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THE SAN JUAN STAR
House Speaker Supports Statehood for Puerto Rico
Gingrich would also back form of free association
by Robert Friedman
October 15, 1998
©Copyright 1998 The San Juan Star
WASHINGTON - House speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., says he backs statehood
for Puerto Rico, but would also support a form of free association.
"If the people of Puerto Rico want to be independent, maybe in association
with the United States, that's their right. We could find a way to have
a relationship where we, for example, provide foreign policy and the military,
but they run the country," Gingrich said in the October issue of Hispanic
"The people of Puerto Rico have to decide, but I hope they ultimately
decide on statehood, although it means paying U.S. taxes and becoming part
of the American system," the Republican leader said during an interview
with the U.S. publication.
Free association, which involves a pact between two sovereign nations,
is present for the first time in Puerto Rico's history on the Dec. 13 status
plebiscite ballot scheduled by the Rosselló administration.
While mentioning statehood and independence under a free association
as acceptable alternatives, he was harshly critical of the current commonwealth
"What I think is clear...is that you cannot have a territory in
the 21st century," he said. "We are not an empire; we are a republic."
The GOP leader added, "I would be very opposed to us continuing
to maintain the type of status where they [Puerto Ricans] are not full citizens
and they are not independent."
He was not asked whether dual U.S. and Puerto Rican citizenship was a
negotiable option in a free association form of independence. While supporters
of free association say such an arrangement is possible, other Republican
leaders have nixed the notion.
Gingrich characterized Puerto Ricans as "hardworking, patriotic
people, many of whom served in the U.S. military."
In the past year, Gingrich has made overtures to Latino voters. He makes
personal appearances at Latino functions, sends out press releases in Spanish
and has softened his stance on English-only and on immigration.
In the interview, the House speaker said he believes that "if your
bilingual program is succeeding in getting children into English, we ought
to keep it. If it's stopping children from getting into English, we ought
to scrap it and start over again."
He said while the goal should always be "making everyone fluent
in English," he added: "It is not a weakness in America to have
many people from many countries with many languages."
Gingrich said the United States was "prepared" to drop the
embargo of Cuba "the morning after he [Cuban President Fidel Castro]
agrees to an election."