Albuquerque Journal - Albuquerque, NM
Puerto Rico Primed For Vote on Its Status
(07/17/98 Copyright © 1998)
At the end of this month, the island of Puerto Rico will mark the
100th anniversary of U.S. troops landing on its soil. That, along
with the recent celebration of the Fourth of July and talks in the
U.S. Senate of a plebiscite on statehood all serve as reminders to
the Puerto Rican people of the question that divides them: what the
political future of Puerto Rico should and will be.
Earlier this year, the U.S. House passed a measure allowing Puerto
Rico's citizens to determine that future with a three-option
plebiscite: to become a U.S. state, become fully independent or
continue as a commonwealth, with American citizenship, military draft
responsibilities, no federal taxes and no voice in federal elections.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said he doesn't intend
to hold a vote in the Senate this year, but the Clinton
administration and Puerto Rico's governor (from the pro-statehood
Popular Democratic Party) are trying to change his mind before the
current Congress adjourns.
While officials of Puerto Rican government favor statehood, there
is a strong nationalist movement in the country concerned that
privatization of government corporations will lead to layoffs. The
country has been in turmoil in recent weeks as the result of a phone
strike prompted by the government's attempted sale of the Puerto
Rican phone company to corporate interests.
The very vocal and visible nationalist strikers claim they have
the support of "the people." But the will of the people is best
demonstrated in the form of a vote.
The House bill under Senate consideration would not automatically
change Puerto Rico's status. It would require two more bills and
three popular mandates from the people of Puerto Rico over a period
of up to 12 years or more for change to occur.
Residents in 1993 voted by a very slim margin to maintain
commonwealth status -- reflecting the divisiveness on the state vs.
With the country's status again at the forefront of national
debate, and with both statehood and independence advocates in support
of an election, the Senate should move toward authorizing a
plebiscite for the Puerto Rican people.