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Self - Determination for Puerto Rico

9/29/98 The Washington Post

Copyright 1998, The Washington Post Co. All Rights Reserved


In its Sept. 12 editorial "A Matter of Self - Determination," The Post again championed the right of Puerto Ricans to choose their political destiny via a congressionally mandated plebiscite. Urging Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott to bring the Puerto Rico issue to the Senate floor for a vote, The Post quoted Sen. Robert Torricelli, who says the future status of Puerto Rico is "the unfinished business of American democracy." It clearly is.

This year marks 100 years since Puerto Rico became a war prize at the end of the Spanish-American war. In wars during that century, more than a quarter-million Puerto Ricans have served in America's armed forces, and thousands have shed their blood for the United States and freedom. Yet, Puerto Ricans do not have the freedom to vote in presidential elections, nor do they have voting representatives in Congress.

This is not justice. The time is long overdue for Puerto Ricans to decide if they want Puerto Rico to become the 51st state, to become independent or to continue a commonwealth relationship with the United States. The Puerto Rico plebiscite must take place now, not in some distant year.

Arguments against the plebiscite are shallow and without foundation. One is that if Puerto Ricans should choose statehood, there would be two new Democratic senators and one Democratic representative in Congress. Alaska and Hawaii have proven such concerns to be groundless.

Some members of Congress express reservation over the fact that Spanish is the mother tongue of most Puerto Ricans and that Puerto Rico has its cultural roots in Spain. You could perhaps have the same reservation for New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and California. Settlers of those states spoke Spanish and embraced their Spanish heritage long before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. It's a non-issue, particularly because both English and Spanish are taught in the schools in Puerto Rico and because both are the official languages of the island.

Giving Puerto Ricans the right of self - determination does not necessarily mean they will vote for statehood . Polls and the vote in 1993 give the edge to continuing some sort of commonwealth status . Whatever the choice, the voice of the Puerto Rican voters must be heard. The House has approved a plan for a plebiscite. The Senate should too, and should do so before adjournment.


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