Originally created 09/07/98

Column: Defining political options for the future of self-determination in Puerto Rico 090798 - The Augusta Chronicle



WHEN CONGRESS returns from recess this week, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will meet to mark up and vote on Sen. Frank A. Murkowski's, R-Alaska, version of the Puerto Rican self-determination legislation -- a bill that would provide clear definitions of options for the island's political status referendum on December 13.

Without these definitions it will be impossible for the 3.8 million Puerto Rican Americans living on the island to make an educated decision about the future of political status of their island.

The House recognized the importance of self-determination with the passage of Rep. Don Young's, R-Alaska, self-determination bill March 4. Now it is time for the Senate to face the same challenge and pass this legislation. ...

FOR TOO LONG, Puerto Rico has been unfairly plagued with the reputation of being nothing more than a liberal bastion of welfare recipients unable to survive without the gratis of the U.S. federal government. We are not the backward society portrayed in films like West Side Story, but rather we have taken a forward thinking, leadership role in implementing conservative government reforms that even Congress cannot pass on the mainland.

In June Congress killed the Religious Freedom Amendment -- legislation that would have helped to restore the moral fabric of America by permitting five minutes of silent prayer or meditation in our public schools. The amendment would have been an effective tool in stemming the social ills that plague our public schools.

Puerto Ricans know how effective prayer in schools can be because Puerto Rico already has passed legislation that permits silent prayer or meditation in public schools -- the first step toward bringing family values back into our nation's educational system.

THE IMPLEMENTATION of prayer in schools has, according to teachers and school administrators, reintroduced a level of respect and morality into the classroom.

President Clinton recently vetoed the "Children's Choice" bill -- legislation that would allow families to set aside money for their children's futures in tax-sheltered education savings accounts. Educational reforms such as these are already in place in Puerto Rico and would work just as well in the mainland United States.

Puerto Rico's Educational Vouchers and Free Selection of Schools Program, instituted by the island's Democratic governor, offers lower-income families the opportunity to choose schools for their children and provides four different types of special scholarships and educational vouchers.

This program not only provides extra resources to schools with high concentrations of low-income students, it also gives youngsters greater mobility while making them economically attractive to schools, thus encouraging competition.

THE FACT THAT these conservative reforms have been implemented and are successful in Puerto Rico is a tribute to the authors of similar legislation in Congress. Clearly the conservative experiment has worked in Puerto Rico.

Ever since the United States took possession of Puerto Rico in 1898, Puerto Ricans have been relegated to a truncated, second-class form of citizenship that prohibits the citizens from voting in presidential elections. The island has only one non-voting representative in the House of Representatives and no representation at all in the Senate. ...

The self-determination legislation now being considered by Murkowski's committee will not establish political status for Puerto Rico -- instead it provides clear definitions of each of Puerto Rico's status options so that when the citizens of Puerto Rico vote in the Dec. 13 referendum, they will know what exactly they are voting for and what the future ramifications of each option are.

CONGRESS OWES Puerto Rico these clarifications. Without them, we are asking voters in Puerto Rico to make an uninformed, uneducated decision.

(Editor's note: The author, Joaquin A. "Jack" Marquez, is a Washington attorney and president of the Puerto Rican American Foundation.)