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50th A Cause For Re-Evaluation, Not A Reason To Celebrate, Commonwealth’s Value Underestimated, It Isn’t Real, Much To Celebrate And Much To Be Proud, A Good Candidate To Be 51st State, Statehood Is Growing As The Preferred Option


Puerto Rico’s 50th Is Not So Much A Cause For Celebration As It Is For Re-Evaluation

JULY 30, 2002
©Copyright 2002 Bangor Daily News Bangor, ME. All world rights reserved.

On July 25, 1952, Puerto Rico was made a "free associated state," or commonwealth, of the United States. Under that constitution, Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens (as they have been since 1917), they can serve in the U.S. military, but they can't vote for president and have no voting representatives in Congress. They pay no federal income taxes, but do pay into Social Security. They mostly govern themselves, but Congress remains in charge of such matters as defense, immigration and trade.

These confusing quasi-independent, quasi-colonial factors produce confusing results. Puerto Rico is one of the most affluent islands in the Caribbean, yet its per-capita income is less than half of Mississippi, the poorest state. The tax breaks that once made the island a haven for U.S. corporations were repealed by Congress in 1996, yet the laws that prevent Puerto Rico from establishing its own economic policies remained in place and corporations responded by moving plants and jobs elsewhere. In a 1999 referendum , Puerto Ricans were presented with the options of remaining a commonwealth, pursuing U.S. statehood or declaring independence. The majority chose "none of the above."

As the demonstrations and rallies - peaceful while fervent - held during the first week of this year-long golden anniversary observation indicated, Puerto Rico 's 50th is not so much a cause for celebration as it is for re-evaluation. The special tax status that made the island thrive and made its subordinate political status palatable is gone and so is the public's taste for commonwealth. Even the ruling Popular Democratic Party, commonwealth's most staunch supporter, now says substantial change is needed and needed soon - the government has formed a commission of statehooders, independentistas and those who prefer expanding sovereignty under the commonwealth system to chart this course.

Congress can help promote this inclination toward peaceful change. First, there are some specific issues that get little attention in Washington but that are huge in San Juan. For example, the requirement that Puerto Rican manufacturers can only use cargo ships of American registry might have been defensible during the days of tax breaks. With the breaks gone, the high-cost expense of transportation makes Puerto Rican products unmarketable elsewhere.

Congress also must adjust its attitude toward the larger overall relationship. After a civilian was killed by an errant bomb at the Vieques military testing range in 1999, some in Congress tried to silence the island-wide protests by threatening to withhold the $6 billion in federal funds sent there every year, a tactic Congress would never employ against American citizens anywhere else. Puerto Ricans would not be silenced, however they made the case that 60 years as a bomb target was sacrifice enough and as a result of their persistence, the bombings will end next spring.

That episode had a powerful impact on the island - Puerto Ricans realized what they can accomplish when united. Now they are united again, this time the issue is their fundamental relationship with the United States. The United States, especially Congress, should take heed.

No Reason To Celebrate Puerto Rico's Status

Rosalinda DeJesus

JULY 30, 2002
©Copyright 2002 THE HARTFORD COURANT. All world rights reserved.

My parents migrated from Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, to Hartford in the late 1950s. They were part of the mass migration of families looking for jobs and educational opportunities at the time.

Fifty years after Puerto Rico's voters approved a new constitution, its people continue to move back and forth in significant numbers between the island and the mainland. Members of the island's commonwealth party commemorated July 25 - the day a half-century ago when Gov. Luis Munoz Marin proclaimed the new government's birth - but Puerto Ricans' transience is one of many reasons not to celebrate.

Puerto Rico's economy continues to struggle. People continue to lose jobs as corporations leave the island largely because of the federal government's phase-out of business tax breaks. The core of Puerto Rico's problem is the island's unusual and unresolved political status as an annex to the United States. The enactment of the constitution in 1952 did nothing to change that. Yes, it gave islanders the right to make their own local laws, but Puerto Rico continues to hold the dubious distinction of being the oldest colony in the world.

To this day, the majority of policy decisions about Puerto Rico are being made on Capitol Hill in Washington, where Puerto Ricans have no voting representation in Congress.

The current commonwealth status is unacceptable. Our government should be granting Puerto Ricans the right to decide whether they want the island to become a state or an independent nation, instead of perpetuating the status quo. Then Congress should immediately act upon those wishes.

It's an issue that Puerto Ricans in Hartford and all mainlanders throughout the United States should care about because the health of Puerto Rico and its residents affects Hartford's health. Think about it. Puerto Rican migration affects transient rates in Hartford schools, housing vacancy rates, census figures and the dissemination of federal aid.

Migration affects the local economy and the outcome of political campaigns. Remember, Puerto Ricans vote, work, send their kids to school and contribute to this country just like everyone else does. Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila, the island's non-voting delegate to the U.S. House, decided to ignore these realities when he introduced a resolution on the House floor commemorating status. U.S. Rep. Jose E. Serrano was the first to express his opposition to the resolution because "to celebrate any colonial status is to promote it and prolong it ... This Congress should not be celebrating or promoting the continued colonialism of Puerto Rico. We hold the key to ending the colonial status of Puerto Rico. It is high time that we use it."

His speech struck a chord. By the end of the day, 31 other House members had voted against the resolution. Back in the 1950s, my parents came to Hartford looking for the American dream. I was lucky enough to reap the benefits of that decision. All Puerto Ricans should have the opportunity to succeed, and they shouldn't have to make the choice my parents made of leaving their homeland to do so.

We can start contributing to the island's success by granting Puerto Ricans the right to determine their own political destiny.

As Congressman Serrano put it in his speech on the House floor, "We must do so without excuses and without fear, but with courage and the unshakable conviction that it is the right and honorable thing to do."

Rosalinda DeJesus, a former Courant reporter and former press secretary to U.S. Rep. Jose E. Serrano, D-N.Y., is public relations director for a nonprofit education advocacy organization in Pennsylvania.

7/30: Letters to the Editor

Commonwealth Status

JULY 30, 2002
©Copyright 2002 Orlando Sentinel. All world rights reserved.

In response to Maria Padilla's July 24 column, "After 50 years, islanders long for next step": I applaud the Sentinel for addressing the 50th anniversary of Puerto Rico's Constitution and the new voter registration campaign here, but I believe that Padilla underestimates the value Puerto Rico's commonwealth status provides the island's residents and our extended community here.

Puerto Ricans recognize that there are certainly tradeoffs in being a commonwealth, but when it came down to public votes in 1967, 1993 and 1998 -- as well as when they elected their current governor in 2000 -- Puerto Ricans clearly indicated that they prefer to govern themselves rather than give up their culture and autonomy. Yes, Puerto Ricans on the island do not have the ability to vote in federal elections or in Congress, but the strength of the commonwealth is in self-governance and the ability to develop their own unique tools for economic growth and international trade as they see fit, while retaining the national identity and culture that make us all so proud.

Padilla is right about one thing: Puerto Ricans are proud of our bond with the United States. Through our economic and cultural contributions and our active participation in our armed forces, we continually renew our commitment to the rights and responsibilities of American citizenship.

The governor's vision for the future of Puerto Rico and its people is to be commended, and her voter-registration drive is a strong step to unifying all Puerto Ricans in support of our common goal -- a better future for ALL of us. Whether Puerto Ricans live on the island or on the mainland, as I do, we are truly one family that must work together to ensure continued progress and development for our communities -- here and there.

Zulma Velez-Estrada

Puerto Ricans Marks 50 Years Of Commonwealth Status


JULY 25, 2002
©Copyright 2002 The Daytona Beach News-Journal. All world rights reserved.

DELTONA -- At least 50 decades of the history of an island and its people are behind the ceremonious installation of the Puerto Rican flag at Orlando City Hall today.

But the island's history is intertwined with Deltona's, which, according to the census, has become Volusia County's largest city, partly fueled by the growth of the Puerto Rican community.

Census figures indicate Puerto Ricans account for 47 percent of Volusia's 29,111 Hispanics. They also are the largest Hispanic group in Flagler County, accounting for 40 percent of its 2,537 Hispanics.

Today, the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration in Central Florida will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

"This historic occasion will mark the first time the Puerto Rican flag is installed in (Orlando) City Hall," said Ana Carrion of the federal affairs office.

At the ceremony two proclamations saluting the Puerto Rican community are to be presented, including one conferred by Gov. Jeb Bush. The event also features a special performance by the Choir of the University of Puerto Rico, Carolina Campus.

But as the clock ticks toward the historical celebration, local Puerto Ricans reminisce about the island gaining commonwealth status.

Juan Faria, a local baker, came here to reunite with family after living in New York state. "The best thing that has happened to Puerto Rico has been the commonwealth status," he said. "Through that, we have had all the elements of progress."

Ernesto Rivera agrees. The newcomer to Deltona said without that status "Puerto Rico would not be where it is now."

Lydia Pavon of Deltona said she grew up on the mainland, so the island's commonwealth status hasn't impacted her directly. But, Pavon said, all Puerto Ricans, including those outside the island, should have a say in the island's future if they are asked again if they favor keeping the commonwealth status.

Ernesto Cortes said he thinks it's time for the Puerto Rican people to decide something different. The Deltonan said the island's commonwealth status "isn't real."

"It was a formula that was given to Puerto Rico so they could improve their condition," he said. "The same thing was given to other nations that couldn't support themselves."

Cortes believes Puerto Rico should become a state of the United States.

Benjamin Lopez Cotto lives in Sanford and was working in Deltona this week. He said he belongs to the political party that favors the commonwealth status, and believes it should remain as is. In that way, he said, the island has the best of both worlds.


Celebrating Puerto Rico

August 1, 2002
©Copyright 2002 THE NEW YORK TIMES. All world rights reserved.

Re "In Puerto Rico, a Milestone; in New York City, Not Much Celebrating" (news article, July 26):

One can't help but be disappointed that you did not mention the events commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Puerto Rico Constitution — events held from Boston to New York to Miami to Chicago.

Once the poorest land in the hemisphere, Puerto Rico now boasts one of the strongest economies in the region. Puerto Ricans are now among the healthiest, most productive and best-educated people in the hemisphere. Puerto Ricans go to bed relatively well fed, well housed, at peace and politically secure.

Once a place to run from, Puerto Rico has become a place to run to. There is much to celebrate and much to be proud of — so much so, indeed, that some of us have started to take our achievements for granted.

Regional Director, Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration
New York, July 27, 2002

Kids ink

J. Hope Babowice

You wanted to know

July 31, 2002
©Copyright 2002 Chicago Daily Herald. All world rights reserved.

"Do you want a 51st state?," asked Michael Seal, 10, a soon-to- be fifth-grader at Hawthorn Elementary South in Vernon Hills.

Did you know there are certain requirements for a territory to become a state? The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 set out a list of requirements for territories to achieve statehood . The territory must have a total population of at least 60,000. At least 5,000 people must be of voting age. It must have an established government. It must be self-sufficient. The residents must vote to accept U.S. statehood and the U.S. Congress and Senate must accept a bill outlining statehood for that territory and pass the bill with majority vote.

Hawaii, our 50th state, accomplished all those criteria almost 43 years ago. The state celebrates its being admitted to the Union with a national holiday annually the third Friday in August.

The U.S. still has a number of territories and possessions, some of which could possibly become states. They are: American Samoa, Baker and Howland Islands, Guam, Jarvis Island, Kingman Reef and Palmyra Atoll, Johnston Atoll, Midway Islands, Navassa, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico , the Virgin Islands and the Wake Islands.

What's the possibility of there being a 51st state? During the past few years, there has been some discussion that the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico be made a state. Based on the 2000 census, its population of 3.8 million residents would satisfy one of the criteria, which would make it the 25th most populous state if admitted. The country would be entitled to six representatives and, of course, two senators.

Puerto Rico , however, has not been able to pass a vote, the most recent of which was taken in 1998.

U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk, a Republican from Highland Park, reflected on the possibility of Puerto Rico becoming a state.

"I support a 51st state-the State of Puerto Rico . Puerto Rico has been administered by the United States since the Spanish- American War of 1898-99. Run as a Commonwealth, Puerto Ricans pay no federal income tax and have only one nonvoting "resident commissioner" to represent them in the Congress."

"Over the years," Kirk continued, "Puerto Ricans have considered three options for their political future: continued commonwealth, independence and statehood . Over time, Puerto Rico 's growing affluence has convinced most Puerto Ricans to favor union with the U.S. as a commonwealth or a state. Over time, the arguments for statehood get stronger and I hope Puerto Rico 's 4 million people will vote to become our 51st state."

For more information

To learn more about states, the Cook Memorial Public Library suggests:

- " Puerto Rico Deciding its Future" by Judith Harlan.

- " Puerto Rico America's 51st State" by David Abodaher.

- "Hawaii" by Joyce Johnston ("Hello U.S.A." series).

- "Alaska" by Joyce Johnston ("Hello U.S.A." series).


Puerto Rico, Up to Date

August 3, 2002
©Copyright 2002 THE NEW YORK TIMES. All world rights reserved.

To the Editor:

The 50th anniversary of Puerto Rico's constitution (editorial, July 27) is simply a reminder of the "unincorporated territory" policy devised by the same Supreme Court that brought us the policy of separate but equal and that harks back to the 19th century.

Both the United States and Puerto Rico need to move forward. It is not acceptable to continue languishing in the limbo of unincorporated territory (a k a commonwealth) until the "introspection" in Puerto Rico comes to its own conclusion.

Although it is clear that statehood is growing as the preferred option, Congress should force the issue. Recognize that the commonwealth is the problem and cannot be an option, and give Puerto Rico's citizens a clear choice on which to decide: independence or statehood. Bring the political status of Puerto Rico into a realm conducive with 21st-century thinking.

Senate Minority Leader
San Juan, P.R., July 29, 2002

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