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Puerto Rico Has Opportunity Now to Seize its Future

by Luiso Rosselló Nevares

October 11, 1998
©Copyright 1998 San Juan Star

There comes a time in the history of a people when they are called upon to decide their own destiny and the future of their children. For the South African Black Majority, the time came in 1994 when after decades of Apartheid rule, Nelson Mandela was elected president of a new South Africa in the country's first truly democratic elections. For the French peasantry, after centuries of tyrannical monarchs, their time to assert their right to self-determination came with the French Revolution on July 14, 1789. And for 13 lowly colonies on the eastern seaboard of the North American continent such a time came on July 4, 1776. On that day, they stood up against their colonial yoke and rose to become a beacon of freedom, hope and democracy for many other peoples whose time in history would later come.

After 500 years of colonial rule, the time has now come for Puerto Ricans to decide their future as a people. It is time for us to determine whether the political status of our island will finally be resolved or whether we will languish in the quagmire of colonialism that keeps us divided as well as socially, politically and economically impoverished. The time has come because, as the 20th century comes to a close and a new millennium begins, Puerto Rico remains the oldest colony in the world.

A wave of freedom and democracy has enveloped the entire world as dictatorial regimens fall throughout Eastern Europe and South America. Borders and trade barriers are slowly disappearing as countries come together to form new political and economic entities. Puerto Ricans, on the other hand, continue to live in a political reality where we have little say over the election of those who control our destiny. It is imperative that the question of our political status be put to rest once and for all. This is so, not just for the reasons stated above, but also so that we may begin to effectively address the larger problems that Puerto Ricans face on a daily basis. Throughout Puerto Rico's history, the issue of our political status has polarized our people in a way no other issue has come close to achieve. Our political parties are almost exclusively defined by this one issue. Division and mistrust arising out of the decades of this endless debate have often prevented us from coming together to deal with the problems that affect families every day. Undoubtedly, much progress has been made recently in addressing the needs of our people. Most notably, in the areas of health care, education, law and order and job creation. But if these steps in the right direction have brought about significant change for the better, imagine what we could accomplish together when we are no longer divided by this ideological debate.

Also, because of the colonial condition of our island, we are not the masters of our own destiny but are forced to look elsewhere to others whom we have no control over to lead the way. This reality, together with other social ills, creates a culture of negativism of no se puede, which only recently has begun to be reversed.

To this end, the Legislature this year adopted Law Number 249 calling for a plebiscite to be held on December 13, 1998, so the status question may be answered. Under this law, the ballot for this event will present four different status options to choose from: Independence, Associated Republic, Territorial status and Statehood. I write today because it is imperative that all of us become involved in this process and truly take an opportunity to deliberate on the options that we have available to us. This is especially true of Puerto Rico's young people, for the outcome of this process will define the Puerto Rico that we will live in, raise our families, and the one which we will leave to our posterity. As such, I especially call upon my generation to take part in the procession during the months ahead, deliberate on the different alternatives and make your voice be heard.

In the weeks ahead, as the moment to render the decision draws near, we will hear numerous claims and arguments in favor of one option or another. I am convinced that a permanent union, in full partnership with the 50 states, offers the best possible future for our people. Statehood presents the most effective way to ensure greater economic prosperity, dignity and social justice for our people; to give them the political power to decide their own destiny; and to permanently guarantee our American citizenship. However, if we as a people are to shed our colonial condition and prepare ourselves for the next millennium, it is up to you to examine all the options and deliberate on which one truly holds the best possible future for our people.

We are at a turning point in the history of this island, and it is the responsibility of all of us as Puerto Ricans to take part in the process and stop letting others decide our future for us; to break free from the antiquated models of the past; and to prepare our people for the 21st century. Also, because of the importance of this decision, it is incumbent on all of us to make this decision based on serious deliberation on the available alternatives and not on the blind passions that predictably arise when this issue is debated. For our people the time has come.


Luiso Rosselló Nevares is a graduate of the law school at Georgetown University and the son of Gov. Rosselló.

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