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Puerto Rico: Equal In War, Unequal In Peace

By Kenneth D. McClintock | Special to the Sentinel

April 8, 2003
Copyright © 2003
THE ORLANDO SENTINEL. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- They have been sent to possibly give the ultimate sacrifice for this great nation. As the coalition forces fight to end the reign of Saddam Hussein, there are more men and women fighting for the principles of this great country from Puerto Rico than from almost any state of the union. However, in their case, when they come home, they will be denied the right to participate in the election of our nation's commander in chief.

Courageous men and woman from the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico who serve in the armed forces are protecting this country from the evildoings of Saddam. They go through the training of putting on gas masks in case of chemical warfare, risk losing their lives in a gunfight, and lead our troops into Saddam-controlled towns to free them of his regime.

Since 1898, the American flag has flown over Puerto Rico. Since 1917, residents have been U.S. citizens. Since 1948, they have elected their own governors. However, 104 years after becoming part of our nation, 86 years after some of their residents served in the First World War, 64 years after some served in the Second World War, decades after some served in Vietnam, and now that they are fighting Saddam for the second time around, it is outrageous that Puerto Ricans continue to serve in times of war such as these but are not given the right to vote in presidential elections in times of peace. As we raise the American flag in victory and anguish in its defeat, the United States government does not treat Puerto Ricans equally at home, when they're denied the right to vote for the commander in chief who dispatches them into battle.

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, there are more than 145,000 veterans living in Puerto Rico. Most of them served during World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm and Somalia.

Currently, the American citizens of Puerto Rico have one non-voting delegate in the House of Representatives and have no representation in the United States Senate. Despite Puerto Rico's limited voice in the federal legislative branch of the United States government, Puerto Ricans are still required to pay some federal taxes and can serve in the military.

The White House began to move in 2000 on an initiative to give Puerto Ricans the chance to choose their future relationship, be it statehood or independence. President Bush reaffirmed his support for that process after taking office in 2001.

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. Most important, we would have a voice to choose who sends us to war by voting for the president of the United States. We would have two U.S. senators and six members of Congress based on the current population. We would have the opportunity to be part of the process of selecting our national leaders and determining policy through their voting legislative voice in Washington.

Particularly during these times of war, when we pay the blood tax that other states pay, the time for Puerto Ricans to be given the chance to choose their future has come.

Sen. Kenneth D. McClintock is Puerto Rico's Senate minority Leader and former chairman of the Council of State Governments. He wrote this column for the Orlando Sentinel.

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