The Future of Puerto Rico


By LUIS MUNOZ-MARIN, President of the Senate of Puerto Rico

Broadcast over Columbia Broadcasting Network, May 26, 1945

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XI, pp. 619-620.

THE future peace of the world depends to an important degree on the solution or solutions that may be found to the colonial problem. It also depends, to a still greater degree, on the prestige of the United States among the peoples of the world—on the confidence that the common man everywhere shall continue to have in the human understanding and the democratic sincerity of the American people.

It is of the utmost importance to democracy that the United States shall not cease to be the champion of democratic rights in the minds of men and women everywhere. It is clear that our great ally Russia is making a bid for the confidence and that trust which have been the traditional heritage of the United States. Of course, Russia's attitude in this respect should not be unwelcome. There is no such thing as too much good will, as too much recognition of rights and liberties. The world certainly needs as much of that as it can get from all possible sources. But certainly Russia's attitude should not be allowed to displace and substitute the traditional American attitude, but only to complement it and support it. Russia's developing international liberalism would appear best in its proper place, that is, as a follower of the tradition that the United States has made its own these many years.

In the treatment of colonies and of otherwise dependent peoples, the United States has an eminent field for sustaining, strengthening, and developing its policy for a good, for a confidence inspiring, for a lasting peace under the principles that have reared the national greatness of the American people.

I am proud to say that in this respect my own country, Puerto Rico, which has contributed without stint to the war effort, is now making what is perhaps a still more important contribution to the peace effort. Puerto Rico is a Caribbean island-country of 2,000,000 people which came under the jurisdiction of the United States as a result of the Spanish-American War almost half a century ago. Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States. It is a colony, it is true, that has been administered in a mild, though not always intelligible way, by the United States Government. But it is a colony. It is what each of the original Thirteen States were before 1776; basically its government does not derive its powers from the consent of the governed. That is, by the time-honored definition written by Jefferson, what colonialism means to the American mind; and by that definition, Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States. Puerto Rico is also a very poor country in its economic geography. It has but 3,500 square miles of territory. Half of its land is not arable, much of the rest is not of very good quality; there is not much mineral wealth under that land, and 2,000,000 people, that is 560 persons per square mile, must make their living from the top of that land. In order for so many people to subsist on such a scarcity of resources the bulk of production must be of intensive cash-crops that can be sold in extensive markets at reasonably good prices.

It is this same people of Puerto Rico, to whom nature has been so harsh, who have reached their political maturity, according to a message of the late President Roosevelt to the Congress, They have given proof of this maturity. Eighty-five percent of the registered voters vote on the basis of universal adult suffrage. Although political passions frequently run high, elections are absolutely peaceful and orderly. Defeated candidates recognize their defeat and the fairness of the electoral process. The buying of votes has been unheard of for quite some time. The people vote on the clear understanding that they are giving a mandate for certain laws to be enacted and certain policies to be carried out insofar as their elected legislators have the legal authority to do so, and they are vigilant as to whether their clear-cut democratic mandates are carried out or not. The Puerto Rican people, in fact, are more than just a politically mature people. I sincerely and proudly believe that in their hinterland of the world they constitute the best rural school of democracy in America today, and that there is profit in looking to its poverty-stricken electorate as an example of sound democratic practice.

It is these people, so politically sound and so economically harassed, that are now contributing to the peace effort, as they are contributing to the war effort. They are now proposing to the Congress and the Government of the United States a plan for self-determination. This plan may well serve as a basis for dealing with the colonial problem in marry

other parts of the world as well as in Puerto Rico. It should also help the United States in clarifying, maintaining, strengthening, and developing that leadership of hard-pressed mankind everywhere which is of such decisive importance to world justice and world peace.

The Legislature of Puerto Rico has unanimously proposed to the Congress of the United States a clear-cut straightforward method of solving the colonial problem, on the basis of self-determination, in democratic terms, and in the fiber of American policy and tradition. The Puerto Rican proposal is as follows: At the request, the unanimous request, of the Legislature of Puerto Rico, all political parties concurring, a bill has been introduced in the Senate by United States Senator Millard E. Tydings, of Maryland, and in the United States House of Representatives by Resident Commissioner Pinero, of Puerto Rico. This bill contains four titles and offers three alternative forms of government to the people of Puerto Rico. Title 1 provides that there shall be a referendum in which the people of Puerto Rico shall decide whether they want independence under certain economic conditions necessary for their survival, or statehood, or dominion status similar to that of Australia or Canada in the British Commonwealth of Nations. Title 2 describes independence. Title 3 describes statehood. Title 4 describes dominion status. If a majority of the people of Puerto Rico vote for independence, then title 2 shall go into effect. If they vote for statehood, then title 3 shall go into effect. If they vote for dominion status, then title 4 shall go into effect. In this manner, if the bill is approved, the people of Puerto Rico themselves will choose their own future, on the basis of an offer by the American Congress, and in choosing it they will have before them the fullest possible picture of what they are voting about.

It is worthy of note that the proposal provides that the United States shall have in perpetuity all the military and naval bases and rights that they may need in Puerto Rico for the defense of the United States and the Western Hemisphere. This is of very great importance, as Puerto Rico constitutes one of the chief military protections of the Panama Canal, and has been called by military authorities "the Gibraltar of the Caribbean." Parallel with these perpetual rights of the United States, under any form of government that the people of Puerto Rico may choose, certain minimum economic conditions are established, also under any form of government that the people of Puerto Rico may choose. These minimum economic conditions are considered necessary if the people are to survive in the face of the difficult economic circumstances that confront them. I should call attention to the fact that these minimum economic conditions do not represent any increase in economic facilities. Therefore the granting of them would not in any way increase the commitments of the United States, but would rather decrease them. What is, therefore, proposed is to wipe out political discontent without intolerably increasing economic suffering and discontent. This is of importance not only as a matter of justice and of American leadership in democracy but also as a means of surrounding important military defenses with the greatest possible democratic good will.

Let us look at what the colonial problem means in broad terms. Obviously, the United States will have need of military and naval establishments in many parts of the world. But just as obviously these establishments are a second line of defense. The need for military establishments is predicated upon the sensible provision that all good-will means of keeping the peace may fail. The first line of defense is the maintenance of peace, the creation of conditions that, so far as human understanding and good sense can make it so, will tend to keep the world at peace with itself. For that reason, the need for military establishments—the second line of defense—should not contradict the need for democratic procedure in the maintenance of world confidence in American leadership. Neither, of course, should the need to maintain = this leadership weaken in any way America's maximum ability to defend itself if peace should fail. The Puerto Rican proposal is made in the clear recognition of these two paramount factors.

Military and naval establishments may be needed in two broadly different kinds of places. They may be needed in small places scantily populated, and they may be needed, as they are in Puerto Rico for instance, among large populations with a developed civilization, with a recognized political maturity, and an acute consciousness that the principles of freedom are applicable to them also. The United States is making this distinction clear at the San Francisco Conference. Military and naval bases and establishments, of course, must be where strategy says they must be, whether on small rocks of the sea where the problems of the population are at a minimum or in developed communities where the problems of the people are of great significance and importance with relation to the general democratic principles and policies at stake.

In offering its proposal for self-determination, Puerto Rico i is bearing in mind these considerations. The United States, at San Francisco, are standing for self-government to colonies, which may include independence. The Puerto Rican proposal is a specific proposal for self-government on the ; basis of an alternative offer by Congress of different forms of self-government, which may include independence, and an acceptance by the people of Puerto Rico, in referendum, of one of the forms of self-government offered by Congress.

The proposal that the Legislature of Puerto Rico has unanimously presented to the Congress of the United States is a self-determination proposal as embodied in Senate bill 1002 and in House bill 3237. We make this proposal both as a ; claim of justice for Puerto Rico and as a contribution to American leadership—a leadership so completely necessary for the prevention of future wars—in the minds and hearts of average men and women the world over. For both reasons we hope to receive for our proposal the support of the American people.