LET PUERTO RICANS VOTE
PUERTO RICANS DESERVE A CHANCE TO DECIDE THE POLITICAL FUTURE OF THEIR ISLAND
SEN. TRENT LOTT SHOULD ALLOW THEM THAT OPPORTUNITY
One hundred years ago, Puerto Rico had no say as it changed hands from Spain to the United States during the Spanish-American War. Today, a similar situation still prevails, preventing Puerto Ricans from deciding for themselves the political future of their island.
Not only is that not right in a broad sense, it runs contrary to the ideals of Americans. Americans rank among the most ardent of the champions of self - determination. That ideal is woven into the story of this nation's founding, and it continues to help shape U.S. foreign policy. Why should Puerto Rico be an exception? The opportunity to right the situation comes in a piece of legislation that the U.S. Senate likely would approve - if only Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott would allow its consideration. So far he has refused, arguing that there's no time this session.
Mr. Lott's obstinacy already has caused significant concern. Puerto Rican Gov. Pedro Rossello recently said, "It really disappoints me that he [Mr. Lott] has adopted a position that shows a lack of sensitivity to the important issues of the Hispanic community."
Underscoring his frustration, Mr. Rossello has called for a nonbinding plebiscite Dec. 13 on Puerto Rico 's political future. Puerto Rico 's current status is known as commonwealth, a combination of self-government and obligation to the United States. Puerto Rican taxes flow directly to their central government, not Washington, D.C. But residents of the island are American citizens. Many Puerto Ricans support that status , but about as many don't. That calls for clarification, and the best way to do that is to allow Puerto Ricans to vote.
That's what the U.S. House of Representatives had in mind when it approved a Puerto Rico - status bill last March. It would allow an official plebiscite , with the final decision on Puerto Rico 's status resting with the United States. The White House also supports the bill. Despite Mr. Lott's protestations, it shouldn't take the Senate more than a few days to debate and vote on it.
A win for commonwealth would change nothing. Statehood or independence nods from Puerto Ricans, though, would be lengthy affairs. Statehood would pose the greatest challenges, with the final decision falling to the United States. It would be up to U.S. officials to devise a transition plan and up to Puerto Ricans to vote on it. There would be virtually endless opportunities for negotiation during that time. But if Mr. Lott continues to position himself as a rock in the middle of the road to Puerto Rico 's future, nothing will happen this year - except the nonbinding plebicite.
If Puerto Ricans are going to go to all the trouble and expense of holding a vote, it should be a binding one. Supporters of Puerto Rican self-determination should increase pressure on Mr. Lott and other members of the Senate. Letting that opportunity slip away in such a symbolic year would be a travesty.
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