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Questions Of Status Resurface

by Ivan Roman

February 7, 2000
Copyright © 2000 THE ORLANDO SENTINEL. All Rights Reserved.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- The day was focused on what would happen in Vieques, but in the governor's State of the Commonwealth message last Monday night, the perennial status question reared its head.

And it kept fighting for attention all week. Before he mentioned Vieques, Gov. Pedro Rossello said he planned to address the status issue again by the time his second term ends Dec. 31. As he kept fending off intense criticism for accepting President Clinton's decision, which allows the Navy to stay on Vieques for another three years, he also announced that plans to solve the 100-year-old status issue would come from him and officials in Washington "in the coming weeks."

After two plebiscites in 1993 and 1998 in which less-than-overwhelming support for statehood resulted in what Rossello called "frustrating" experiences with Congress, he won't insist on another one. He is open to a plebiscite, preferably authorized by Congress; a constitutional assembly, an idea he rejected in the past; or a presidential commission on status, which has been hinted at in Washington recently.

The idea is for everyone -- those who want statehood, independence or the current Commonwealth status with greater autonomy -- to agree on the path toward exploring the status definitions and achieving change. Many in the opposition have complained that statehooders have forced the island into plebiscites against the majority's will, or that a handful of congressmen have defined the terms under which independence could be granted or the Commonwealth could be changed.

"What I would like is for the content not to be defined ahead of time and that no procedural route is set ahead of time so that everyone feels comfortable with the discussion and there is no excuse for not participating," Rossello said.

He was referring to what happened in the 1998 plebiscite in which the "none of the above" option, commonly known as "the fifth column," won, boosted mostly by the Popular Democratic Party, which was against holding the plebiscite in the first place. Discontent with definitions the government placed on the other four status formulas on the ballot, critics went to court to get "none of the above" on the ballot.

That plebiscite was pushed by Rossello locally after he failed to get Congress to act. The Young Bill, which sought to get Congress to authorize and be bound by a plebiscite, squeaked by the House of Representatives by one vote, but it stalled in the Senate. The Senate also blocked a bill in time for the 1993 plebiscite as divisions about the status formula definitions and opposition from English-only and other advocacy groups took hold.

Rossello and other statehooders have realized they have a better chance if they can get everyone to agree on how to go about it. The "joint initiative" between Rossello's government and Washington, to be announced in the next few weeks, should be a first step in that direction, he said.

To some, the timing seems suspicious.

Why now -- at the same time as the controversial Vieques decision, suddenly agreed to by Rossello without telling anyone? Rep. Anibal Acevedo Vila, PDP vice president, says it's a quid pro quo arrangement -- that the White House told
Rossello to back Clinton's Vieques decision in exchange for a presidential commission to deal with status. To seal the deal even more, he said, Rossello got former Gov. Rafael Hernandez Colon of the PDP to back the Vieques deal in exchange for a seat on that commission.

Rossello emphatically denied any quid pro quo. Jeffrey Farrow, co-chair of the President's Group on Puerto Rico, also denied it and told El Nuevo Dia newspaper he was tired of those claims.

But the suspicion isn't likely to die soon, particularly if a commission is formed and certain people are put on it.

Clinton Wants Referendum In Puerto Rico On U.S. Relationship

February 8, 2000
Associated Press Newswires Copyright © 2000 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS.
All Rights Reserved.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - President Clinton has asked Congress for $2.5 million to hold another vote on whether Puerto Rico should become a U.S. state, the White House said Tuesday.

The referendum could be held as early as October if Congress approves the request, said Jeffrey Farrow, Clinton's main adviser on the Caribbean U.S. territory. It was included in the White House's fiscal 2001 budget, which was presented Monday.

Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory when the United States wrested it from Spain during the Spanish-American War of 1898. Its 3.8 million residents are U.S. citizens but cannot vote for president and do not have a vote in Congress.

After a U.S. bill ordering a referendum died in the Senate, pro- statehood Gov. Pedro Rossello called a December 1998 vote asking islanders to choose between U.S. statehood , commonwealth, or independence. Supporters of the status quo won the vote.

Supporters of the current status also won a 1993 vote.

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