ST. PETERSBURG TIMES
From Puerto Rico, A Mumble
December 16, 1998
©Copyright 1998, St. Petersburg Times
Puerto Rico 's Gov. Pedro Rossello did his cause no favor by trying
to spin the outcome of the recent non-binding referendum on the
island's political status as a popular mandate for statehood .
It was more muddle than mandate.
The passionately pro- statehood governor wants Congress to view
the results of the vote as a mandate to change Puerto Rico 's
status as a U.S. commonwealth. When given the opportunity to tell
the Clinton administration and Congress whether they want to become
a U.S state, remain a U.S. commonwealth or become a quasi-independent
nation, 50.2 percent of of Puerto Rican voters chose "none
of the above." Of those who made a choice, 46.5 percent voted
for statehood .
Puerto Ricans twice before have rejected statehood , but the latest
vote is seen as a protest against the misinformation campaigns
waged by Rossello's party and its political opponents. In drafting
the measure, members of Rossello's pro- statehood party in the
Legislature shut out colleagues who favor commonwealth status
and distorted the ballot language to confuse voters. Advocates
on all sides of the issue relied on scare tactics and a blitz
of negative ads.
Under the current commonwealth arrangement, Puerto Ricans are
considered U.S. citizens, but they cannot vote in presidential
elections and have no voting representatives in Congress. They
do not pay federal taxes, but they receive reduced welfare and
other federal benefits.
A growing number of Puerto Ricans have become dissatisfied with
the status quo and want to redefine their relationship with the
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill this year that
could have set that process in motion, but the measure stalled
in the Senate.
A clear mandate from Puerto Rican voters could have focused the
debate and persuaded a sharply divided Congress to revisit the
statehood issue next session. President Clinton said he "remains
committed to implementing a majority choice for Puerto Rico 's
future status " and pledged to work with Congress and Puerto
Ricans "to clarify that choice."
What is missing from this debate is a clear message from the people
of Puerto Rico.