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US Elections Spur PR Self-Determination
PR Herald Staff
November 16, 1998
©Copyright Puerto Rico Herald
Going to the polls in next month's political status plebiscite, Puerto
Rico's 3.8 million U.S. citizens should be heartened by the results of the
1998 US mid-term elections. Unlike previous plebiscites where many believed
that their preference for one status or another would fall on deaf ears
in Washington, there is now real reason to believe that a decision in favor
of full self-government -- independence, free association or statehood --
will be favorably acted upon by the 106th U.S. Congress and President Clinton.
Why this change of heart?
Simply put, skepticism over Washington's intentions has been replaced
by the realities of the voting booth. The Hispanic vote across the United
States, a record 5 percent of all those who cast ballots on November 3rd,
was pivotal in the outcome of key congressional and gubernatorial races
from New York to California to Florida to Texas. Candidates at every level
of government succeeded or failed due in large part to their appeal and
support among the Hispanic electorate.
Political party affiliation was no guarantee of success among the nation's
soon to be largest minority. Republicans won big in Texas and Florida where
the Bush brothers captured both statehouses with 40 to 60 percent backing
from Hispanics. Just as impressive were Democratic gains in Congress in
New York and California, again propelled by large Hispanic majorities.
Clearly voters sent a message: the Hispanic vote can't be taken for granted
and it is not the sole province of any one party or another. How candidates
and parties stand on issues of importance to Hispanics determines who receives
And stateside Hispanics, some 30 million strong, are pro-Puerto Rico
self-determination. Their advocacy, buttressed by over 100 Hispanic grassroots
organizations in the fifty states, was key in passage of HR 856, the U.S.-
Puerto Rico Political Status Act, and Senate Resolution 279, both of which
endorsed the final determination of Puerto Rico's political status through
a referendum among statehood, independence and free association options.
That advocacy will translate into further Hispanic legislative action
in Washington in 1999 if, as expected, Puerto Rico's voters choose a permanent
political status in the 1998 plebiscite and petition congress and the president
for its implementation.
Members of Congress and the executive branch will find that Hispanics
across the nation will stake their 2000 ballots on those candidates who
see to it that Puerto Rico, after 500 years of colonial rule -- 100 under
American jurisdiction, finally achieves full and equal treatment as either
an independent nation or as a full fledged member of the Union as the nation's
With the critical role of the Hispanic voting bloc growing in importance,
neither political party, Democrat nor Republican, can ignore the consequences
of its stance on issues important to that community. To do so is at their
Indeed, it is not overstating the case to say the Republican Party's
chances for re-capturing the White House and retaining control of Congress
are directly related to its ability to appeal to Hispanics. This vote is
key in the major electoral states upon which winning the presidency is so
dependent. As 1998 proved, the Democrats don't have a lock on all of them
but neither do the Republicans.
To win in 2000 the GOP must extend the compassionate moderation that
has given Republican governors an edge in the country's statehouses to the
national level. Just as the party's presidential candidate must be sensitive
to Hispanic issues, Puerto Rico self-determination foremost among them,
so must its members in the House and Senate.
And that sensitivity must not begin to be exhibited in the fall of 2000
but as the 106th Congress convenes in January 1999. How Republican representatives
and senators react and act on the results of the 1998 status plebiscite
and the stand that contenders for the presidential nomination take on Puerto
Rico statehood, independence or fee association will go a long way toward
determining if 2000 will mark a return to the White House and retention
of congressional control for Republicans.
On the other side of the aisle, Democrats must maintain their momentum
in support of Puerto Rico self-determination if they are not to suffer further
inroads among Hispanic voters. Having seen that support erode some 10 percentage
points from 1996, they can ill afford to jeopardize this bloc's influence
What this all means for Puerto Rico's voters is clear.
A vote for statehood, independence or free association next month will
have far reaching consequences for Puerto Rico. Congress will be receptive
to the political status selected on December 13th, as will President Clinton
who has said as much.
For Puerto Ricans their century old dreams of full self-government, equality
under law and human dignity are finally within reach.
As residents of the fifty-first state they will be able to fully participate
in the American dream, knowing their U.S. citizenship is constitutionally
guaranteed, with representation in Congress and a say in the laws and regulations
that govern their daily lives.
Or, as citizens of a new nation -- an independent Puerto Rico or one
freely associated with the United States -- they will have a new nationality
and new constitution with complete control over their political and economic
In either case, they will be able to carry forth their language and cultural
heritage safeguarded by either the U.S. Constitution or their own new supreme
law of the land.
Coupled with the 105th congresses' legislative advances on Puerto Rico
self-determination, this year's election results all but guarantee a receptive
hearing in Washington to a vote by the island's electorate for full self-government
on December 13, 1998.
Puerto Rico's future is now in the hands of its 3.8 million U.S. citizens.
Or, for them, as Shakespeare wrote:
There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyages of their life
Is bound in shallow and miseries
On such a full sea we are now afloat
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.
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