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Puerto Rico Vote was a Message to the Governor

by Lillyana Montanez

January 23, 1999
©Copyright 1999 The Orlando Sentinel

The vote on the status of Puerto Rico was a message that people there are unhappy with Gov. Pedro Rossello's actions.

That's why 50.2 percent of the recent vote went to ``none of the above'' during balloting in mid-December. People wanted to let the governor know that they were unhappy with his actions, not that they were against his party. During a vacation on the island, I was able to witness first-hand the much-talked-about vote on the island's status.

After the votes were counted, the Commonwealth supporters claimed victory, while Rossello's party said ``none of the above'' was not a vote for Commonwealth but a yes for statehood. Meanwhile, people here were scratching their heads.

It boils down to residents' opinions of the twice-elected Rossello. It is not so much the sale of the Puerto Rico Telephone Co., nor the money taken from the University of Puerto Rico to sponsor other teaching initiatives that concern people, but more a question of the people feeling left out of important decisions and not being heard by the governor. They wanted dialogue on things they felt were important, but did not get it.

Labor leaders, teachers, students and employees wanted the governor to meet with them, but he refused and his attitude was viewed as arrogant. It led to people voting for ``none of the above.''

Another strike against the governor was the timing of the vote. After hurricane Georges devastated the island and while so many are still living in shelters, others without light, water or telephone service, the people wanted the governor to postpone the vote but he insisted on forging ahead.

Additionally, the pro-commonwealth party did not like the definition given in the ballot under commonwealth and campaigned to have their people vote for ``none of the above.'' Those supporting commonwealth sought inclusion of an ``enhanced commonwealth'' on the ballot with all the privileges of a state, while remaining separate and unique and without the burden of federal income tax on the ballot.

Call it what you will, Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States and has no voting representation in Congress. The pro-statehood agenda wants equal representation, full participation in the democratic process and guaranteed American citizenship with all its responsibilities.

After all is said and done, it is unclear whether the Republican controlled Congress would have moved forward on the issue if statehood had carried the day. I think not.

A Puerto Rican state would probably have sent nine Democrats to Congress. And that's something the Republican majority in Congress can't accept.

However, as recently reported, they do want the people of Puerto Rico to begin paying federal income tax. Taxation without representation? Wasn't that the cry for independence of 13 British colonies - and the reason for the American Revolution?

Don't worry. For now, ``none of the above'' means business as usual.

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