ORGANIZATION OF A CONSTITUTIONAL GOVERNMENT
FOR PUERTO RICO (H. R. 7674)
Statement of Antonio Fernos-Isern, Resident Commissioner of Puerto
RiCO, before the Public Lands Committee of the House of
Representatives, Tuesday, May 16, 1950.
The People of Puerto Rico constitute a community of American
Citizens organized in a territory which, as decided by the Supreme
Court, is under the sovereignty, but is not a part, of the United
In accordance with the Treaty of Paris, under which the United
States acquired sovereignty over Puerto RiCO, the Congress is charged
with the responsibility of determining the political status of the
inhabitants of the Island. (Last paragraph of Article IX of the Treaty).
Consequently, Congress has declared persons born in Puerto Rico to be
citizens of Puerto RiCO, entitled to the protection of the United
States (Organic Act of 1900) and further, citizens of the United
States (Organic Act of 1917, and Nationality Act of 1940).
Under paragraph two of Section 3 of the Constitution of the
United States, the Congress is authorized to adopt "needful rules
and regulations" concerning any territory belonging to the United
States. With the Organic Acts of 1900 and 1917, as amended, Congress
adopted what it eVidently considered to be rules and regulations,
needful for Puerto Rico. It was under such rules and regulations
that United States Laws were declared applicable to Puerto Rico
and the economic and fiscal relationships, now existing between Puerto
Rico and the United States were established. H R. 7674 will not
disturb these prOVisions. Quite to the contrary, they are
Rico, Rico, Rico, provisions. - 2 -
On the other hand, we aim at substituting with a.constitution
adopted by the people, those provisions of the Organic Act according
to which the local governmental structure of Puerto Rico is organized.
Such provisions in the Organic Act we might properly call the local
constitution of Puerto Rico.
Under H R. 7674, the local governmental structure of Puerto
Rico would be predicated on the democratic principle; not only
would the people be authorized, as it is now, to adept its local
laws but also its local law of laws; the local Constitution; while
its station within the United States federal system: as heretofore
determined by Congress, wou~d remain unimpaired. The local constitution
would, of course, be comparable with a state constitution.
As a fundamental reason in favor of this step, it may be
pointed out that, considering the democratic progress Puerto Rico
has attained and the present measure of self-government it enjoys,
it does not any longer appear to be "needful" for Congress to adopt
rules and regulations in what concerns the local governmental
orga•.ization of the People of Puerto Rico. This, the people of
Puerto Rico may do, and wish to do by themselves. On the other
hand, it is needful to maintain such rules and regulations, adopted
by Congress, which have created the present relationships between
the people of the island and the United States. Such rules and
regulations would be designated as the'Fuerto Rican Federal
Relations Act". The word "needful" in the territorial provisions
of the federal constituion is packed with significance.
According to H. R. 7674, the constItution of Puerto Rico must
be republican in form and contain a bill of rights. It must conform
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with applicable provisions of the Constitution of the United States
and with the aforementioned Federal Relations Act. The constitution
of Puerto Rico must be passed upon by both the President and the
Congress. The people of Puerto Rico must accept these conditions
before the constitution becomes operative.
The e would again be additional "needful rules and regulations",
enacted by Congress, in this case in order that Puerto Rico may
adopt a constitution.
Under H. R. 7674, Puerto Rico is called upon to express its
approval and consent to such conditions in order thenceforth to
proceed to organize its local government in accordance with a
Constitution of its own adoption; and so that certain prOVisions
of the Organic Act thereupon may stand repealed. That is whJ' H. R.
7674 would have the nature of a compact. In this respect, it
follows the precedent established by the Northwest Ordinance, albeit
its terms are not identical.
As already pointed out, H. R. 7674 would not change the status
of the Island of Puerto Rico relative to the United States. It would
not commit the United States for or against any specific future
form of political formula for the people of Puerto Rico. It would
not alter the powers of sovereignty acqUired by the United States
over Puerto Rico under the terms of the Treaty of Paris. It would
recognize, within the present fundamental relationships existing
between Puerto Rico and the United States, the right of the Puerto
Rican community of American citizenry to organize itself for purpose
of local government, in accordance with its own determination.
This is in direct accord with fundamental American democratic
principles; also, with international commitments of the United States
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as expressed in the Charter of the United Nations. A provision
strongly and successfully advocated by the American delegates to
the San Francisco Convention (Chapiio'" Article 73 of the
"Members of the United Nations which have or assume responsi-bilities
for the administration of territories whose
peoples have not yet attained a full measure of self-government,
recognize the principle that the interests
of the inhabitants of these territories are paramount,
and accept as a sacred trust the obligation to promote
to the utmost, within the system of international
peace and security established by the present Charter,
the well-being of the inhabitants of these territories,
and, to this end: (a) to insure, with due respect for the
culture of the peoples concerned, their political, economic,
social, and educational advancement, their Just treatment,
and their protection against abuses; (b) to develop self-government,
to take due account of the political aspirations
of the peoples, and to assist them in the progressive
development of their free political institutions, according
te the particular circumstances of each territory and
its peoples and their varying stages of advancement; (c) to
further international peace and secur'1ty."
Alaska and Hawaii, the only two eXisting incorporated ,t'~rritories,
are traveling along the road toward Statehood. Upon their admission,
the United States will be a Union of fifty states, with four dependent
areas and four dependent peoples:
XI - existing - 5 -
1. Puerto Rico and its people,
2. The Virgin Islands and its people,
3. Guam and its people,
4. Samoa and its people
Under H. R. 1674, Puerto Rico would become a self-governing
commonwealth of United States citizens, organized within an island
which is subject to the sovereignty of the United States. Our common
citizenship will continue to be a basic and fundamental bond of
Union. Congressional rules and regulations will govern the form
and manner in which federal authority will be exercised in Puerto
Rico. Local government will be entirely in the able hands of the
The other dependent areas of the United States, either already
have civil government or are in the process of having it accorded
to them. The progressive development of self-government in them
is a natural expectation. We may here be setting a pattern to be
followed in their democratic development, as non-incorporated overseas
United States areas, democratically organized within harmonious
terms of Union, modified in each case to meet peculiarly local
In any event, the admission of Hawaii and Alaska as states, the
authorization to Puerto Rico to adopt a local constitution, civil
government for the Virgin Islands, which already eXists, and civil
"~\'1ernment for Guam and Samoa, already in the process of congressional
consideration, will constitute a commendable demonstration of democratic
practice on the part of the United States.
The people of Puerto Rico endorsed the proposal embodied in H.
R. 7674 in the 1948 elections. The Governor of Puerto Rico endorsed
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it before this respected committee The legislature of Puerto Rico
recently endorsed it by resolution with no votes against and with only
two abstentions; one in the House and one in the Senate. As the
elected representative of the People of Puerto R:oo in this Congress,
I have introduced this bill embodying the proposal. Other official
and civic bodies and organizations have endorsed it.
I believe it should be adopted at this session of Congress so
that by 1952 the people of Puerto Rico may elect a new government
under their own constitution. This will bring new happiness, new
courage and satisfaction to the people of Puerto Rico. It will
fortify and elevate the international prestige of the United States,
and will further strengthen the position of the United States as
the champion of democracy throughout the world.
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Sujeto a las leyes de derechos de autor de los Estados Unidos de América y del Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico. En caso de publicación o divulgación de cualquier tipo de imagen reproducida, el usuario se compromete a dar crédito a la Sala Dr. Antonio Fernós Isern de la Facultad de Derecho de la Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico, como custodio de este documento.