The Plain Dealer - Cleveland, OH


(07/08/98 Copyright © The Plain Dealer 1998)

Just as efforts have begun to gather steam in the Senate to allow Puerto Ricans to determine their own future, a massive work stoppage in opposition to the sale of the island's government-owned telephone company could force legislators to question whether they are on the right track.

The Senate's Energy and National Resources Committee is to take up the issue of Puerto Rican self-determination July 14. A companion measure cleared the House in March, but by only one vote.

Progress through the Republican-dominated Senate was expected to be slow, since achievement of statehood was considered a strong possibility if Puerto Ricans were allowed to vote on their political future. Supposedly, GOP leaders feared that Democrats would be a majority in any Puerto Rican congressional delegation.

Other considerations weighed heavily with many legislators, especially the future role of the English language in Puerto Rico's official proceedings when most islanders speak Spanish. Some also believed that though the proposed legislation would allow voters to select independence as an option, the wording heavily favors statehood as opposed to continuation of commonwealth status.

Undeniably, statehood has a measure of support in Congress, especially among those who believe that though Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens under commonwealth rank, that form of government is just a benign form of colonialism. But the House vote to grant Puerto Ricans a voice in their own future split largely along party lines, with most Republicans opposed.

Whether GOP senators are more receptive remains to be seen, but current events in Puerto Rico are not likely to help the campaign for change. That the strike is intended to convey hostility to a cause dear to the hearts of most Republicans - privatization - seems certain to harden the attitudes of those already suspicious of self- determination supporters' motives.

Yet fairness suggests that the decision to grant a self- determination vote be debated on its own merits. After 100 years as a U.S. possession - and if the options are fairly presented and clearly explained - Puerto Rico should be well-equipped to respond intelligently.

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