Saturday, January 14, 2006

A Solution for Puerto Rico?

From a December AP story:

The Bush administration on Thursday gingerly stepped into the debate over Puerto Rico's relationship with the United States, asking Congress to set yet another vote for the island's citizens to voice their opinion about their future.

Puerto Rico has been a U.S. commonwealth since 1952, when Congress approved the relationship. Puerto Ricans voted to keep that status quo and reject statehood in nonbinding referendums in 1967, 1993 and 1998.

But deep divisions remain, with a sizable number supporting the call for statehood and a much smaller group backing full independence.

I currently support independence for Puerto Rico, largely because the island's population has more in common with its Caribbean neighbors than with the United States. It could maintain a close relationship with the U.S. and might even play a leadership role in the Caribbean. Puerto Rico might be a good partner, but I'm not sure that it needs to be a U.S.-subsidized territory.

President Bush's Task Force on Puerto Rico's Status concluded that another vote by Puerto Ricans is the best next step. Releasing its final report Thursday, the task force urged Congress to set a vote, or at least hold hearings on the issue, by the end of next year.

The task force took no position on which of the three options - continued commonwealth status, statehood or independence - is preferable. It said the vote should ask Puerto Ricans to choose between remaining a U.S. territory or moving toward a permanent solution.

If Puerto Ricans supported a permanent status option, another vote should be set to choose between statehood and independence, the task force said.

It would be difficult to change Puerto Rico's status without popular approval, so this is probably a good approach. Instead of offering three options at once and risking that none of the choices would get a majority, it could eventually force Puerto Ricans to make a choice about their future.

The island's nearly 4 million people have been U.S. citizens since 1917. Islanders can serve in the U.S. military but are barred from voting for president, have no voting representation in Congress and pay no federal income taxes.

The Caribbean island has become one of the wealthiest places in Latin America, though poverty remains more severe than on the U.S. mainland.

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