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Dow Jones International News

Poll: Pesquera Leading In Governor’s Race

August 30, 2000
Copyright © 2000 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP)--In a boost to supporters of U.S. statehood for Puerto Rico , a poll Wednesday showed their party's candidate leading for the first time in the course of a bitter race for governor.

New Progressive Party leader Carlos Pesquera was favored by 40%, compared to 35% who said they would vote for San Juan Mayor Sila Calderon of the Popular Democratic Party and 7% who preferred Ruben Berrios of the Puerto Rico Independence Party.

The poll, commissioned by the mass-circulation daily El Nuevo Dia, was based on in-person interviews conducted August 11 to 17 with a representative sample of 1,000 voters, and it had an error margin of 3%, the paper said.

The Nov. 7 election comes at a time of foment over the ultimate status of this U.S. territory of 4 million Spanish-speakers.

Pesquera has promised to hold another referendum on statehood even though the idea was narrowly defeated by supporters of the status quo in nonbinding votes held in 1993 and 1998. There is optimism among statehooders that both major party candidates for the U.S. presidency, George W. Bush and Al Gore, would support their cause in a renewed push.

Calderon prefers the 48-year-old "commonwealth" arrangement, in which Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens and can serve in the military, but they don't pay federal taxes and can't vote for the U.S. president. Puerto Ricans elect a congressional delegate that has no voting powers.

On Tuesday, a federal court here ordered the local government to "act with all possible expediency" to enable the Caribbean territory's people to vote in the upcoming U.S. presidential election, arguing it was their right as U.S. citizens. And there are efforts in the local legislature - which is dominated by pro- statehood politicians - to pass a bill that would enable such a vote regardless of whether its results were taken into account in Washington.

The results of the eagerly awaited El Nuevo Dia poll marked a dramatic turnaround from the paper's last survey in March, when veteran politician Calderon enjoyed a 44-30 lead over Pesquera, a serious-minded former engineering professor best known for his road works as transport minister in recent years.

About two-thirds of respondents said "things are going very badly" or "pretty badly" in Puerto Rico .

But interestingly, they did not tend to blame Pesquera's Progressive Party, even though it has governed since 1992 when outgoing Gov. Pedro Rossello won his first of two terms. By significant margins respondents said the party was the best suited to reduce crime, improve schools, create jobs and - despite a recent string of scandals - to fight corruption.

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