Portland Press Herald



(03/06/98, Copyright 1998)

It would be fitting if, during this centennial year of Puerto Rico having become a U.S. territory, Congress enacts legislation that would give the island another chance to determine its fate.

On Wednesday the House approved by a single vote, 209-208, a bill that would put the question of Puerto Rico's future before its people for the third time in a little more than 30 years.

On two previous occasions, in 1967 and 1993, the citizens of Puerto Rico have elected to remain a commonwealth possession of the United States rather than become either an independent nation or the 51st state.

Many say the 1993 vote was tainted by exaggerated promises of the economic benefits of commonwealth status, and that Puerto Rico deserves to choose between more realistic visions of its future.

The important principle, though, is that Puerto Rico gets to make the choice. The United States has retained possession of this island for a century. Its culture, though distinctly Latin, is intertwined with that of the mainland. Its people are, by law, citizens of the United States. As such, they deserve the right to determine their destiny.

If approved by the Senate and signed by the president, the bill passed by the House would again allow Puerto Rico to choose among statehood, commonwealth status and independence.

If citizens chose statehood, a bill approving Puerto Rico's entry into the union and establishing a transition period of no more than 10 years would then be sent to Congress.

Some opponents to the measure approved by the House Wednesday said they worried that Puerto Rico's culture - both English and Spanish are spoken there, with Spanish dominating - would clash with that of the rest of the country.

We suspect, however, that the nation would be enriched by the contribution of a Spanish-speaking state. Also, it is far more likely that U.S. culture will have a stronger impact on Puerto Rico's culture than the other way around. That is an issue best weighed by the citizens of Puerto Rico.

The American people living on the island of Puerto Rico deserve the right to determine their destiny. As such, the Senate and president should follow the House's lead and put Puerto Rico's future to a vote in Puerto Rico.

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