May 26, 2001

The National Council of La Raza (NCLR) is truly appalled by the bigoted and offensive remarks that Rep. James V. Hansen (R-Utah), Chairman of the House Resources Committee, made about Puerto Rico in an interview with National Public Radio last week. With respect to the situation in Vieques, Rep. Hansen stated that "[Puerto Ricans on the island] sit down there on welfare and very few of them paying taxes, [they] got a sweetheart deal."

It is truly troubling that someone so ignorant of Puerto Rico and its 3.8 million U.S. citizens oversees such a critical issue for the island. Rep. Hansen is clearly unaware of the many contributions that Puerto Rican Americans make every day to this country, including shedding blood in every war that the United States has fought in since World War I. In fact, more than 200,000 Puerto Ricans have fought in this nation's military conflicts, and four of the 39 Hispanic recipients of the U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor are Puerto Rican. For many years, Puerto Rico has boasted the top two U.S. Army recruiting posts (out of the 232 worldwide), and has consistently maintained its top-ranked status. And for six decades, the island of Vieques has been used for military live-fire training exercises.

Moreover, I am equally disturbed by the implications of his remarks. Is Rep. Hansen really suggesting that it is all right to bomb and hold other military exercises in communities if those communities have high unemployment and high poverty and some of its families - including children - receive public assistance? Furthermore, Rep. Hansen's comments that he "might make things difficult for Puerto Rico" have no place in an already-charged public policy debate about Vieques. The Congressman should focus on the key issues related to Vieques, including health, civil rights, the environment, the economy, and the location of an alternative training site, and not seek to threaten the U.S citizens of Puerto Rico with his thoughtless and uninformed remarks.

We would welcome an opportunity for Rep. Hansen to publicly clarify his remarks. I believe that, at the very least, Rep. Hansen owes the people of Puerto Rico an apology. I would further suggest that if he continues to be involved in decisions so critical to the future of the island that he consult with Governor Sila María Calderón, Resident Commissioner Aníbal Acevedo-Vilá, and other organizations here and in Puerto Rico as well as his fellow Puerto Rican Members of Congress. He should also pay a visit to Vieques, so that he may see firsthand the toll the bombing and other exercises have taken on that island and its residents. Finally, I would suggest that if Rep. Hansen does not see fit to do any of these things, that he should strongly consider recusing himself from any decision-making regarding Puerto Rico and its residents.

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