Sun-Sentinel, Ft. Lauderdale


(05/15/98, Copyright © 1998 Sun-Sentinel)

Puerto Ricans deserve a chance to decide if they want to be full-fledged Americans, paying federal income taxes and electing their fair share of U.S. senators and representatives. To deny Puerto Ricans a vote on choosing whether to become a state, as the stubborn Sen. Trent Lott has been doing, is to denigrate their 100 years of paying dues as U.S. citizens without full rights and responsibilities.

Puerto Ricans have fought in wars and died for the United States, yet they remain as sort of half-citizens. They can't vote in presidential elections, and elect just one non-voting delegate to Congress while being exempt from paying income taxes.

As polls show, perhaps they would narrowly reject becoming this country's 51st state, choosing instead to continue the current commonwealth status. Or maybe they would approve becoming a state; the third choice, leaping to independence as a new nation, has little support on the island.

The proposal to conduct a referendum was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives but is stalled in the Senate because of Lott's intransigence. As Republican Senate majority leader, Lott pretty much controls what bills are voted on, and he contends the referendum tilts toward statehood.

Not only is Lott being unfair to Puerto Ricans, and cutting against the views of such party stalwarts as Bob Dole, the majority leader's not even showing political acumen. Republican Party pollsters and consultants are saying the GOP must reach out to Hispanic voters for the coming century, and to push for the Puerto Rican referendum would give the party favorable marks.

It's not as if Puerto Ricans are committed Democrats. Their deeply conservative views seem to fit best on the Republican side. By large majorities, Puerto Ricans oppose abortion, support school vouchers and silent school prayer, and advocate a strong national defense.

Many Puerto Ricans were offended by the anti-immigration views of 1996 GOP presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, and the resentment remains. It wouldn't take much, though, for Republicans to win their votes.

A recent poll shows 97 percent of Puerto Ricans want a chance to vote on their political status. On the mainland, 63 percent of American voters favor a referendum in Puerto Rico, a stunningly high figure.

Next Tuesday, the bill will get a hearing in the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. That would be an ideal time for Lott to announce a change of heart and a willingness to schedule a Senate vote, this year, on a referendum in Puerto Rico. In fairness, he ought to do just that.

Self-Determination Legislation | Puerto Rico Herald Home
Newsstand | Puerto Rico | U.S. Government | Archives
Search | Mailing List | Contact Us | Feedback