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THE ORLANDO SENTINEL
Press For Official Vote
December 16, 1998
©Copyright 1998 The Orlando Sentinel
Puerto Rico held a vote on its status this week, and a lot
of people -- nearly 71 percent of registered voters -- showed
up, clamoring for a clue to their island's future. They didn't
get much of one, though, and that's the real downside of the way
the vote was handled.
The frustration extends to Puerto Ricans in Central Florida,
whether they condemned or cheered the outcome.
A paper-thin majority of voters in Puerto Rico supported the
"none of the above" option, which would keep the situation
as it is, with the island as a U.S. commonwealth. That status
allows Puerto Ricans a considerable degree of independence, with
certain obligations to the United States.
Most other Puerto Ricans voted for statehood, although the
percentage was lower than in a similar vote five years ago, contradicting
pro-statehood Gov. Pedro Rossello's contention that statehood
There's something else to consider, though: The vote wasn't
binding. So, other than providing a sense of what voters felt,
it won't necessarily lead to any action.
That probably suits the United States Senate -- particularly
Majority Leader Trent Lott -- just fine. Mr. Lott stubbornly stymied
an attempt to have the Senate take up a U.S. House of Representatives'
bill that would have made the vote official. He said there wasn't
time to bring up the issue.
That's not just fine.
It was wrong for Mr. Lott to block Puerto Ricans from having
a chance to determine their political destiny.
And it would be wrong to let the indecisive result of a nonbinding
vote lead to a sense of defeat and, thus, inaction.
Rather, now is the time for Puerto Ricans who care about their
island's political fate to press for the right to decide their
status in an official vote. Florida's lawmakers in Congress who
support such an opportunity have an obligation to help.
Right now, Puerto Ricans find themselves in a political limbo
-- stuck with a status that many find objectionable and unable
to do anything about it.
Sure, Puerto Ricans who dislike that system can opt out and
assume all of the rights and responsibilities of American citizenship
by moving to the mainland. Those living in one of the 50 states
-- including those in Central Florida -- might be said already
to have chosen statehood.
That's not satisfying or sufficient, though. Puerto Ricans
deserve a chance to chart their own course. Self-determination
as an ideal flows too strongly through Americans' political blood
to be withheld from a prominent part of the nation's citizenry.
The Senate should make the time to discuss Puerto Rico's status,
and Puerto Ricans should be granted a meaningful opportunity to
vote on it.