President-elect Barack Obama has vowed to turn this around.
In a letter sent earlier this month to newly elected Puerto Rican Gov. Luis Fortuno, Obama pledged to "enable the question of Puerto Rico's status to be resolved" during his first term.
"We have set out an ambitious agenda for Puerto Rico over the next four years," Obama wrote. "It will not be easy to accomplish. But we cannot sit back and wait for someone else, at some other time, to do something about it."
Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory in 1898, when it was invaded by American ships during the Spanish-American war. In 1917, Puerto Ricans were granted American citizenship, but the relationship between Washington and San Juan was rooted in colonialism. In 1952, Congress authorized Puerto Rico to develop its own constitution, but the U.S. federal government can overrule it.
Puerto Ricans have voted in three different referendums on their political status, but these have amounted to little more than opinion surveys because Congress wasn't bound by them.
Obama's pledge was well-received in Puerto Rico, where his letter was read by an envoy during Fortuno's Jan. 2 inauguration.
"That [letter] prompted a standing ovation," said Orange County commissioner Mildred Fernandez, who attended the inauguration. "The place exploded. A commitment like this is long overdue."
Some are taking Obama's four-year deadline with a grain of salt, given a political landscape in which the economy and two wars are likely to get priority.
"In terms of starting the process, it is viable and it is necessary [within the four-year term]," said Dr. Hernan Padilla, a political analyst and former mayor of San Juan. "But the things that need to be done will take some time. The fact is that the priority of the nation right now -- and that of Puerto Rico -- is to pull out of a recession."
A bill that would commit Congress to implement the results of a voter referendum would have to be hammered out first. The choices could be statehood, independence and even the current commonwealth status or some modification of it.
Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico's nonvoting representative in Congress, thinks Obama's self-imposed four-year deadline is achievable.
"I'm giving myself and the Democratic leadership in Congress two years to come up with a law enabling the referendum," Pierluisi said. ". . . We could have a referendum as soon as the year 2010. Congress will be bound by its results, and we would have solved the problem."
Author: | Sentinel Staff Writer
Article Source: Orlando Sentinel