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Vieques And Beyond

by Luis Ferre

May 17, 2000
Copyright © 2000 THE WASHINGTON TIMES. All Rights Reserved.

The most fundamental rights of equality and dignity, promised by the American military forces back in 1898, have been denied to Puerto Rico for more than 100 years. The citizens of Puerto Rico were promised in a reasonable time they would be granted equality as with the other states of the Union. Congress reserves the right and has the moral obligation to ensure equality for the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico - an equality that can be only achieved through statehood.

In 1998, Congress rejected an appeal by Puerto Rico to authorize a federally recognized referendum on Puerto Rico 's status. In response, Puerto Rico held a local referendum offering five options, which ensured confusion and no consensus. Congress must accept its obligation to provide the more than 4 million U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico a federally authorized plebiscite with only constitutionally recognized options.

The recent developments in Vieques are but a symptom of Puerto Rico 's political status problem, a dilemma that can no longer be ignored. The U.S. citizens living in Vieques have waited 60 years to make their voices heard on a critically important federal matter - the Navy's live bombing activities in Vieques . The good news is that a fair resolution may be at hand, if Congress acts quickly. Prompt action is essential to honoring the principles of democracy and addressing national security concerns.

In January, President Clinton issued two directives that will resolve the issue of Vieques , but Congress has yet to implement them. The removal of demonstrators from the Naval training facilities in Vieques paves the way for Congress and the administration to move forward in the implementation of the directives.

Under the directives, the Navy would be permitted to use the facility on a limited basis with inert ordnance for three years and permanently, with live fire ordnance, if approved by the American citizens of Vieques in a local referendum. Further, the federal government would provide $40 million in economic assistance to the island, and would transfer its western part to the government of Puerto Rico .

The referendum is the only forum in which the American citizens of Vieques can make their voices heard in Washington. Unlike our fellow American citizens in the 50 states, we in Puerto Rico have no voting representation in Congress, or the right to vote in presidential elections for that matter.

I call upon Members of Congress to recognize the privileged position that they, and the constituents they represent, enjoy relative to their fellow citizens of Puerto Rico . Through their elected representatives, citizens in the 50 states regularly make their views known on issues affecting their lives through the ballot box, and in turn, their representatives have the power to influence federal policies.

Without a vote in Washington, the American citizens of Vieques have been unable to exercise the political power that our fellow Americans in the States regularly use to create ground rules for the operation of military facilities near their homes. This is despite the fact that more than 200,000 Puerto Rican Americans have fought in recent wars as part of the U.S. Armed Forces, and 1,206 Puerto Rican Americans have died in battle for our country - a higher per capita average than almost every state in the Union.

Let us move forward with these directives not only to solve the issues surrounding Vieques , but more importantly, to engage in a broader dialogue about the relationship Puerto Rico has with the United States.

In an expression of good faith to the residents of Vieques and American citizens throughout Puerto Rico , Congress must support legislative action on these directives for Vieques . This is a matter of national defense and amoral commitment to the 4 million American citizens living in Puerto Rico who yearn for equality and dignity.

Luis A. Ferre was governor of Puerto Rico from 1969 through 1972 and has been Puerto Rico 's state chairman of the Republican National Party since 1975.

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