Press Release No. 1802 Issued by the Mission at the United Nations, New York, November 3, 1953 1

Statement by the Honorable Frances P. Bolton, United States Representative, in Committee Four on Puerto Rico

Mr. Chairman: It is the intention of my Delegation to make a final statement when all other delegations have had an opportunity to express their points of view on the subject under consideration. However, I should like to clarify, at the outset of our discussions today, a number of points raised in yesterday’s debate in order that certain misconceptions which evidently exist will not continue to cloud our discussion.

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1. First of all, reference has been made to the letter addressed by the Governor of Puerto Rico to the President of the United States. Through an error by one speaker the Governor has been quoted as stating in his letter that at present the Congress of the United States retains full jurisdiction to legislate with respect to Puerto Rico without the consent of its people, to override its laws, to change its form of government, and to alter its relations to the United States. The letter of the Governor states, on the contrary, that until the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico began to function, the Congress of the United States retained full jurisdiction. I hasten to rectify this matter because I know how the Governor of Puerto Rico would feel if his interpretation of the compact were not properly presented.

2. In further elaboration of the remarks I made yesterday, may I say that obviously United States laws and such compacts the United States may enter into are subject to the interpretation of the United States and the parties concerned, in this case the people of Puerto Rico. In a spirit of cooperation we have brought before you the United States interpretation which is also that of the people of Puerto Rico. We would not feel justified in engaging in a debate as to the significance of United States laws, less so after they have been interpreted by the Courts of the United States. Nor have we thought it proper to pay attention to such distortions as have been made by and circulated in behalf of those who as self-appointed interpreters of the United States laws, compacts and agreements would lead us to believe that nothing except their own cherished ideas should be accepted no matter how impractical and contrary to the wishes of the people of Puerto Rico such ideas may be, and what may be their motivation.

3. Two facts stand out of all the documentation transmitted by the United States to the United Nations. One is that the people of Puerto Rico have organized themselves politically under a constitution of their own adoption whereby a republican form of government has been created stemming from the sovereignty of the people of Puerto Rico. This fact is amply sustained by the language of the constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico itself. The second fact is that there exists a bilateral compact of association between the people of Puerto Rico and the United States which has been accepted by both and which in accordance with judicial decisions may not be amended without common consent.

4. The nature of the relations established by compact between the people of Puerto Rico and the United States, far from preventing the existence of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico as a fully self-governing entity, gives the necessary guarantees for the untrammeled development and exercise of its political authority. The authority of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is not more limited than that of any state of the Union; in fact in certain aspects is much wider. It would [Page 1458]be absurd to claim that the 48 states of the Union are not fully self-governing entities. In accordance with the principle of federation the people who have created and organized state governments in accordance with their own state constitutions, have also relinquished certain attributes of authority to the Federal Government which the state governments do not have. In accordance with the compact between the people of Puerto Rico and the United States, the people of Puerto Rico have agreed that the Government of the United States may have, concerning Puerto Rico, the functions and authority that the United States Government has concerning the states of the Union. Therefore, to say that this latter fact negates self-government in Puerto Rico would be tantamount to saying that self-government does not exist in the 48 states of the Union. It should be remembered that the functions of the Federal Government in Puerto Rico are carried out under the same laws and within the same constitutional limitations under which they are carried on behalf of the states. This qualifies the exercise of federal authority in Puerto Rico and protects the self-governing powers of Puerto Rico. That the participation of the people of Puerto Rico in the Federal Government is not the same as that of the people of any state of the Union is easily understandable if it is borne in mind that the obligations of the people of Puerto Rico towards the Federal Government, especially in matters of a fiscal nature, are not the same as those of the people of the 48 states. In order for the people of Puerto Rico to participate equally as the people of the 48 states in the affairs of the Federal Government, Puerto Rico would have to become constitutionally integrated permanently as a state of the Union with all the corresponding obligations without exception. This proposal has been before the people of Puerto Rico as the program of one of its political parties. The people haven’t chosen it as the type of relationship to which they would give their preference.

5. In presenting the case of Puerto Rico before this Committee, the United States Delegation has not at any time stated that in creating the present association between the people of Puerto Rico and the United States any known type of association heretofore has been adopted. Much to the contrary, the criterion followed has been to assist the people of Puerto Rico “in the progressive development of their free political institutions according to the particular circumstances” of Puerto Rico. It has been evident to the people of Puerto Rico that should they follow such known types of political relations as those of independence, or full integration into the Union, they would jeopardize their own paramount interests in economic, social, educational as well as political matters. The criterion followed in the establishment of the existing association between Puerto Rico and the United States have been to create such relationships as would ensure for the people of Puerto Rico the best opportunities to develop socially, economically [Page 1459]and culturally taking into consideration their geographic and demographic circumstances. It is in this light that the terms of political and economic union referred to by Dr. Fernos-Isern should be viewed.

6. As an instance to illustrate what I have said, I shall refer to the question of minimum wages in Puerto Rico. There are no trade barriers between Puerto Rico and the United States, as there are no trade barriers between any two states of the Union. It might have been considered only fair in order not to give undue advantage to Puerto Rican producers over mainland producers in the mainland market to have the same provisions of law apply in Puerto Rico. However, because Puerto Rico is not as industrially developed as the 48 states of the Union, the law provides special treatment for Puerto Rico and exempts it from the fixed minimum to which all wages in the industries of the United States are subject. The wages in Puerto Rico are determined in such manner that the workers may be paid as high a wage as the circumstances of the industry may warrant. However, they are not necessarily as high as those on the mainland lest such requirement stifle Puerto Rican industries. This places Puerto Rico in a competitive position in relation to the United States market to which it has free access. Only the laws of Puerto Rico apply to any industry not engaged in external trade.

7. Another case in point is the reference made to the quota on Puerto Rican sugar that may be marketed in the United States. Sugar marketing in the United States is subject to quota not only in what concerns Puerto Rico but in what concerns the 48 states as well as importations from foreign countries. As a result of this system of marketing quotas, the price of sugar has been stabilized. Puerto Rico not only sells its sugar in the United States at the same price that United States domestic sugar is sold, free from customs duties, but the growers receive benefit payments equally as those of the mainland producers. One of the aspects of the economic union most favorable to Puerto Rico is to be found in these provisions concerning sugar. Should Puerto Rico separate from the United States, it certainly would have no claim, on the basis of its status, to customs free entry of sugar into the United States, nor to a quota commensurate with its production capacity, nor to the benefit payments that domestic sugar producers are accorded. The fact that Puerto Rico refines all sugar consumed in Puerto Rico and ships to the United States a certain amount of its sugar quota, as refined sugar, limits the amount which may be refined in the mainland. Dr. Fernos, as a member of the House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture, would be pleased to discuss with any interested Members of the Committee the United States Sugar Act.

8. It would be a great mistake to consider that because the functions of the Federal Government in Puerto Rico are conducted under the same laws as those functions are carried on in the United States, the [Page 1460]authority of the people of Puerto Rico in the conduct of their own government, under their own laws, is diminished. In a federal system the fact that certain functions are reserved to the Federal Government does not mean that the authority of the government of the several states, in all matters not delegated to the Federal Government, are not fully within the power of the states. Again in this regard Puerto Rico is not in any position different from that of any state of the Union.

9. The Federal Relations Act to which reference has been made has continued provisions of political and economic union which the people of Puerto Rico have wished to maintain. In this sense the relationships between Puerto Rico and the United States have not changed. It would be wrong, however, to hold that because this is so and has been so declared in Congress, the creation of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico does not signify a fundamental change in the status of Puerto Rico. The previous status of Puerto Rico was that of a territory subject to the full authority of the Congress of the United States in all governmental matters. The previous constitution of Puerto Rico was in fact a law of the Congress of the United States, which we called an organic act. Congress only could amend the organic act of Puerto Rico. The present status of Puerto Rico is that of a people with a constitution of their own adoption stemming from their own authority which only they can alter or amend. The relationships previously established also by a law of the Congress, which only Congress could amend, have now become provisions of a compact of a bilateral nature whose terms may be changed only by common consent.

10. I submit that having before us the Constitution of Puerto Rico, and with Laws 600 of 1950 and 447 of 1952 having been circulated, if an opinion as to the status of Puerto Rico is to be formed and any interpretation is needed, that offered by the parties concerned should prevail. To go back to statements made in the course of debate in Congress or in hearings and to try to interpret the documents before us in the light of isolated utterances, brought before us out of context, can only lead to utter confusion.

11. As a member of Congress which took part in all the legislative processes which culminated in the compact between the people of Puerto Rico and the United States whereby the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico was established, I was impressed by the fact that at all times the whole nature of the process was that of bilateral agreement. Even when the joint resolution approving the Constitution for Puerto Rico was before Congress and some reservations appeared to be necessary in order to clarify the fact that the Constitution of Puerto Rico would conform with the terms of compact, such clarifications as were decided upon by the Congress were submitted to the approval of the Constitutional Convention of Puerto Rico.

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12. Some pain has been expressed in the Committee because the Resident Commissioner, who holds a seat in the House of Representatives of the United States Congress, does not have full voting rights. This, Mr. Chairman, cannot be regarded as painful to the people of Puerto Rico.

Under the United States Constitution, Puerto Rico could obtain full legislative representation in the United States Congress only if it were a State like one of the 48, subject to all pertinent provisions of the Constitution of the United States. In that case, however, the people of Puerto Rico would lose the fiscal advantages which they now enjoy as a result of their present relationship to the United States. The Constitution of the United States would require this result. The people of Puerto Rico are not subject to Federal income taxes on the income they derive from sources within Puerto Rico nor to any other internal revenue taxes. The proceeds of United States internal revenue taxes collected on articles produced in Puerto Rico and shipped to the United States are covered into the Treasury of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Also, the proceeds of tariff and customs collected on foreign merchandise entering Puerto Rico are deposited into the Puerto Rican Treasury for appropriation and expenditure as the Puerto Rican Legislature may decide. These arrangements constitute substantial advantages of particular benefit to an area such as Puerto Rico whose natural economic resources are so limited. The admission into the Union under the terms of the Constitution of the United States would entail the loss of these advantages. The taxpayers of Puerto Rico would have to contribute over one hundred million dollars annually to the United States Treasury, a sum which represents ten percent of the national income of Puerto Rico and nearly sixty percent of its budget. For this reason the majority of the people of Puerto Rico prefer Commonwealth status, albeit it does not provide for full legislative representation in Congress, to statehood with membership in the Union of States and full legislative representation in Congress. They have expressed this preference emphatically in the election of 1948, the subsequent referenda on the new Constitution and the election on November 4, 1952. In this last election, the party in power received 429,064 votes out of 664,974 cast, a greater majority than ever before.

It might also be stressed that under the Commonwealth the people of Puerto Rico, besides not being subject to Federal taxes, enjoy the same advantages as their fellow citizens in the 48 States, i.e., protection by the national government, freedom to travel in United States territory and to resettle there, and participation in and the protection and services of the federal civilian and military establishments. Many grants-in-aid and other federal legislation represent further benefits to the people of Puerto Rico.

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13. It has been said that the United States Government has not provided the General Assembly with adequate information upon which it based its decision to cease transmitting information on Puerto Rico. Mr. Chairman, I refer the Committee to the full explanations contained in Document A/AC.35/L.121 of April 3, 1953, and the large volume of information transmitted for the year July 1, 1951–June 30, 1952, upon which the Secretariat’s Summary, Document A/2414/Add.2 of August 13, 1953 is based. I ask the Committee to decide for itself whether the United States has failed to fulfill the request for information set forth in Resolution 222 (III) regarding decisions to cease transmission of information.

14. Members of the Committee who participated in this year’s session of the Committee on Information and those who have studied the documentation considered by that Committee are aware of the various references made to the role of Puerto Rico in extending technical assistance in connection with various international programs. In this connection, Mr. Chairman, it is most unfortunate that the interest and enthusiasm of former Assistant Secretary of State Miller in regard to Puerto Rico, his birthplace, should be misconstrued.

I believe that Secretary Miller has merely tried to emphasize what so many other representatives of the Governments of the United States and Puerto Rico sincerely believe, namely, that Puerto Rico, with its Spanish language and cultural heritage can help to forge stronger links of understanding between Latin America and the United States and contribute much to the advancement of the good-neighbor policy in the Caribbean area.

15. Some disappointment has been expressed that Puerto Rico has not had as fortunate a fate as Cuba, both having been at one time under the sovereignty of Spain. I presume, Mr. Chairman, that this refers to the fact that Puerto Rico has not chosen to become completely independent. But our considerations here relate to self-government which has been achieved in accordance with the freely expressed wishes of an overwhelming majority of the Puerto Rican people. It is true that Puerto Rico has not chosen to separate itself from the United States and become completely independent, and therefore has not assumed control over such matters as foreign affairs and national defense. But I must point out that there are members of the United Nations who are said to be independent, yet they do not control matters of foreign relations and national defense.

16. We have been told in this Committee in a most polite and ingenuous, though nonetheless straightforward manner, that the people of Puerto Rico have bartered their individuality in exchange for purely materialistic gains, with consequent loss of their dignity as a people. But I submit, Mr. Chairman, that the very fact that Puerto Rico has developed its own concept of commonwealth status is because [Page 1463]it desires to retain its cultural heritage and the freedom to develop its own personality and the well-being of the Puerto Rican people without sacrificing the economic foundation upon which these paramount values are based. Poverty, hunger and ignorance are not the ingredients with which a society of free people can be established and developed and its dignity maintained.

On the other hand, economic, social and educational programs based upon individual initiative and local responsibility build and maintain the stature and dignity of a people. Under such circumstances freedom is established.

Mr. Chairman, I am most grateful for the patience of the Committee in permitting me to remove what I believe to have been clouds of misconception, so that the discussions may continue free of misunderstanding.

  1. Source: ODA files, lot 62 D 225, “Speeches/Statements 1953”.