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San Juan Star
DIaz Supports Gradual Move Toward Goal Of Statehood
By ROBERT FRIEDMAN
August 13, 2001
WASHINGTON New Progressive Party President Leo Diaz unlike his pro-statehood predecessors apparently does not oppose moving gradually toward statehood with Puerto Rico first deciding whether it wants integration with the United States.
That was one of the outcomes of a meeting last week between Diaz, the first Republican to lead the pro- statehood NPP in 25 years, and senior Republican officials in the White House, according to a source close to the meetings.
Diaz had introductory meetings Friday with White House Chief of Staff Andy Card and Deputy Chief Josh Bolton, then went on to a working session with Ruben Barrales, said the source.
Barrales, who heads the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and is an adviser to President Bush, will be the co-chair of a task force working on island status. As such, he will be the White House point man on Puerto Rico.
The Popular Democratic Party has been critical of Barrales since he said at a statehood rally on Barbosa Day, July 27, in Bayamon that Puerto Rico eventually will have to choose between statehood or independence as its permanent status. Commonwealth was ignored as a permanent solution. Diaz, Puerto Rico Republican Party Chairman Cesar Cabrera and Michael Govan, a consultant for the island GOP, met briefly with Card and Bolton, discussing generalities, said the source. They got down to more detailed business with Barrales.
During a discussion of how to move the status process along, Cabrera brought up the possibility of first addressing whether the island wants to move toward integration or separation. Diaz appeared in agreement with integration vs. separation as a first step in the process, the source said.
In the past, NPP leaders, such as former Govs. Luis A. Ferre, Pedro Rossello and Carlos Romero Barcelo, have opposed any intermediary steps toward statehood. They especially opposed the island first becoming an incorporated territory, as had been suggested, before reaching statehood. Such a transition phase could mean full federal funding and full inclusion in al federal programs, but also full federal taxation as the island moves toward statehood at an unspecified time.
The source said there was no discussion on whether integration would lead to incorporation. Nor were any proposals made on just how or when the island would make known its sentiment of whether it wants to move toward integration or separation, the source said.
But, the source added, it was generally agreed that as a first step in the process Puerto Rico must make it clear if it wants permanent union with the United States.