BREAKTHROUGH FROM NATIONALISM - A Small Island Looks At a Big Trouble - 28 al 30 de abril de 1959.

(Discurso pronunciado en Inglés)

I referred, In our first meeting., to the fact that Puerto Rico is a place where obsolescent nationalism has been by-passed. The case well bears examining, not because it may be considered as a model to any other country, but because it shows that ways and means can be found to transcend an attitude that needs to be transcended in a nuclear world. What Puerto Rico suggests is that, a break is possible through the entangling and frustrating web of nationalistic attitudes without sacrificing love of country or the possibility of cultural creativeness and cultural identity. What Puerto Rico also suggests Is that the federalist principle is very much alive, that it is dynamic and not a fixed pattern, and can constantly create new ways of relationships between diverse peoples, quite distinct from the known constitutional forms.

There is another significant fact about Puerto Rico of interest to our analysis of the wider theme. Puerto Rico shows a rather untypical behavior in the Intensely nationalistic Latin American area, although it shares with the Latin American peoples a community of history, language and ethnic origins.

Of interest also to our wider theme is the fact that Puerto Rico Is engaged in a strenuous and successful operation, with United States encouragement and helpful support, to abolish scarcity and do away with extreme poverty. It is proving to be a fast horse in the race to close the gap between the rich and poor countries and regions. It provides a dramatic demonstration of the falseness of the claim advanced by the Soviet in Asia, Africa and Latin America.. that only under communist procedures can ..he race be really won. Puerto Rico's rate of economic growth-- under an exemplary democratic regime -- is as rapid as that of Russia and Red China. Many of the uncommitted peoples of the world are watching the performance of this democratic dark horse.

The spirit of freedom In Puerto Rico found Itself trapped and besieged by a narrow geography, lack of natural resources colonialism and despair.

The political consciousness did not emerge until the beginning of the l9th Century, at a time when most of the Latin American area passionately embraced the nationalistic pattern. But because of the strength of the Spanish power and the narrowness of Puerto Rican geography, the people of the Island would have been completely thwarted had they tried to follow the typical revolutionary trend that freed the whole of the mainland Hispanic Empire. Our only experience with separatism was a brief revolution in the mountain town of Lares in September 1868, which failed to gain wide popular support and was quickly suppressed by Spanish power. But political consciousness refused to give up and surrender to this seemingly Ineluctable encirclement.

It is worthy to note, at this stage, that in this particular year -- 1868 -- the long Cuban struggle for independence started. The two islands were the last remnants of the Spanish Empire. Much of their development had run a parallel course. They bore -- and still do -- a very close resemblance to each other, historically, racially and in manners. But Cuba, using its great geographical advantages sought its freedom through armed and dramatic conflict In the Oriente Mountains -- just like Castro has done so bravely In recent times - while Puerto Rico took the more anguishing, patient, unspectacular road of relentless civil pressure and effort,'of logic and debate. What In Cuba came to be the passionate adherence to the tenets of a revolutionary separatist ideology, in Puerto Rico became the arduous search for practical economic and political formulas that could assist the growth of the society and economy, In freedom within a larger unit.

This trend came to be known as the liberal autonomist movement. It sought to do away with the anachronistic absolutism which was then prevalent in Puerto Rico.

The path of Puerto Rican liberalism was a hard one. It had to break through the crust of colonialism In a pattern different from that of the rest of Latin America. It was In Itself divided between those that favored complete assimilation to the Spanish political system with the extension of the Constitution and the laws of the Kingdom without variation to Puerto Rico, and those that, with a more realistic consideration of the islands needs and peculiarities, sought for an association patterned somewhat after the Canadian example of the time, based on the maximum decentralization of power compatible with the union with Spain. This was the trend that won the largest bloc of liberal opinion in 1887. It soon had to face strong and violent repression from the Captain General supported by a party that was known as the Unconditional Spanish Party which claimed that the Liberals were subversive.

The repression that took place in 1887. weakened the liberal ranks, but did not vanish their ardor. A new realistic approach emerged to promote autonomy. Why could not a pact be made with an influential Spanish political party that would pledge itself to grant self-government to Puerto Rico?

This tactic was highly successful. The Spanish Liberal Party on coming into office later in 1897, issued a decree subject to ratification by the Spanish Cortes, by which the autonomous government of Puerto Rico was created ' . Puerto Rico was to elect a Chamber of Deputies, and an Upper Chamber was to be formed by elected and appointed members. The Governor, appointed by the Crown, would in turn appoint a Cabinet. This Cabinet would be the executive branch of the government, so long as it retained the confidence of the Chamber of Deputies. The government so constituted had authority over all local matters, Including customs tariffs and participation in the process of treaty making by the Madrid government when it considered the economic interests of Puerto Rico affected. No commercial treaty concluded by Spain would be effective In Puerto Rico if objected to by the Puerto Rican government. Puerto Ricans were to send a proportionate number of members with full voting powers to the Spanish Cortes. Tax paying in Puerto Rico would not be assessed by the Crown but a formula was provided for the Puerto Rican government as such, obtaining the money from whatever source of taxation it thought appropriate, to contribute to the general expenses of the kingdom. The Cabinet, through an appropriate minister, directed the police, the governor directed '.he armed forces.

It is worthy to note that the Charter, once approved by the Cortes., would not be amended "except by virtue of a law and upon ~the petition of the, Insular parliament."

The Autonomous government was established in November, 1897. The blowing up of the battleship MAINE In the harbor of Havana was only a few weeks off. In April, the United States declared war on Spain. American troops landed on the south coast of Puerto Rico; shortly afterwards an armistice was signed followed by military government and a few months later by a treaty of peace. History denied the Autonomous government a chance to show its worth. But it stands nevertheless as an example of Puerto Rican support for Greater unions and a native readiness to search for flexible relationships, based on shared values, beliefs and interests, unconcerned with the all -absorbing claims of nationalism.

As the United States regime began, all thoughtful Puerto Ricans wondered whether under United States rule a self-respecting, status could be found. Statehood loomed as the evident solution, sponsored by the newly created parties, the Federal and Republican. But the Federal party proposed an original contribution to the American system. It proposed that Puerto Rico should immediately elect As own governor and As own Legislature In other words, Puerto Rico would have all the rights of a state, excepting the election of Senators and Representatives to the United States Congress.

The Unconditionally Spanish Party had naturally disappeared, and the two parties that expressed the above views had sprung from the Autonomist Party. The Party that brought out the original notion of a self-governing territory was following the thread of freedom within association -- a tradition that views Puerto Rico as a distinct personality in any form of association. No claim was made of separation from the United States system, but a definite assertion was made of the country's particularity. Behind this desire for autonomy, lay certain basic social and cultural traits. Puerto Rico was, at the beginning of the century a poor community, with many health problems and great educational needs, but it had a sense of its distinctiveness. It was, in other words, a people.

This was no island that could be colonized by a heavy influx of settlers from the North. Its people did not stand, as the Spanish or Indian groups in the Southwest, as isolated outposts of Hispanic America, surrounded by a vast and largely uninhabited land.

And, furthermore, no effort was made at United States colonization of Puerto Rico. Not the people of the United States, with its overwhelming tide of pioneers, case to the island, but only the representatives of their new might: the soldier, the administrator, the educator, the public health officer, the trader, the investor.

Some of the early United States administrators did not understand the complex cultural problem Involved nor did they understand the local desire for self-government.

The United States was unskilled !n the politics of empire, but generous economically. Puerto Rico could be made an incorporated territory of the Union only at the cost of rendering it a great economic diservice. Under the United States Constitution, as is well known, "all duties, imports and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States." If Puerto Rico had to be included under that rule, its development would have been open to the accusation of yielding to the primitive imperialistic motivation of extorting taxes from conquered populations. When the first civil government was established in 1900, a differential tax system was provided for, so that Puerto Rico could retain all its revenues and free trade with the United States. Politically however, it was a drastic step backward from the autonomy that Puerto Rico had at long last succeeded in obtaining from the Spanish Crown. An appointed governor, with large powers, an appointed cabinet, an appointed auditor, an appointed Supreme Court, a bicameral legislature with only one of the houses elected by the people while the second house was the Cabinet plus five extra members, also appointive; a system completely at variance with the American tradition of the separation of powers, and more in line with the British style of administering Crown colonies. The Supreme Court declared that the fiscal system devised for Puerto Rico was constitutional and a new American concept was created, that of "an organized but un-incorporated territory."

An up-hill struggle began again on behalf of the right of self-government. In 1904. the Unionist Party, direct successor of the party that had presented the new idea of a self-governing incorporated territory, made a change in its platform. It held that As basic idea was self-Sovernment and that it was eclectic as to what form was assumed by the substance of self-government. It claimed self-government either as a state, as an independent republic or as an autonomous affiliate of the United States. The significance of this is not limited to the appearance of independence for the first time in a political platform, but also -- more important still as I see it -- the re-afirmation of a tradition of seeking political freedom beyond particular forms of it. Political parties in Puerto Rico have not often been representative of this healthily eclectic love of freedom.

The U. S., in turn, faced a perplexing issue. U. S. citizenship had been denied to Puerto Ricans under the Foraker M. And this gave many Americans a bad conscience. But would the granting of U. S. citizenship involve the promise of eventual statehood? The Republican administration, at first under Theodore Roosevelt and later under William H. Taft, came to make a basic distinction between the two issues. There was no sentiment for statehood, but strong sentiment for the granting of citizenship. In May,1912, a young Republican statesman, Henry L. Stimson, expressed the distinction with remarkable clarity when appearing before the Senate to support a citizenship bill for Puerto Rico.

"l see myself," he said: --no inconsistency in the grant of American citizenship to Porto Rico; no inconsistency between that and the ultimate ideal that Porto Rico shall have practically an independent local self government. I think that is what most of the people of the United States would prefer to have them do -- that is, a relation where they exercise supervision over their own affairs, over their own fiscal and local self-government; with the link of American citizenship between the two countries as a tie, add in general such relations between the United States and Porto Rico as subsists, and as has been found perfectly workable in the case of the various self-governing¿ portions of the territory of Great Britain---Australia, for instance, and Canada, to the mother country.

Citizenship was finally granted in 1917 in an unilateral act of the U. S. Congress under a Democratic administration which also enacted a welcome reform. A transfer of authority was made to The Puerto Rican people: an elective Senate was provided to substitute for the mongrel executive-legislative Council and this body, besides having legislative powers similar to those of the Lower House, must concur, to cake them valid, in all cabinet appointments by the governor. Only two cabinet posts, the Auditor, and the Justices of the Supreme Court remained outside the purvue of the Puerto Rican Senate powers. The President of the United States appointed those. The Legislature, upon creating new posts of importance, would usually make them subject to Senate confirmation. The Governor continued to be appointed by the President of the United States.

For thirty years no further change in governmental structure occurred. During that time the economy had developed lopsidedly. For practical purposes Puerto Rico developed into a one-crop country: sugar cane. There was some coffee, tobacco, some food crops, some cattle. But the specially important crop was sugar cane and the only substantial manufacture was processing the cane into sugar. Sugar production grew to be 15 times what it had been at the turn of the century.

The next political change fulfilled the early program of establishing the right of a territory to elect and designate its whole government. This came in 1947, when Congress approved what was known as the Elective Governorship Act. It placed the selection of the governor in the hands of the Puerto Rican voters, transferring also to the governors authority from the United States President for the appointment of all cabinet heads without exception), subject to the confirmation of the Puerto Rican Senate. There was one difference from the early century proposal: Puerto Rico, as an un-incorporated territory, retained maximum flexibility for political creativeness within the United States constitutional tradition.

I have said that Puerto Rican political parties have not often in this century expressed the non-doctrinaire eclectic love of freedom of the Puerto Rican people. For many years before 1940, political struggle centered about, the ideas of independence and federated statehood, with some form of autonomy sometimes a poor competitor. This dichotomy could hardly be more unrealistic. The Puerto Rican economy could not withstand, without a tragic collapse, the economic and fiscal conditions of independence nor the fiscal conditions and the compulsion of uniform federal legislation involved in federated statehood. Those of us who at the time advocated independence found some facility in rationalizing away its economic impossibility. Presumably, the Congress of the United States could establish the independence of Puerto Rico under any economic conditions that it saw fit -- there would certainly be no legal impediment. So one could conjure any set of economic provisions that would make independence workable: independence with free migration between the United States and Puerto Rico. How the statehood advocates could rationalize the practically rigid, formula which must accompany admission to the Union is difficult to figure out.

But the fact that the supporters of one political objective enjoyed a greater facility for deceiving themselves than the supporters of the other was of importance. Both abstractions -- statehood and independence -- were inimical to the solution of Puerto Ricos many other problems. So the perennial issue presented to the people was tantamount to asking them the following absurd question: What is your favorite way of preventing the solution of the vital problems of Puerto Rico?" With independence the free market would disappear. With statehood an overwhelmingly impossible burden of federal taxes would destroy all hope of economic improvement. But the premise was that aside from independence or statehood there was only the indignity of colonialism. Would you choose to eat your bread in shame or proclaim your dignity in hunger? The burden that that choice, for years, assumed to be inexorable, put upon the soul of a decent, kind and proud people cannot easily be exaggerated.

In spite of the gradual advances made, the status of Puerto Rico continued to have a colonial imprint. It was an unilateral grant, graciously bestowed by Congress with paternalistic caution. Although colonial status had been in practice gradually disappearing, there had been lacking, the basic moral element of freedom, which is consent. As I said to the proper Committee of the Congress at the time, "Kindness, or even justice, unilaterally bestowed, may denote an anti-colonial spirit, but it does not finally and decisively create an anti-colonial status." Colonialism, is a festering sore in the human spirit. It is not conducive to a healthy play of the constructive energies. Independence and federated statehood being, in Puerto Ricos case, impossible, and colonialism, the only apparent alternative, being norally intolerable Puerto Ricans oscillated pathetically between what was impossible and what was intolerable, and groped for a breakthrough. Besieged within the walls of the statehood-independence-colonialism triangle, pressed by the need of putting their hand to other urgent problems, they first attempted the device of ignoring deliberately that there was a siege. Since a whole generation had somehow managed to pretend that there was no economics but only politics, Puerto Ricans now decided that it could be possible to proceed on a reverse premise. The Popular Democratic Party, founded in 1940 declared that so far as it was concerned, political status would not be an issue until substantial economic and social programs had been set in motion. It turned out a profoundly realistic method, as well as an ingenious device. Energy was concentrated on what to do about land, industrial expansion, agricultural modernization, planning and budgeting techniques, an efficient civil service, and providing the laboring man with adequate instruments for his protection.

The energy released for the economic drive now began to work on the political side of the triangle also. Colonialism must come to an end. Could it be that there was no other way out but separation or federation in the classical way? Was democracy running dry in this field of the relationship of peoples and countries within large associations? Justice -Felix Frankfurter had written in 1914, "One of the great demands upon inventive statesmanship is to help evolve new kinds of relationships so as to combine the advantages of local self-government with those of confederated union. Luckily our Constitution has left this field of invention open." We moved into this field of invention.

What did we invent? Let me recount what happened and then tell you first what those that in Puerto Rico think meagerly on the subject think we invented. In March of 1950, our Resident Commissioner in Washington introduced, at the request of our people, a bill to provide for the organization of a government by the People of Puerto Rico under a Constitution of their own adoption. This Bill became law a few months later. The Act, known as Public Law 500, stated that the principle of government by consent was thereby fully recognized and that the Act was adopted in the nature of a compact. It accordingly was not to become effective unless accepted by the qualified voters of Puerto Rico in a referendum. If accepted, the legislature was to call a constitutional convention to draft a Constitution. The Constitution was to provide a republican form of government and to include a Bill of Rights. Upon adoption of the Constitution, the President of the United States was to transmit it to Congress if he found that It conformed to the applicable provisions of Law 600 and of the Constitution of the United States, Upon ratification by Congress, the Constitution would become effective according to its own terms; some specified sections of the old Organic Act, the Jones Act, referring mostly to internal matter, would be deemed repealed, and others, dealing largely with the terms of relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico, would remain and be known as the Puerto Rican Federal Relations Act. The Puerto Rican Federal Relations Act contains, among others, the provisions referring to the common citizenship, free trade, common coinage, a customs union, the Resident Commissioner, the federal judiciary, and the applicability of federal laws, with the exception of the internal revenue legislation. Public Law 600, was overwhelmingly accepted by the people of Puerto Rico, the Constitution drafted and adopted, and the Commonwealth, which it created, formally establish on July 25, 1952.

The opponents of this status in Puerto Rico consider that the process which I have just outlined has not changed Puerto Ricos character as a possession or territory of the United States. They think that the Congress of the United States just. wanted to make some changes that would look good in the appearance of Puerto Rico's status as a United States colony. They say that the people of Puerto Rico were only empowered to prepare a rough draft of a Constitution which when corrected and approved by Congress would go into effect as the regulation determining the functioning of government branches and departments in Puerto Rico. In other words that which the people of Puerto Rico did was merely to draft and propose to Congress a new organic act -- an obvious error since our Resident Commissioner could have done that any day by dropping a bill into the hopper without any previous action by Congress or any referendum in Puerto Rico, without the idea of compact entering into consideration at all. It is their view that this Constitution can at any time be unilaterally revoked or amended by Congress that the Federal Relations Act can also be modified or anulled without the consent of the Puerto Rican people; that- the laws of the Puerto Rican Legislature can still be voided by Congress, and that Congress continues to exercise over Puerto Rico as full a power as over an unincorporated territory or possession. To the holders of this view, it appears that the whole thing was only a change of nomenclature presumably to make child-like natives feel good; that the word, "Compact" was used for purposes of decoration, not too different from the sense in which it is employed to describe the container of rouge and face powder in a ladys handbag; and that the word fully in the phrase "fully recognizing the principle of government by consent" was really meant to be spelled not with "u but with a double "o".

Let me say now what kind of status we are confident we have established, and after that I will ask your leave to explore how far it can further develop.

As we see it, Puerto Rico is a new kind of state, both in the sense of the United States Federal System and in the general sense of a people organized to govern themselves. It is a system of government and it is a new manner of relationship to the United States, as it could be in the cases of any large union or confederation of political societies. The relationship can no longer be said to be based on a military occupation or a treaty of peace ending a war between two other nations.

The idea of "compact" determines a basic change in the relationship. It takes away from the very basis of the relationship -- the nature and onus of colonialism. It cannot be revoked or changed unilaterally. Even if it were legally possible, it cannot be conceived as morally possible. A body with the record of the Congress of the United States could not do so. After all, we know that the world of order and justice is not a nakedly legal world and that the ingredient of morals is a vital part of it.

The following was the view presented by the governments of the United States and of Puerto Rico at the United Nations, upon consideration by that body of the notification by the United States that it no longer considered necessary, in view of the change in Puerto Rico's status, to continue transmitting information about Puerto Rico as a non-self-governing area under Article 73(e) of the Charter:

Contrary to the position taken by the Independence Party, as well as that held by the Nationalist and Communist groups, the people of Puerto Rico hold that the Constitution and the laws of the Commonwealth can be amended, suspended or repealed only by their authority and that the compact between the United States and Puerto Rico can only be amended or repealed by mutual consent... This is also the understanding of the United States of America. In uttering these words at the United Nations, our Resident Commissioner, Dr. Fernós Isern, was acting as a delegate of the United States and thus was an extraordinary symbol of the unity of purpose and understanding of the United States of America and the people of Puerto Rico.

And with respect to the Federal Relations Act it was also said on this occasion by another United States Delegate, Congresswoman Frances P. Bolton, The relationships previously established... by a law of Congress, which only Congress can amend, have now become provisions of a compact of a bilateral nature whose terms may be changed only by consent.

So, the political status of Puerto Rico is one of free association with the American Union. It is a new way of abolishing a colonial status under the constitutional system of the United States. I do not say that the details of our relationship cannot be improved, both from the view of the American Union and that of Puerto Rico; but the principle that such relationship, however it may change, is one of free agreement, makes the step we have taken the definite one in self-government.

It represents a novel, flexible, imaginative relationship within the American constitutional tradition. As Chief Justice Earl Warren said, on the occasion of the inauguration of the new Commonwealth Supreme Court Building: "In The sense that our American system is not static, in the sense that it is an organism intended to brow and expand to meet varying conditions and times in a large country -- in the sense that every governmental effort of ours is an experiment -- so the new institutions of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico represent an experiment -- the newest experiment and perhaps the most notable of American governmental experiments in our life-times." It is as well an experiment in non-nationalistic political freedom for a Latin American people.

There are, to be sure, other possible and necessary developments. The establishment of the principle of compact and the adoption by the people of Puerto Rico of a Constitution of their own are one phase in the task of developing the Commonwealth idea. Puerto Rico no longer "belongs" to the United States - it is associated to the United States as a free body politic on the basis of a common citizenship and a common loyalty to the ideals of democracy and freedom.

What further developments can advantageously take place in the growth of this new kind of state? The second phase of this process has just begun. The Legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico has passed a Resolution, approved by me, proposing to the Congress of the United States a number of clarifications and modifications of the Federal Relations Act -- which, if approved, would have to be voted also by the Puerto Rican electorate. These changes are intended to perfect the Commonwealth status, and not to transform it into federated statehood or independence. They represent the criterium of what the experience of the seven years that have elapsed since the proclamation of the Commonwealth points out as desirable, as mutually fair and advantageous for the United States and Puerto Rico.

In line with this Resolution, the Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico in Washington has introduced H. R. 5926 which would amend the compact by clearly establishing what the bill calls The Articles of Permanent Association of the people of Puerto Rico with the United States. Clearly all changes should imply the greatest possible scope, within our association with the United States, of the powers and faculties of the people of Puerto Rico to govern themselves internally and the greatest efficiency for the government of the Federal Union to carry out the responsibilities retained by it with respect to Puerto Rico at any point in the course of history.

What is the basic meaning of the Puerto Rican experience? The Puerto Rican experience denotes that a people with a love of freedom facing difficulties to achieve it along accustomed lines, can develop a new form. It would seem to show that Nationalism can be by-passed upon departure from colonialism, and might also give rise to some hope that the strong and narrow power of the nationalist idea itself may be subdued in the mind. And not at the expense of freedom.

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