Courtesy Reuters

Puerto Rico's Decolonization

THE TIME IS NOW

Quieta, non movere, was the motto of the statesman Robert Walpole, who for most of the eighteenth century inspired Britain's policy toward its American colonies. The U.S. Congress for more than four decades has followed a similar don't-rock-the-boat territorial policy regarding Puerto Rico, one of the few remaining colonies in the world even after the U.N. General Assembly in 1988 declared the 1990s the "International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism." Yet if the trends of the last half-century continue, a change in political status seems inevitable for the 3.8 million inhabitants of the Caribbean commonwealth, a U.S. possession since the Spanish-American War of 1898. If the United States remains in a state of Walpolian inertia, it may soon face a challenge to the very nature of American federalism and to its relationship with Latin America.

Fortunately, the traditional policy of congressional immobility on Puerto Rico seems to be losing ground, though it is still a tempting option for a Congress with a propensity for crisis management. A bipartisan bill, sponsored by Representative Don Young (R-Alaska), authorizing a federally sponsored plebiscite on Puerto Rico's status was overwhelmingly approved 44 to 1 by the House Committee on Resources this summer and awaits final approval by the 105th Congress. The pending congressional process, however, should entail an open examination of the premises that underlie the complex debate on the island's political status. Some of the premises of the Young Bill are either fantasy or glaringly inconsistent with the legitimate interests of the United States and Puerto Rico. Unless those premises are changed, and the United States adopts a principled and rational policy while alternatives are still available, Puerto Rico is likely to opt for statehood. The Senate should be forward-looking. It should exclude outmoded colonial commonwealth as an option, address itself candidly to the consequences of statehood -- which would burden the United States and preserve the economic problems of Puerto Rico while furthering its cultural assimilation -- and adopt a

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