America's 51st State?
June 17, 2000
Letter, From Christina Burnett, New York
SIR - Your article on the growing electoral clout of Latinos in America ("The big enchilada ", May 27th) begins with the examples of Ricky Martin and Jennifer Lopez, two Puerto Ricans. Of the 32m Latinos in America, nearly 4m are American citizens who live in the United States territory of Puerto Rico. These Americans have no right to vote.
Since 1898, residents of Puerto Rico have been subject to American sovereignty but denied the right to elect representatives in the federal government. In 1917, they became American citizens but were still denied the vote. Today the people of Puerto Rico are "represented" in Washington, DC, by a single, non-voting delegate known as a resident commissioner. They cannot vote for the president and commander-in-chief, although they can be drafted, and have fought and died under the American flag alongside fellow citizens.
For decades Puerto Ricans of every political persuasion have pressed Congress unsuccessfully for a resolution to the island's colonial relationship to the United States. Puerto Rican groups regularly top the lists monitoring political contributions and lobbying activities in Washington. Everyone abhors money politics but Puerto Ricans have no other option for influencing Congress. This suits both Republicans and Democrats; they take the cheques, mumble about solutions, then take the cheques again next year. The party that puts an end to this cycle will win over a significant Latino special-interest group.