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 mainland.

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.

Self-Determination Legislation | Puerto Rico Herald Home
Newsstand | Puerto Rico | U.S. Government | Archives
Search | Mailing List | Contact Us | Feedback