The Boston Globe


A right for Puerto Ricans


(Copyright 1997)

Next year will mark a century since Puerto Rico became a colonial possession of the United States. During that time nearly all other vestiges of US colonialism have vanished. But the principle of self-determination -- a concept that American leaders have sought to imprint on the rest of the world -- has not yet been applied to Puerto Rico.

In the next few weeks, the US House of Representatives will have a chance to right that historical anomaly and grant the 3.8 million US citizens living in Puerto Rico a long-overdue opportunity for self-determination. The United States-Puerto Rico Political Status Act, slated to come to the floor for a vote in the current House session, provides for a cautious democratic process culminating in a form of self-government chosen by the people of Puerto Rico.

This bipartisan bill, with 80 cosponsors, deserves support. It promises an end to the limbo of second-class citizenship for Puerto Ricans who have fought and died in US wars but are deprived of genuine representation in Congress and the right to vote in US presidential elections. Passage of the bill would also mean that the United States was no longer in the embarrassing position of being the last democratic nation to deprive millions of its own citizens the right to self-government.

The process envisaged in the bill would begin in 1998 with a referendum in Puerto Rico on political status. Voters could choose among three options: commonwealth status, independent sovereignty, or statehood. If independence or statehood was chosen, the President would submit to Congress a transition plan of at least 10 years. If approved by Congress, this plan would be submitted to the voters of Puerto Rico for ratification. Finally, an implementation plan would have to be approved by Congress and ratified by Puerto Rican voters at least two years before the end of the transition period. All these precedural precautions ensure that Puerto Rican self-determination will be democratic and voluntary.

Legislators who vote for this bill will be voting for basic American ideals.

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