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The Tampa Tribune

Puerto Rico's ‘Private Ryan'


November 24, 2002
Copyright © 2002 The Tampa Tribune. All rights reserved. 

Several weeks ago an American serviceman died under enemy fire in Kuwait. Marine Lance Cpl. Antonio Sledd was Puerto Rican. His mother, now living in Tampa, was able to enlist the help of her congressman, her U.S. senators and a certain brother of the president in her quest to have Sledd's twin brother, a serviceman stationed abroad, brought home - in effect, "saving Private Ryan."

Had she remained in disenfranchised Puerto Rico, she would not have had all that help in protecting her lone surviving son. Cpl. Sledd's death in Kuwait, coupled with the fact that the United States soon could very well be at war with Iraq, raises some very troubling questions.

Since World War I, more than 200,000 Puerto Ricans, including the Sledd brothers, have served in the U.S. armed forces. But whether they raise the American flag in victory or anguish in its defeat, the U.S. government does not treat them equally at home. They can't even vote for the commander in chief who dispatches them into battle unless they move to the mainland, as the Sledd brothers" mother moved from San Juan to Tampa. Any American who is prepared to die in combat to defend the national interests of the United States deserves the right to vote for his or her commander in chief.

The U.S. government's blatant disregard for 3.9 million Americans who are not permitted to vote in national elections shows once again that the status of Puerto Rico should be re-evaluated. Puerto Ricans deserve all the national rights afforded to any other U.S. citizen, and they deserve the same political representation in Washington.

American democracy is predicated on the principle of consent. However, the people of Puerto Rico - granted U.S. citizenship by the Jones Act of 1917 - are not given that opportunity. It is outrageous that more than 3.9 million Americans - members of our great nation who can be called to serve in times of war - are not given the opportunity to vote in presidential elections.

Currently the American citizens of Puerto Rico have one nonvoting delegate in the U.S. House of Representatives and no representation in the U.S. Senate.

Despite their limited voice in the federal legislative branch, Puerto Ricans still are required to pay some federal taxes to the mainland and could be called to serve if there were a military draft.

The treatment of Puerto Rico by the U.S. government is not unlike Britain's treatment of the 13 American Colonies more than 200 years ago - treatment that sparked a revolution and gave birth to the United States, with its system of justice and democracy we all enjoy today.

Our Founding Fathers created a system of checks and balances and 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. They do not even have a voice in the debate about war with Iraq.

Statehood would make a world of difference in Puerto Rico. The people would have a voice and a seat at the table during national debates. We would have two U.S. senators and six members of Congress, based on current population. We would have the opportunity to be part of the process of selecting our national leaders and determining policy through our voting representatives in Washington.

As Puerto Ricans demonstrate once again their loyalty to every principle this nation stands for at this time of uncertainty, the time to allow Puerto Rico to decide its future has come.

Kenneth D. McClintock is minority leader of the Puerto Rico Senate.

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