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Time To Prepare For Young Status Hearings
That's The Next Showdown In The Long Saga Of Puerto
Rico's Status, As Local Parties Ready Their Lobby Machines Again
by John Collins
©Copyright 1999 Caribbean Business
Washington - Now the waiting begins for the next round of congressional
hearings on Puerto Rico's status. But first, there is an important
matter to resolve.
Attention on Puerto Rico and its relationship with the US has
been largely marginalized with the nation's capital gripped in
the impeachment crisis.
Members of Congress and Clinton administration officials involved
in Puerto Rico are following developments on the island stemming
from the December 13th status plebiscite, but most others told
CARIBBEAN BUSINESS privately that they are confused, find the
situation too complicated, or are preoccupied with other issues
and just don't have the time to devote to the island.
The principal word out of Washington has come from Chairman
Don Young (R-AK)) of the House Resources Committee which oversees
the territories. He announced the day after the plebiscite that
he intends to hold hearings to evaluate the December 13th vote
in early 1999 when the 106th Congress takes office.
"The Chairman wants to determine why 50.3% of the voters
chose 'None of the Above' when constitutionally and congressionally
acceptable options were put before them," Steve Hansen, Young's
communication director, told CARIBBEAN BUSINESS.
This has sent political parties in Puerto Rico back to the
drawing board to prepare their presentations, as they rev up their
respective lobbying machines to influence Congress and the White
Statehood proponents want Washington to interpret the plebiscite
results as at least a partial victory for statehood and to therefore
move to turn Puerto Rico into the 51st state even though statehood
obtained 46.5% of the vote. The 'None of the Above' column, statehooders
argue, rather than a vote for any particular status, was motivated
by a series of confusing forces that do not necessarily mean Puerto
Rico residents do not want statehood.
In his statement, Young indicated that "although statehood
received the highest vote, the fact that 50.3% checked 'None of
the Above' reflects the diverse opinions of the 3.8 million US
citizens on the island, a significant level of confusion and their
inability to resolve an issue which costs American taxpayers over
$10 billion each year.
"I see statehood and separate sovereignty as acceptable
alternatives for Congress," the Alaska Republican, whose
state entered the Union in 1959, said. "Because 'None of
the Above' received the majority vote, I intend to conduct oversight
hearings to see what led people to cast votes against the only
constitutional options available to Puerto Rico which were on
Enrique Fernandez, senior policy advisor to Rep. Luis Guitierrez
(D-IL), thinks the Young approach is headed for trouble in the
new Congress because it fails to recognize the international implications
of Puerto Rico's status.
"Young wants to settle the problem of Puerto Rico as an
internal matter of the US, whereas Congressman Guitierrez supports
the decolonization process," he said. "Puerto Rico is
a distinct cultural and historical entity and you can't treat
it like Oklahoma or Alabama.
If Congress does not provide Puerto Rico with all the instruments
for autonomous economic and political development, what will happen
is that the same polarization on the island that Young warns about
will increase," he continued.