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THE MIAMI HERALD
Puerto Ricans Need A Way Out Of Limbo
BY HERBERT W. BROWN
April 7, 2004
The campaign trail has taken off, and the candidates are doing their best to win favors with the most coveted segment of the population for this election: the Hispanic vote.
Puerto Ricans are the second-largest community of U.S. Hispanics. On the island, we have received one presidential candidate after another. Vice President Cheney stopped by in February, and now Sen. John Kerry, a frequent visitor, is promising to be the first president in recent times to visit the island if elected. While these gentlemen can island-hop all they want, they need to come and finally take a firm stand on the one issue that matters most to Puerto Ricans -- unresolved political status.
Puerto Ricans can't vote in the federal elections for president, yet politicians have long been making a habit of visiting the island. Why? Three main reasons:
To raise funds.
To seeks stateside votes. Studies project that the number of mainland Puerto Ricans will surpass island Puerto Ricans this summer; politicians hope a connection with the island will resonate with the mainland voting population.
To win over much-needed delegates for the national party conventions. It's ironic that Puerto Ricans can vote at the convention but not when it really counts. Sadly, even at the convention only a few have a say, considering that Puerto Rico's delegates are hand-picked by the parties themselves.
However, Puerto Rico is not just a Latino issue. More than 4 million U.S. citizens live in Puerto Rico. Their rights are limited due to the ambiguous nature of the island's territorial status. They are subject to double jeopardy, they are capped in federal funding far beyond what they are exempt from paying in federal income taxes, and more than 200,000 have served in the U.S. armed forces, where nearly 2,000 have died in service over the years.
The casualty rate of Puerto Ricans in Iraq proportionally exceeds that of 44 states. If the same casualty ratio per population were applied to the entire United States, deaths would total 942. Currently, casualties number about 600. That's why the major veterans organizations in the country, including the American Legion, have all come out in support of a process of self-determination. Furthermore, legislative bodies in California, Wisconsin, Texas and Florida have supported the same. The most recent endorsements have come in a resolution from the New Mexico General Assembly and a proclamation by Gov. Bill Richardson.
A process of self-determination is needed, where Puerto Ricans can choose among constitutionally viable nonterritorial options and settle their status once and for all. This dilemma has gone on for too long, and the winner of the presidential election will have to fulfill a long-awaited commitment to self-determination for 4 million American citizens in Puerto Rico who remain waiting final action.
Herbert W. Brown III is president of the Citizens' Educational Foundation-US, a Washington, DC organization promoting Puerto Rico's Self-Determination.