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Puerto Rican Leaders Debate at University of Florida

by Zophia Rendon
Independent Florida Alligator (U. Florida)

February 25, 1999
©Copyright 1999 U-Wire. All Rights Reserved.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Will Puerto Rico ever be more than a U.S. commonwealth?

About 50 Hispanic students like Joseph Medina sought answers to that question during a political debate Tuesday night in U. Florida's Levin College of Law.

"I'm undecided, so I'm hoping they can convince me," Medina said before the debate that was part of Puerto Rican Awareness Week.

Jose Ortiz Daliot of the Puerto Rican (Popular) Democratic Party said Puerto Rico should remain a commonwealth because the people have voted to support that in every election.

"Puerto Rico needs a government respectful of its people and their mandates," said Daliot, a candidate for the commonwealth's resident commissioner position.

Even if the people vote for statehood , it could take 100 years for the United States to accept it into the union, said Daliot, who attended the University of Puerto Rico .

Kenneth McClintock of the New Progressive Party said statehood is the only option because the nation's founding fathers acquired territories with the intention of eventually making them states.

As a state, Puerto Rico would have access to the funds necessary for promoting trade and creating jobs. Then, the United States would not view it as a "welfare state," said McClintock.

Manuel Rodriguez Orellana of the Independence Party said neither commonwealth nor statehood are what Puerto Rico needs.

To get out from under its dependence on the United States, Puerto Rico should be free, he said.

"Each of my colleagues says one thing here and another thing in Puerto Rico ," said Orellana said. "They are trying to get more food stamps for more dependence."

When Orellana was young, his American teachers in Puerto Rico told him the United States was the best country.

"They would point to a map and say, 'See this dot? That's you. See this big country? That's the United States. Where would we be without the United States?'" he recalled for the audience.

Some Puerto Ricans want to be part of the United States because they think American ideas are better, which leads to "cultural genocide," Orellana said.

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