The Post-Standard Syracuse, NY


(03/10/98, Copyright 1998)

The issue of whether Puerto Rico should become the 51st state, remain a U.S. commonwealth or go for independence is an important, eventful decision that Puerto Ricans must decide if a bill narrowly approved by the House of Representatives also clears the Senate later.

It is a decision filled with significance and import, especially for those in Puerto Rico whose lives may significantly change, and for those Puerto Ricans living in the United States, whose hearts, families, cultures and language will also be affected.

In 1993, Puerto Ricans voted in a nonbinding plebiscite that carried no mandate for congressional action. A total of 48.6 percent voted to remain a commonwealth, 46.3 percent voted for statehood and 4.4 percent voted for independence. A majority vote for one option would be required for Congress to act on a 1998 plebiscite, which is an expression of the people's will by direct ballot.

The 1990 National Latino Political Survey found that only about one-quarter of Puerto Ricans or other Hispanics supported statehood.

Whatever the outcome, attaching an amendment to make English the only official language is an ill-advised initiative that already has threatened to prematurely doom the worthy plebiscite bill.

Despite its beginnings, America is the land of opportunity for all races, creeds and cultures, and none should be placed above the other where it can be used to diminish part of the lifeblood of a people.

It is an inappropriate side issue muddying the question of Puerto Rico's future.

Puerto Rico's current status began 100 years ago, when the United States won the colony as spoils of war with Spain. Today, its population of nearly 4 million are U.S. citizens who do not pay federal income tax and have no voting representative in Washington.

Many Puerto Ricans oppose statehood and favor the advantages of commonwealth status. "It allows us to be Puerto Ricans while still being U.S. citizens," said Anibal Acevedo-Vila, president of the pro-commonwealth Popular Democratic Party. "If you choose statehood, you will put in danger your culture, your identity, your nationhood. If you chose independence, you will lose your U.S. citizenship."

Whether Puerto Rico wants to make a change now may soon be in the hands of Puerto Ricans, where it should be.

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