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(Copyright 1998)

The U.S. Congress will have an opportunity early this year to correct an injustice that has existed for a hundred years. Puerto Rico, which has been a territory of the United States since the Spanish-American War, has asked Congress to authorize a referendum to allow it’s 3.8 million residents, all of whom are U.S. citizens, to decide their political status in relation to the United States. For nearly forty years, Puerto Rico has been governed as a commonwealth, with its residents having U.S. citizenship but no voting representation in Congress and not having the right to vote in U.S. presidential elections. This has had the unfortunate effect of reducing them to second-class citizenship and exposing the U.S. to the international criticism that it maintains a colonial relationship with Puerto Rico.

Representative Don Young (R.-Alaska) is leading the effort in the U.S. House of Representatives to correct this situation. He introduced H.R. 856, a bill entitled "The U.S.-Puerto Rico Political Status Act", which authorizes a referendum that will allow the people of Puerto Rico to choose their preferred political status: statehood, commonwealth or independence. The bill, which has more than 90 co-sponsors, was overwhelmingly approved by the House Resources Committee last May by a vote of 44 to 1. The co- sponsors include conservative republicans and liberal democrats, and range from Speaker Newt Gingrich to Representative Patrick Kennedy and Representative Esteban Torres. Despite this bipartisan support, the bill has not gone to the House floor for a vote because of the adamant insistence of some conservative House members, led by Representative Gerald Solomon (R-NY), that English be the exclusive language of public instruction in Puerto Rico, should its people choose the statehood option. The Republican leadership is concerned that this, and other political concerns about Puerto Rico, could divide the GOP in a critical election year. This is an onerous imposition, in view of the fact that English and Spanish are already the two official languages of the island and all Federal official business is conducted in English. We oppose any Congressional effort to impose any such discriminatory, and arguably unconstitutional, requirement on Puerto Rico.

 The Republican majority in Congress has it within its power to grant or deny passage of H.R. 856. Should it fail to act in accordance with our nation’s traditional support for self- determination, and Puerto Rico’s right to exercise it, the Republican Party, which recently lost nearly half of the Hispanic electoral support gained during the Reagan-Bush years, will continue to lose Hispanic voters, and again find itself the minority party in Congress. In order to regain its previous position of increasing support among Hispanics, the Republican leadership needs to remind its right-wing members of this basic political fact. We believe that it is time that Congress correct the injustice which our fellow citizens have suffered for so many years. Self determination has been a bed-rock principle of American democracy since the founding of the United States of America. We have fought several wars, spent billions of dollars, and sacrificed millions of American lives for this principle to be respected around the world. Surely, we can allow Puerto Rico to have a genuine and peaceful referendum on its political status and respect its right to self-determination.

Puerto Ricans have contributed much to American society and culture. They have fought courageously in the defense of our country in every war fought by the U.S. in the last century, and "English Only" was not required of the brave Puerto Ricans who served in our military forces. They have enriched our multi-cultural society and they add much to the rapidly growing Hispanic community on the mainland. Respect for democracy and justice demands that this publication and its readers support our fellow U. S. citizens and Hispanics living on the island of Puerto Rico in their quest for self determination. Therefore, we urge Congress to act without delay and pass H.R. 856, without any discriminatory language requirements, and to respect whatever decision on political status is made by the people of Puerto Rico.

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