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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Simply put, skepticism over Washington's intentions has been replaced by the realities of the voting booth.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 their support.

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 fifty-first state.

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 electoral peril.

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 further.

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 destiny.

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.

Click here for a related article from The Orlando Sentinel.

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