The Florida Times-Union

PUERTO RICO: End Commonwealth Status

August 16, 1998

It's a good idea to let the people of Puerto Rico decide their own fate, as they ostensibly will do when they cast ballots in a Dec. 13 referendum.

But the vote is likely to solve nothing.

There will be four options: commonwealth, statehood, independence or independence involving ''free association'' with the United States.

The latter presumably means the United States would continue to have bases on the island and would protect it militarily - much as was the agreement with the Philippines when it became independent after World War II.

Puerto Rico has been under U.S. control since it was seized during the Spanish-American War a century ago. Under the commonwealth agreement, the island is self-governing and its people are American citizens.

Economically, Puerto Ricans benefit; they receive federal aid and do not pay taxes on money earned on the island. But they suffer politically, unable to vote for president and allowed only a nonvoting congressional delegate.

Polls show support equally split between commonwealth and statehood, with independence running third.

Either statehood or independence would be an improvement, although it is doubtful - for a variety of reasons - that Congress would approve the former.

But commonwealth status is totally unacceptable. The United States is not an empire. The colonial era was a blot on American history, and all vestiges of it should be eliminated.

If Puerto Rico opts for the status quo, there should be another vote - this one, without the commonwealth option.

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