Let Puerto Rico Design Its Own Future

(08/03/98, Copyright © 1998 Newsday Inc.)

Puerto Rico is going to hold another referendum on the question of statehood, but the nonbinding plebiscite isn't what it really needs. What the island needs is Senate approval of a House-passed bill that would allow the island to decide for real whether it wants to be a state. Unfortunately, the Senate doesn't seem much interested.

The truth is, Puerto Ricans are split on the matter of statehood. A 1993 plebiscite and more recent polls show statehood running about even with continued commonwealth status. (A minority of maybe 8 percent wants independence.) But with permission from Congress, Puerto Ricans could finally stop the agonizing and decide their future.

Why does the Senate drag its feet?

Because, as it turns out, the possibility of statehood stirs fear on a surprisingly broad scale. Many Puerto Ricans - justifiably - think that statehood would mean sacrificing much of the island's Spanish culture. Some statesiders, in contrast, worry that statehood would wind up creating a Quebec-style political dilemma for the United States.

Never mind. It's only reasonable that a country as committed to democracy as ours should give Puerto Rico a say in its future.

If statehood is the verdict, then everyone must compromise. The island's schools must produce graduates fluent in English. And mainland politicians must admit that a State of Puerto Rico - committed to full participation in American life and a firm adherence to American ideals - will not weaken our union, but strengthen it.

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