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51st State Plan Gets New Push

Commonwealth leader urges Congress to back White House-led effort

by Stewart M. Powell

March 2, 2000
Copyright © 2000 TIMES UNION. All Rights Reserved.

WASHINGTON -- Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Rossello lobbied Congress Wednesday to join a White House-led effort that could clear the way for the former Spanish colony to become the nation's 51st state.

Rossello urged members of the House and Senate to approve a White House request for $2.5 million to underwrite a landmark federal effort to end Puerto Rico 's ambiguous political status as a U.S. commonwealth.

Rossello said he hopes that a White House conference with members of Congress and political leaders from Puerto Rico could begin deliberations shortly that "would result this year in a definite recommendation" on a binding plebiscite in Puerto Rico giving voters a clear choice between statehood, independence and continuation of commonwealth status.

The White House-backed effort to update Puerto Rico's commonwealth status was a little-noticed sweetener in a deal that Rossello struck with Clinton on Jan. 31 to permit the Navy and Marine Corps to resume modified combat training on the small Puerto Rican island of Vieques.

The agreement on Vieques calls for Washington to provide $40 million in economic development assistance to the island's 9,300 residents, reduce noisy military training and hold a binding referendum on future Navy use of the island by February 2002. The Navy owns two-thirds of Vieques.

If residents vote for the Navy to leave, the Navy will withdraw by 2003. If residents vote to permit resumption of live-fire combat training, the plan calls for the White House and Congress to provide another $50 million in assistance.