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  #1  
Old 02-27-2006, 09:15 AM
GottaDiesel's Avatar
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What do you think?

51st state?
Stay the same?
Say Bye Bye?

--->

Bush plan reignites debate on future of Puerto Rico
Monday, February 27, 2006

By MIGUEL PEREZ
STAFF WRITER

They are Puerto Ricans from Paterson, all born on the Caribbean island, all still very nationalistic. Yet Eli Burgos, Juan Torres and Jose Morales see their homeland's future from vastly different perspectives.

One wants Puerto Rico to maintain its commonwealth relationship with the United States. Another wants to see it become the 51st state. A third longs for an independent nation.

Their differences -- the kind that have divided Puerto Ricans for half a century -- have resurfaced, thanks to a Bush administration bid for new referendums to determine the island's political status.

U.S. citizens since 1917, Puerto Rico's 4 million people don't enjoy all the benefits of citizenship. Although they serve in the U.S. military, they are barred from voting in presidential elections. They pay no federal income taxes, and their voice in Congress is limited to a single, non-voting delegate to the House of Representatives.

In three plebiscites 1967, 1993 and 1998 Puerto Ricans have chosen commonwealth slightly over statehood, with independence finishing a distant third.

But this time a White House Task Force on Puerto Rico's Status has proposed a plebiscite with a twist: two rounds of voting to eliminate two of the three options.

In the first round, Puerto Ricans would choose between remaining a commonwealth or moving toward a more permanent status. If they decide they want a permanent solution, a second plebiscite would pose two options: statehood or independence.

Burgos believes the recommendation is slanted toward statehood. Since independence gets little support in the polls, "by eliminating the commonwealth option, you are really going only in one direction," he said.

Torres agrees, although he likes the possibilities: "If we are given a choice only between statehood and independence, statehood would prevail."

Morales also likes it, but only because he says it admits what the U.S. government has long denied: That Puerto Rico is a colony and that the commonwealth arrangement isn't permanent.

In fact, the Bush task force recommends plebiscites periodically, until the Puerto Rican people choose a more permanent status. It has called on Congress to sanction the dual plebiscites this year, or at least hold hearings. An uproar has followed in Puerto Rico.

The pro-commonwealth administration of Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vilᠨas mounted a campaign against the proposal. It has recruited several U.S. legislators, mostly Democrats, including Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, who deemed the report "slanted in favor of statehood." Last week, he and three other senators, two of them Republicans, introduced a bill designed to counteract the proposal.

That measure, the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2006, calls on Congress to "recognize the right of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to call a constitutional convention" composed of delegates elected by the Puerto Rican people to define the options for inclusion in a referendum.

"Congress will have the final say on the referendum, but the process should start with the people of Puerto Rico and not in Washington," said co-sponsor Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass. The task force recommendations "do not give Puerto Ricans the fair choice they deserve," he said.

The proposal also makes some critics suspicious.

In the past, people generally assumed Puerto Rico would be a blue state. Some commonwealth supporters suspect that has changed.

A State of Puerto Rico would send two senators and six representatives to Capitol Hill. It would get eight Electoral College votes.

Since many Puerto Rican elected officials are now Republicans, it's "a fallacy" to assume the island would send mostly Democrats to Washington, or that Puerto Ricans would vote for a Democratic presidential candidate, said Dennis Gonzalez of Clifton, a mainland-born Puerto Rican who works for the Bush administration.

The task force proposal "is not perfect, it's not going to make everybody happy," said Gonzalez, who supports commonwealth status. "But at least they are trying to establish an ultimate solution."

At a time when Puerto Ricans are dying in disproportionately high numbers in the war in Iraq, he said, it might be a good time to take the debate to Congress.

"If you support statehood, you can say that Puerto Ricans should have the right to vote for president because the president is sending them to war," he said. "And if you support independence, you can ask why we should be fighting for this country when we should be a sovereign nation. It's timely."

E-mail: perez@northjersey.com
* * *

ELI BURGOS

PROFESSION: Business administrator, city of Paterson

FAVORS: Commonwealth

The ideal status for his native Puerto Rico, Burgos says, is the status quo.

Under its commonwealth relationship with the U.S., Puerto Rico has made "remarkable progress," going "from one of the poorest islands in the Caribbean to one of the most prosperous," he says.

"Politically, there is no better status for Puerto Rico than to be a state," Burgos says. Mainland Puerto Ricans and other Latinos would gain tremendously from the additional representation they would have in Congress.

But he believes the island is not yet ready to make that transition. He favors "buying a little more time until there is more stability in the world."

While the Puerto Rican identity eventually would be lost under statehood, Burgos says, under independence Puerto Ricans would lose their American identity.

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Old 02-27-2006, 09:15 AM
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Like most Puerto Ricans, he fears the uncertainties surrounding independence.

"There is not a lot of peace when you talk about countries that are seeking independence," Burgos says. "There is a lot of turmoil."

But he also fears mayhem if Puerto Ricans were to choose statehood in a plebiscite, only to be rejected by Congress once they make that decision.

Although Congress wouldn't be bound by it, federal lawmakers would have to respect that choice. If not, Burgos says, there would be a backlash that would turn many statehood supporters into independentistas.

"And Congress doesn't want to lose Puerto Rico altogether," he says.

Burgos hopes New Jersey Puerto Ricans will not insist on voting in a plebiscite because it could create a divide between island and mainland Puerto Ricans.

"If someone wants to give me the right to vote in that plebiscite, I'll gladly accept it," Burgos says. "But I'm not going to get into a political fight about trying to take that right when I have family members who have chosen to be over there and deserve that right more than I deserve it."
* * *

JUAN TORRES

PROFESSION: Machinist

FAVORS: Statehood

The commonwealth relationship with the United States "keeps Puerto Rico in limbo," Torres says. An independent nation would be even worse -- "a big, tragic mistake," he says.

And while others insist Puerto Rico isn't yet ready to change its political status, Torres says becoming the 51st state is long overdue.

In the commonwealth, Puerto Ricans "are being shortchanged" because they serve in the U.S. armed forces and contribute to the nation in many other ways without adequate federal funding or political representation in Washington, says Torres, a Paterson councilman.

"Here we are fighting for this country and still being treated like stepchildren," he says.

As citizens of an independent nation, Puerto Ricans would lose their U.S. citizenship and their ability to fly to the mainland whenever they please, Torres says. They'd also face economic hardships and could run the risk of being "encroached by other nations," such as Communist Cuba, he says.

While others argue that the Puerto Rican identity would be lost under statehood, Torres notes that the island has adopted many aspects of American culture.

"Most people down there already speak English," he says. "Our currency, economy and democratic system are already integrated with the United States. Even the Puerto Rican flag resembles the American flag."

He dismisses concerns about gentrification in Puerto Rico should the island become a state: American investors are already displacing the poor.

The biggest advantage is gaining two Puerto Rican senators and six members of the House of Representatives -- benefiting not only Puerto Ricans on the island but those on the mainland, he says.

Torres doesn't believe he should have the right to vote in a plebiscite.

"To me it's very simple: If you live there, you get to vote there. If you live here, you vote here.

"Why complicate it?"
* * *

JOSE MORALES

PROFESSION: Field operations manager

FAVORS: Independence

Puerto Rico should break its relationship with the U.S. to protect its culture and heritage, Morales says.

The Puerto Rican identity would be eradicated, like that of many Native American nations, if the island became a state, says Morales, a community activist.

Under statehood, Morales argues, the island would become another Hoboken, where poor Puerto Ricans were gentrified out of town by skyrocketing property values and taxes. A new wave would come to the mainland, while others would become more dependent on public assistance.

As a commonwealth, Puerto Rico is "a nation under occupation," where people have been conditioned to think they can't make it on their own, he says.

"They have been told that the island is too small, that they will starve to death, that communism and Fidel Castro are going to take over, that we can't live without our economic relationship with the United States, that the Americans are going to leave and take even the roads with them."

Despite polls that show independentistas as a small minority, he believes Puerto Ricans really want independence. "We are a nation. We have maintained our identity against all odds. Culturally and emotionally, Puerto Ricans are among the most nationalistic people in the world."

The island's status shouldn't be decided by Congress, but by Puerto Ricans through a U.N.-supervised decolonization process. He doesn't believe Congress would abide by a statehood vote -- "not in the immediate millennium ... not with the xenophobia that exists in this country, the English-only movement, the anti-Latino immigrant sentiments."

Mainland Puerto Ricans should be allowed to vote in a plebiscite, he says, especially since many plan to retire there someday. "The United Nation requires that for a process of decolonization, third-generation Puerto Ricans have the right to vote wherever they are. So not only would I have the right to vote, but the children of my children would have a right to vote."

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Old 02-27-2006, 09:45 AM
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I think Puerto Rico does not want statehood for the fear of losing it's Spanish based culture.

They DO NOT want independence because they would lose all money they get from us. Welfare, medicare, etc.....

Besides they were given a chance for independence not too long ago and they voted NO.

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  #4  
Old 02-27-2006, 11:21 AM
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Does anyone know if the costs associated with PR are higher/lower than what they bring in? Looking at it from a purely business point of view?

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