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Puerto Rico to be forced to give up status quo?

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.masslive.com/hampfrank/republican/index.ssf?/base/news-0/1141548374189630.xml&coll=1 Puerto Rico voting could be different Sunday, March 05, 2006 By
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 5, 2006
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      http://www.masslive.com/hampfrank/republican/index.ssf?/base/news-0/1141548374189630.xml&coll=1

      Puerto Rico voting could be different
      Sunday, March 05, 2006
      By NATALIA MUÑOZ
      nmunoz@...

      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
      island.

      "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
      deputy.

      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
      the island.

      "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
      poverty.

      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
      colonialism.

      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.
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