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The Hartford Courant

A Milestone On Puerto Rico

June 27, 2000
Copyright © 2000 The Hartford Courant. All Rights Reserved.

President Clinton's attempt to resolve the difficult issue of Puerto Rico 's political status is unprecedented, and welcome.

He has scheduled a conference on Wednesday with congressional leaders, Gov. Pedro J. Rossello and the chiefs of the island's statehood, independence and pro-commonwealth parties. The goal is to devise a mechanism to give Puerto Ricans the opportunity to determine their future.

Although the so-called status question has been on the platforms of the national Democratic and Republican parties since 1950, attempts to settle the matter have been unsuccessful. In the most recent effort, a 1998 bill that would have obligated Congress to carry out the results of a plebiscite passed the House by one vote and died in the Senate.

Mr. Rossello and Puerto Rico 's legislature held the plebiscite anyway and a majority of voters, faced with a confusing five alternatives including two forms of commonwealth, chose "none of the above."

The result underscored the need for a clear and binding referendum sanctioned by Congress, detailing the outcomes with each political option. That seems to be what Mr. Clinton has in mind.

Never before has a president taken such a personal interest in Puerto Rico 's affairs.

Mr. Clinton has already awarded clemency to a group of Puerto Rican nationalists who were jailed in the 1970s and early 1980s. On another highly controversial matter, he has put in motion a plan that could end nearly 60 years of the U.S. Navy's use of the island of Vieques , Puerto Rico , as a practice site for bombing.

This week's grand conference at the White House is a milestone. Agreement among the participants on a process to ask Puerto Ricans what they want and to honor their wishes would be a breakthrough.

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