St. Petersburg Times


Let Senators Decide on Puerto Rico

Copyright 1998

Majority Leader Trent Lott says the U.S. Senate just doesn't have enough time this session to consider legislation that would give Puerto Ricans a voice in deciding their own political future. You don't suppose that in the back of Lott's mind is the thought that if poor, Hispanic Puerto Rico became a state, it would elect Democrats to Congress? At issue is a bill that has been bogged down for months in the Senate.

It would allow Puerto Ricans to vote on whether to maintain their status as a U.S. commonwealth, become a full-fledged state or declare themselves an independent nation. The measure, which has strong bipartisan support, has been approved by the House and likely would pass the Senate if Lott would allow it to come to the floor.

For the past 100 years, Puerto Rico's ambiguous relationship with the United States has been a source of controversy on the island. As a commonwealth, its residents are considered U.S. citizens but are not allowed to vote for president. They can collect welfare and Social Security benefits but have no representation in Congress. A growing number of Puerto Ricans are demanding the opportunity to redefine their status , and they deserve the opportunity to do so.

The legislation before the Senate would be an important first step in that process. While it would not guarantee that Puerto Rico's status would change any time soon, or at all for that matter, it would provide its people with a congressionally recognized forum to voice their opinions on the matter. Several votes over many years and approval by Congress would be required before Puerto Rico could change its status permanently.

If Lott has a problem with the legislation, he should say so and try to work it out with the bill's sponsors. If not, he should bring it before the Senate for a vote.

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