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The Star-Ledger Newark, NJ

Puerto Ricans Deserve Full Voice Of Statehood


November 8, 2002
Copyright © 2002 The Star-Ledger Newark, NJ. All rights reserved. 

American democracy is predicated on the principle that all citizens can participate in the election of their government.

Based on that principle, voters throughout New Jersey went to the polls Tuesday to elect a senator and several representatives who will participate fully in the decisions in Congress that affect people's daily lives. Moreover, New Jersey voters living abroad are entitled to vote by absentee ballot, regardless of whether they are in Mexico, France or Saudi Arabia.

Close to 4 million Americans - those residing in Puerto Rico - didn't elect a senator or House members Tuesday. American citizens since 1917, Puerto Ricans have been denied the full voting rights every other American enjoys. Currently, citizens in Puerto Rico have one nonvoting delegate in the House of Representatives and have no representation in the Senate.

Despite Puerto Rico 's limited voice in the legislative branch of the government in Washington, Puerto Ricans are still required to pay some taxes to the federal government and can be drafted into the military. In fact, as we wage war against terrorism, thousands of disenfranchised American citizens from Puerto Rico serve in our armed forces - one of them, Lance Cpl. Antonio James Sledd, already having given his life in the terrorist attack against American servicemen in Kuwait several weeks ago.

Despite those sacrifices, the treatment of Puerto Rico by the U.S. government is not unlike Britain's treatment of our Colonies more than 200 years ago - treatment that sparked a revolution and gave birth to the system of justice and democracy most of us enjoy today. Our Founding Fathers made sure the people were part of the process of choosing their leaders.

However, the people of Puerto Rico do not have a say in electing any of our national leaders. At a time when the government is seriously discussing the possibility of war with Iraq, they do not even have a voice in the debate. Since World War I, more then 200,000 Puerto Ricans have fought for this country, and they continue to serve in the armed forces.

But the government does not treat Puerto Ricans equally at home, where they can't even vote for the commander in chief who dispatches them into battle.

The government's blatant disregard for a significant population of Americans who are not permitted to vote in national elections shows once again that the status of Puerto Rico should be re-evaluated. The people of Puerto Rico deserve all the rights afforded to all other U.S. citizens and deserve the same political voice as any other state.

Statehood for Puerto Rico would make a difference. It would mean that the people of Puerto Rico would have a voice and a seat at the table for national debates. They would have two senators and six members of the House based on the current population. They would have the opportunity to be part of the process of selecting our national leaders and determining policy though their voting legislative voice in Washington.

The time has come for Congress to act and give Puerto Rico the opportunity to choose its future.

Kenneth McClintock is the Senate mi nority leader in Puerto Rico.

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