THE ORLANDO SENTINEL
Questions Of Status Resurface
by Ivan Roman
February 7, 2000
Copyright © 2000 THE ORLANDO SENTINEL. All Rights Reserved.
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- The day was
focused on what would happen in Vieques, but in the governor's
State of the Commonwealth message last Monday night, the perennial
status question reared its head.
And it kept fighting for attention all
week. Before he mentioned Vieques, Gov. Pedro Rossello said he
planned to address the status issue again by the time his second
term ends Dec. 31. As he kept fending off intense criticism for
accepting President Clinton's decision, which allows the Navy
to stay on Vieques for another three years, he also announced
that plans to solve the 100-year-old status issue would come
from him and officials in Washington "in the coming weeks."
After two plebiscites in 1993 and 1998
in which less-than-overwhelming support for statehood resulted
in what Rossello called "frustrating" experiences with
Congress, he won't insist on another one. He is open to a plebiscite,
preferably authorized by Congress; a constitutional assembly,
an idea he rejected in the past; or a presidential commission
on status, which has been hinted at in Washington recently.
The idea is for everyone -- those who
want statehood, independence or the current Commonwealth status
with greater autonomy -- to agree on the path toward exploring
the status definitions and achieving change. Many in the opposition
have complained that statehooders have forced the island into
plebiscites against the majority's will, or that a handful of
congressmen have defined the terms under which independence could
be granted or the Commonwealth could be changed.
"What I would like is for the content
not to be defined ahead of time and that no procedural route
is set ahead of time so that everyone feels comfortable with
the discussion and there is no excuse for not participating,"
He was referring to what happened in
the 1998 plebiscite in which the "none of the above"
option, commonly known as "the fifth column," won,
boosted mostly by the Popular Democratic Party, which was against
holding the plebiscite in the first place. Discontent with definitions
the government placed on the other four status formulas on the
ballot, critics went to court to get "none of the above"
on the ballot.
That plebiscite was pushed by Rossello
locally after he failed to get Congress to act. The Young Bill,
which sought to get Congress to authorize and be bound by a plebiscite,
squeaked by the House of Representatives by one vote, but it
stalled in the Senate. The Senate also blocked a bill in time
for the 1993 plebiscite as divisions about the status formula
definitions and opposition from English-only and other advocacy
groups took hold.
Rossello and other statehooders have
realized they have a better chance if they can get everyone to
agree on how to go about it. The "joint initiative"
between Rossello's government and Washington, to be announced
in the next few weeks, should be a first step in that direction,
To some, the timing seems suspicious.
Why now -- at the same time as the controversial
Vieques decision, suddenly agreed to by Rossello without telling
anyone? Rep. Anibal Acevedo Vila, PDP vice president, says it's
a quid pro quo arrangement -- that the White House told
Rossello to back Clinton's Vieques decision in exchange for a
presidential commission to deal with status. To seal the deal
even more, he said, Rossello got former Gov. Rafael Hernandez
Colon of the PDP to back the Vieques deal in exchange for a seat
on that commission.
Rossello emphatically denied any quid
pro quo. Jeffrey Farrow, co-chair of the President's Group on
Puerto Rico, also denied it and told El Nuevo Dia newspaper
he was tired of those claims.
But the suspicion isn't likely to die
soon, particularly if a commission is formed and certain people
are put on it.
Clinton Wants Referendum
In Puerto Rico On U.S. Relationship
February 8, 2000
Associated Press Newswires Copyright © 2000 THE ASSOCIATED
All Rights Reserved.
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - President
Clinton has asked Congress for $2.5 million to hold another vote
on whether Puerto Rico should become a U.S. state, the White
House said Tuesday.
The referendum could be held as early
as October if Congress approves the request, said Jeffrey Farrow,
Clinton's main adviser on the Caribbean U.S. territory. It was
included in the White House's fiscal 2001 budget, which was presented
Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory
when the United States wrested it from Spain during the Spanish-American
War of 1898. Its 3.8 million residents are U.S. citizens but
cannot vote for president and do not have a vote in Congress.
After a U.S. bill ordering a referendum
died in the Senate, pro- statehood Gov. Pedro Rossello called
a December 1998 vote asking islanders to choose between U.S.
statehood , commonwealth, or independence. Supporters of the
status quo won the vote.
Supporters of the current status also
won a 1993 vote.