be seen in the light of day for the Puerto Rican community to see and participate.
Chairwoman Christensen, I appreciate the time you have granted me today to share my thoughts on this important issue. I am hopeful, that under your leadership, these hearings will lead to consensus, dialogue and a fair process for the people of Puerto Rico. They simply cannot afford to spend time watching yet another round of hearings that, in the end, only compound the already existing divisions among groups in Puerto Rico.
This is a complicated issue which draws many emotions from the people in Puerto Rico, and those Puerto Ricans living in the states, that feel passionately about their future. We have an opportunity before us today to address this issue in a comprehensive, fair and transparent manner.
I look forward to working with you and the Members of the Sub-committee on Insular Affairs in providing the people of Puerto Rico with an unbiased approach that guarantees a true expression of their right to self-determination, and their aspirations.