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Puerto Rico's Still-Cloudy Future


December 29, 1998
©Copyright 1998 The Tampa Tribune

The recent referendum in Puerto Rico was supposed to set the course for the island's political future. Instead, the vote left the outlook for the Caribbean island as cloudy as a stormy sky.

Another try should be made to establish whether this U.S. territory will be a state, a commonwealth or an independent nation.

Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the United States in 1898, and it has been something of a stepchild ever since. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens and are free to move to any state. They are subject to all federal laws. But as long as they live in Puerto Rico , they do not pay federal taxes and do not vote for president or elect voting members of Congress.

For years a small but determined group of Puerto Ricans has pushed for independence. But most citizens appear to favor becoming a state or retaining commonwealth status .

The ballot earlier this month allowed Puerto Ricans to choose independence, statehood , commonwealth, free association or "none of the above." In a surprising result, none of the above won 50.2 percent of the vote. Statehood finished second with 46.5 percent of the vote.

Perhaps part of the unhelpful outcome can be attributed to Congress, which voted to hold the referendum but refused to make the results binding.

Further, the ballot was so crowded with options and the various parties ran such negative campaigns, it should not be surprising that disgusted citizens lodged a protest vote in a contest they recognized would be meaningless.

The vote leaves Puerto Rico without a voter-mandated course.

Puerto Ricans have been loyal American citizens since 1917. Congress should approve another referendum , this one binding and including only viable options. "None of the above" does nothing to resolve the island's future.

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