Self-Determination for Puerto Rico Introductory Remarks by LULAC National President Rick Dovalina U.S. Capitol, Washington, DC

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. My name is Rick Dovalina and I am President of LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens. LULAC is the oldest and largest membership based civil rights organization for Hispanics in the United States.

I am happy to be here today, hoy, el diez y seis de septiembre - the day Mexico won its independence from Spain -- the day on which Hispanic Americans begin celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month -- and the day Hispanic-Americans unite to demand that the Senate address an issue of monumental importance to all of us, Self-Determination for Puerto Rico. We come together as a coalition of Democrats, Republicans and Independents to issue a Declaration in support of self-determination for the people of Puerto Rico.

LULAC, along with my colleagues from the Hispanic Coalition for Puerto Rican Self-Determination, are here to ask Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott to allow the debate on Self-Determination for Puerto Rico to take place on the Senate floor. Congress can no longer ignore Puerto Rico's colonial status. Congress must meet its Constitutional responsibilities and allow the people of Puerto Rico to determine their own political fate.

I understand that a resolution may be coming to the Senate floor today for a vote. We appreciate that after 100 years of colonial rule, the Senate acknowledges the nature of its relationship with Puerto Rico. However, we are looking for a more substantive solution to allow the people of Puerto Rico to determine their own permanent political status. We encourage the Senate to take a more aggressive approach in resolving the political status of Puerto Rico in the next Congress.

It was a hundred years ago that the U.S. gained possession of Puerto Rico as a result of the Spanish-American war, and eighty-one years since the people of Puerto Rico received American citizenship. There has been ample time for this discussion, and now is the time for action.

We are not here to advocate any one of the possible status options. We are here to show our support for self-determination. And we are here to tell the Senate how important self-determination is for the 3.8 million US citizens residing in Puerto Rico, and for the entire Hispanic American community.

The legislature of Puerto Rico specifically petitioned the 104th and 105th Congress to sanction a referendum on this critical issue. To date, the House of Representatives has acted by passing H.R. 856 this past March - six-months-ago! And still, the Senate has yet to move its companion bill, S. 472 out of Committee. Extensive hearings have been held and numerous studies have been done, but, as of yet, there has been no action in the Senate.

So why the reluctance? Is it because of Puerto Rico's bilinguality or its Hispanic culture? Or is it some issue of partisan politics? There are some in the Senate who say that there is simply no time for this issue to be considered by the full Senate before this October recess. The message that they are sending to nearly 30 million Hispanics is that there is no time for Democracy in Puerto Rico. What we are talking about here hardly seems an inordinate amount of time to spend on an issue that directly hits at the very heart of this nation's fabric: democracy.

The Coalition believes that there is ample time for the Senate to respond to the aspirations of the people of Puerto Rico to express their views on their political status through a referendum. Democracy cannot afford further delay.

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