Puerto Rico voting could be different
Sunday, March 05, 2006
By NATALIA MUÑOZ
Three times in the last half century Puerto Ricans
have voted to maintain the island's status as a
commonwealth of the United States.
But now the Bush administration is pushing a plan that
would allow islanders to vote on a future that would
either make it an independent country or a U.S. state.
The omission of the commonwealth status prompted
former U.N. Ambassador Jeane J. Kirkpatrick to urge
the White House to leave well enough alone when it
comes to the status of Puerto Rico and not direct
Congress to hold a plebiscite on the status of the
"Of all the problems plaguing the White House, Puerto
Rico was the least among them. That is, until the
president's Task Force on Puerto Rico's Status created
waves in December," wrote Kirkpatrick and Kenneth L.
Adelman in a joint opinion piece published Feb. 26 in
The New York Times.
Kirkpatrick served as U.N. ambassador under President
Ronald Reagan from 1981 to 1985. Adelman was her
The White House task force recommended that Congress
set up the two-step plebiscite this year. The first
part would put forth the question of whether islanders
want to examine the status of Puerto Rico. If a
majority voted in the affirmative, the second part of
the process would ask islanders to choose between
statehood and independence.
"Oddly, preserving commonwealth status wouldn't even
be on the ballot," wrote Kirkpatrick and Adelman, an
omission they find outrageous.
Rubén Barrales, the Bush administration's director of
intergovernmental affairs and a member of the task
force, said at a press briefing in December: "I think
it's important for the people of Puerto Rico and the
Congress to decide consciously whether or not they
want to remain as a territory, or to move towards a
configuration that is a permanent one - either
statehood or independence."
If statehood were to be granted to the island, the
remaining 50 states could see a decrease in the number
of their representatives in Congress, according to the
U.S. Justice Department report included in the task
force's full report.
Carlos Liard-Murriente, an economics professor at
Western New England College, said that given that
consequence, it's easy to understand why there is a
movement in the United States opposing statehood for
"Everyone knows that between the independence and
statehood options, statehood would win," he said.
And U.S. lawmakers are not about to accept a statehood
majority vote that would decrease representatives from
the 50 states, he said, nor allow to enter into the
union an island with a markedly different culture and
more than half its population of 4 million mired in
Under the commonwealth form of government established
in 1952, Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens who maintain
a national identity, competing in Olympics and beauty
pageants as a country while maintaining commerce
offices around the world. For the United States, which
gives the island significant aid, the country was a
cushion against communism in the Caribbean. It
maintained military bases there and had a bombing test
and military maneuver site on the Puerto Rican island
of Vieques until recent years.
Puerto Ricans cannot vote for U.S. president, but
elect local legislators for the island, who receive
compensation of nearly $100,000 a year.
But pro-statehood and pro-independence forces have
argued that the island, first acquired by the United
States as a spoil of the Spanish-American War, is a
colony despite the greater autonomy that island
governors enjoy over stateside governors.
For instance, the U.S. government controls the borders
and must approve all trade agreements with other
countries, while the U.S. Supreme Court has the last
word on judicial appeals.
Kirkpatrick, a fellow at the American Enterprise
Institute in Washington, D.C., a conservative think
tank, maintained that commonwealth status has worked
out for the islanders.
"Commonwealth has been the clear preference because
it's been a good deal," she wrote. "Puerto Ricans are
American citizens. They get no vote for president and
have no voting representation in Congress, yet pay no
federal income taxes. Given that deal, many of us
stateside might seek commonwealth status."
Kirkpatrick said the exclusion of commonwealth as an
option, should there be a vote, reminded her of the
annual pleas by the Cuban delegation and its communist
allies to free Puerto Rico from what they call
Her retort, as ambassador and now, is that communist
authorities have no credibility to talk about freedom.
Liard-Murriente said Kirkpatrick's reference to Cuba
was nothing more than a "scare tactic" to equate
statehood seekers with communists.