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Paying Tribute To A Shared Heritage, Bloomberg Says Puerto Ricans Should Control Their Destiny

Paying Tribute To A Shared Heritage


JULY 26, 2002
©Copyright 2002 Newsday. All world rights reserved.

San Juan, Puerto Rico - Mayor Michael Bloomberg yesterday paid homage to the thousands of Puerto Ricans who have died in wars during the island's long, often-conflicted relationship with the United States.

Under a scorching sun outside the seaside Capitol, Bloomberg spoke before tens of thousands of people as a representative of President George W. Bush at ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of the constitution establishing the island as a commonwealth.

"President Bush, at this time while we are fighting terrorism around the world, is particularly mindful of the contributions that Puerto Ricans ... have made throughout the years fighting and dying as Americans," Bloomberg said as the throng cheered and waved Puerto Rican and American flags.

"We can never bring them back," he said. "But we can always remember."

The two-hour spectacular featuring the island's music and dance contrasted with a smaller gathering of independence supporters in the southern town of Guanica at the port where U.S. soldiers invaded on July 1898 to wrest control from Spain. Thousands there waved the Puerto Rican flag and signs saying, "Enough of the colony."

For Bloomberg, the trip was the latest gesture toward the 1.3 million Puerto Ricans living in New York. The mayor will visit the Dominican Republic today.

At the capitol, Puerto Rican Gov. Sila Calderon drew cheers when she spoke of the "aspiration and desire of a people to fully exercise democracy and free determination without giving up their national identity."

A strong supporter of commonwealth status , Calderon was surrounded by representatives of 14 countries and delegation of Puerto Rican elected officials from New York, including Sen. Olga Mendez and Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion.

"Today we celebrate the day when our people took a step in the long struggle to govern ourselves," Calderon said.

The island's constitution, drafted by its leaders and approved by the U.S. president and Congress, took effect July 25, 1952, establishing Puerto Rico as a "Free Associated State," or commonwealth. Since then, Puerto Ricans have remained deeply divided over their relationship with the United States.

Speaking to reporters before the ceremony, Bloomberg refused to enter the heated debate over the island's status .

"That's up to the Puerto Rican people to decide," he said. "I've always been a believer that people should be in control of their own destiny."

He began his remarks to the crowd in Spanish, saying "Amigos, gracias!" Then he read a message from Bush:

"The people of Puerto Rico have made invaluable contributions to the cultural diversity, economic strength and proud heritage of our nation."

While many Puerto Ricans acknowledge that commonwealth status helped bring economic prosperity, others argue the island has merely become the oldest colony in the modern world.

The debate intensified when a stray U.S. Navy bomb killed a civilian guard on Vieques in 1999. The Navy has used the island for target practice for more than half a century. Bush has pledged the Navy will leave Vieques in May.

Nearly 4 million Puerto Ricans live in Puerto Rico, while 3.4 million more reside on the mainland, mostly in New York and Florida.

Bloomberg: Puerto Ricans Should Control Their Destiny

By Raquel Velazquez

JULY 26, 2002
©Copyright 2002 WOW News. All world rights reserved.

Standing along the north steps of the Capitol with sounds of proud Puerto Ricans celebrating the 50th anniversary of the commonwealth’s constitution on the opposite side, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said on Thursday regarding status that, "Puerto Rico should be in control of their own destiny."

The top New York City official, who read a message on behalf of President George W. Bush, said that during his limited period in public office he has learned not to get involved in domestic disputes, but that our status issue is quite complex.

"This is for the Puerto Rican people to decide," said the Republican mayor donned in a dark gray suit, "I have always been a believer that people should be in control of their own destiny and it’s the sort of thing that the people of Puerto Rico have to work out. There are issues and arguments on both sides and that is what democracy is all about -- healthy discussion."

Bloomberg, who is mayor to more than 4 million Puerto Ricans, who live in New York City, said that he felt very flattered to be on the island as representative of the U.S. President George W. Bush.

Regarding his own relationship with New York Puerto Ricans, Bloomberg said he has a lot in common with their spirit. "I care about any group that is willing to come and add something. Its very easy to sit back and be complacent as it is easy to sit back and complain, but people who get up and make a better life for themselves have a spirit that I salute and I share."

When asked about Gov. Calderon’s controversial voter registration campaign recently held in the United States, the billionaire businessman who spent nearly $72 million of his own money to become mayor of the Big Apple expressed his support of Calderon’s efforts.

"I have always been a believer that you need more people voting and more people running for office and this is the way the public can get the best government," adding that, "anything that anybody can do to register people and anything anybody can do to make it easier to get on the ballot and run, I support it wholeheartedly."

Bloomberg said that Puerto Ricans have a great deal to be proud of on this special occasion. "Puerto Rico is part of the United States…a great part. As far as its relationship with the United States you have to look back at the number of people of Puerto Rican ancestry, who fought and died in wars around the world to protect all Americans whether they live in Puerto Rico or elsewhere."

The New York businessman turned politician also added there are "proportionally more Puerto Rican descent recipients of the Medal of Honor than you would expect. They have given an enormous amount to our country, and today it’s a great time to celebrate them as well.

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