The Detroit Free Press

"Puerto Ricans and statehood"

(03/13/98, Copyright 1998 @ The Detroit Free Press)

AFTER more than 11 hours of sometimes bitter, partisan debate, the U.S. House of Representatives has voted to hold a special referendum in Puerto Rico offering its citizens the option of statehood. The House vote, as ugly and as narrowly decided as it was, was a vote for fairness and decency. Puerto Ricans deserve the right to define their relationship with the United States on their own terms.

The legislation calls for Congress to approve the results of any vote in Puerto Rico. A majority vote by Puerto Ricans is required -- something not achieved in a 1993 nonbinding vote.

Many Puerto Rican citizens see their island as one of the last U.S. colonies, and the House vote was prompted by calls for self-determination for the Caribbean island. Even with the chance to vote for statehood, though, it is uncertain whether Puerto Ricans would take that route. The plebiscite in 1993 had 48 percent voting for continued commonwealth status and 46 percent for statehood.

Major support

The referendum for Puerto Ricans has the backing of President Clinton. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, however, has indicated the Senate was unlikely to get to it in time to schedule a vote this year.

That is unfortunate. The people of Puerto Rico have waited decades for the ability to determine their relationship with the United States. Although it is sure to be a closely contested vote, Puerto Ricans have earned the right to have it.

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