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South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Rossello Pushes Statehood Issue In Re-Election Bid

By Sandra Hernandez

July 18, 2003
Copyright © 2003
South Florida Sun-Sentinel. All rights reserved. 

Former Puerto Rican governor Pedro Rosselló answers questions on Thursday in an interview during his trip to South Florida to garner support and to push for resolution of Puerto Rico’s statehood.

(Sun-Sentinel/Angel Valentin)

Former Gov. Pedro Rosselló of Puerto Rico is hoping to capitalize on the push by the two major parties in the United States for Hispanic votes as he runs for a third term.

A staunch advocate of statehood for the island, Rosselló said he would push the two parties to move toward resolving Puerto Rico's status as a way to gain support among Hispanics, the fastest-growing political bloc in the nation.

"Both parties aspire to be the majority, and they have to count on the Hispanic vote. Now there are 4 million U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico, and they have to take that into consideration," Rosselló said during an interview.

Rosselló was in South Florida on Thursday [Rosselló was in Central Florida over the weekend. The United States Citizens for Puerto Rican Statehood hosted a Fiesta del Pueblo on Saturday in Orlando] as part of his gubernatorial campaign. The 59-year-old politician is the front runner for the New Progressive Party's nomination. He met with several Miami-Dade County commissioners and Miami Mayor Manny Diaz.

But the majority of Rosselló's visit was spent speaking to South Florida's growing Puerto Rican community, some of whom turned out in Weston to hear him say the moment has come to petition Congress to reconsider statehood for the island.

"I see a new flank opening in the argument for statehood," Rosselló told a crowd of about 100 who turned out at Bonaventure Country Club. "It will be the first time all political parties are united in the feeling the status quo isn't acceptable, and we can go to the U.S. Congress and say we are united on this issue."

Political analysts agree there is a growing consensus among the island's political parties that the current status isn't working. But some cautioned Rosselló is promising more than he can deliver.

"No one is happy with the way things are, but he is creating false expectations by making people believe that Congress will address this issue. There is nothing to indicate that," said Noel Colon Martinez, a political analyst and a former head of Puerto Rico's Bar Association.

Currently, Puerto Ricans living on the island are not allowed to vote in U.S. presidential elections, something that angers many on the island.

Puerto Rico was given commonwealth status in 1952, allowing it to adopt a constitution and enhanced self-rule. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, subject to federal laws and most federal benefits. But those on the island don't pay federal taxes nor can they vote for president. In addition, their status, often likened to that of a colony, doesn't give Puerto Ricans a vote or voice in Congress. The lack of representation, especially on economic and military issues, has caused widespread frustration.

Rosselló served as governor from 1993 to 2000. His tenure was marred by corruption and ultimately the conviction of several in his administration.

Rosselló acknowledged mismanagement by some around him but insisted he was not aware of any wrongdoing and shouldn't be blamed for it.

"Over the past three years, I've probably been the person most investigated, and no evidence of wrong doing has emerged," he said. "Some people say I should have known that a secretary next to my office acquired a luxurious car, but it was acquired after I left" the governor's mansion.

Among those charged was Rosselló's personal assistant, who was accused last year of conspiracy and extortion.

Many of those in the Weston crowd said they back Rosselló because of his fierce statehood stance.

"I want to support him because he wants to bring us into the United States as a state," said Adriana Vargas, 34, of Miami. "I think there is a lot of support among those Puerto Ricans living here because we know we can't continue like this."

Others such as Omar Tirado, 26, of West Palm Beach said they wanted to hear his plans to help improve the economy, which has been in a slump and pushed many to leave. "He did a good job with the economy the last time he was governor," Tirado said.

There are an estimated 500,000 Puerto Ricans living in Florida, with almost 80,000 in Miami-Dade County, 55,000 in Broward County and another 25,000 in Palm Beach County, according to the Puerto Rican Professional Association. The group co-sponsored several of Rosselló's appearances in South Florida.

Puerto Ricans living in Florida can't vote in Puerto Rico's gubernatorial primary race, slated to take place in November, nor in next year's elections. But they can contribute to candidates' campaigns, and Rosselló hoped to raise money while here.

In addition to Rosselló, Anibal Acevedo Vilá is the Popular Democratic Party candidate. The Puerto Rican Independence Party has yet to nominate its candidate.

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