Courtesy Reuters

Doing Right by Puerto Rico: Congress Must Act

A century after the United States invaded Puerto Rico, the question of self-determination for the Puerto Rican nation remains unresolved. Independence, as espoused by Legislative Assembly Senator Ruben Berrios Martinez, is not the answer ("Puerto Rico's Decolonization," November/December 1997). Public opinion polls show that only five percent of Puerto Ricans support that option. But proposals for statehood or commonwealth remain deadlocked within both Puerto Rico and Congress.

Although a bill designed to assure statehood passed the House in March, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) has signaled that the Senate is unlikely to act on it this session. Once more, the resolution of the status of Puerto Rico has been left hanging. It is morally unacceptable, unfair, and harmful to Puerto Rico and the United States for Congress to relegate the issue to business as usual -- that is, do nothing, wait for a Puerto Rican initiative, play with it for a while but take no action, wait for the next initiative, and repeat the cycle. Such insensitivity undermines Puerto Rico's capacity for self-government, inflicts considerable hardship on its society, and drains the U.S. Treasury.

The status debate has raged in Puerto Rico for half a century, dividing the people and breeding unending conflict -- at worst bloody, at best bitter and destructive. At least 75 percent of Puerto Rican voters align themselves with status options rather than candidates, programs, or solutions to pressing problems. This orientation distorts governance. It is as if choosing to break up the United States into 50 pieces or redefine the states to cut their numbers in half were the only issue in every presidential election.

THE DEMOCRATIC DEFICIT

All factions do agree on the need to end the present undemocratic arrangement, whereby Puerto Rico is subject to the laws of Congress but cannot vote in it. The bitter status conflict in Puerto Rico can be defused only by finding the common values that underlie all the positions of the conflicting parties. The time has come to

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