Summary: Arguments on questions of statehood, independence or
commonwealth status don't have simple answers
Last weekend, tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans rallied, on
the island and in some mainland U.S. cities, to mark the
anniversary of the invasion of Puerto Rico by U.S. troops at the
end of the Spanish-AmericanWar.
One hundred years ago, Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines --
the last remnants of the Spanish empire that once ranged from
Tierra del Fuego to Colorado -- were taken by the United States. Of
the three, only Puerto Rico remains under the American flag.
Whether it should remain so, and in what form, is the issue
that has consumed Puerto Ricans for a century. Should Puerto Rico
remain a commonwealth? Should it become a sovereign republic? Or
the 51st state?
The issue is a mere blip on the radar screens of most
Americans. But at some point, the Puerto Rican question is going to
become a major issue here in the States. In March, the U.S. House
of Representatives approved a bill that calls for a binding
plebiscite that would allow Puerto Ricans to choose an option. The
bill has stalled in the Senate. So last Saturday, Gov. Pedro
Rossello announced that a non-binding referendum will be held in
The December ballot will undoubtedly be mostly ignored by most
Americans, since it will be non-binding. But if the Senate ever
gets around to approving a referendum that counts, Americans are
going to sit up and pay attention, because there is a possibility
that a Spanish-speaking tropical island will become as much a part
of the United States as New Hampshire.
It's a complicated question, with sensible arguments on all
For independence: Whatever its present status and despite
Rossello's politically motivated claim to the contrary, Puerto Rico
is a Latin American nation. It has a language, tradition and
culture that make it more like Mexico or even Spain than like New
Hampshire or even Texas. So why should it not be in charge of its
destiny as much as Mexico or Spain?
Against independence: As surely as Puerto Rico is culturally
and linguistically a nation, it is not a nation in the full sense
of the word. To be a sovereign nation requires a desire of the
people to be sovereign, and Puerto Ricans plainly do not want
independence -- just 5.4 percent voted for it in 1993. There is
also the risk of losing the U.S. subsidies and tax breaks that give
Puerto Rico a higher standard of living than most of Latin America.
For commonwealth: Remaining halfway between independence and
statehood is the best of both worlds. The system brings economic
aid from the federal government and the political protection of the
world's most powerful country, yet provides Puerto Ricans with a
measure of self-rule and cultural independence.
Against commonwealth: Remaining halfway between independence
and statehood is the worst of both worlds. Puerto Ricans must fight
in American wars but have no say in Congress and cannot vote for
president. The island is no more than a colony, ruled from abroad.
For statehood: Puerto Ricans would become full participants in
the affairs of the world's superpower, with all the financial and
political benefits that come with being part of the United States.
Culturally, Hispanic traditions and the Spanish language in Puerto
Rico are strong enough to survive statehood, yet Anglo traditions
and the English language in the United States are strong enough to
insure that the presence of one small, Spanish-speaking state would
not destroy national unity.
Against statehood: Puerto Rico is too culturally and
linguistically distinct to be a state in the American union. And
that is said as often by left-wing Puerto Rican independence
proponents as by right-wing American congressmen. 1998, King
Features Syndicate Inc.