The Washington Post



Copyright 1998, The Washington Post Co. All Rights Reserved

THE PROSPECTS of a fair solution to the problem of Puerto Rico have been all but smothered in this session of the Republican-controlled Senate. The hope was that the 100th anniversary year of Spain's forcible cession of the island to the United States could be used to generate momentum to undo what is widely recognized as a colonial tie. Instead the Senate provided conspicuous new evidence of the failure of the United States to allow the island's nearly 4 million residents rights equal to those enjoyed by their fellow American citizens on the mainland.

The House did its share. It passed (barely) an administration-supported bill providing for a definition of the political choices available to Puerto Ricans and a commitment by Congress, the ultimate arbiter, to respect the choice finally made by Puerto Rico. Such a procedure would give substance to democratic self - determination , the idea at the heart of calls to create a modern, principled relationship between the two entities.

The Senate, however, still lags. It improved a bit -- but only a bit -- on its own long negative record. It did so by passing not a bill but a non-binding resolution merely recognizing the right of American citizens residing in Puerto Rico to express their views and to communicate them to the president and Congress. These are rights that Puerto Ricans did not need a resolution to possess. The federal government, the Senate wanly went on, "should review any such communication." That's a painfully longway from making a commitment to act.

About the best that can be said for the fresh disrespect for Puerto Rico that the Senate has now shown is that it troubled those Republicans who are alert not only to the fairness issue but also to the growing electoral importance of Hispanic voters. In the debate, some 11 senators deplored the evident democracy deficit on the island. The drive for equal rights in Puerto Rico is not over.

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