Even though statehood advocates are a distinct minority of Puerto Rico's 3.2 million people (they could only muster 46 percent in a 1993 plebiscite), they are getting noisier.
Gov. Pedro Rossello has announced, after approval by the island's legislature, that a local referendum will be held in December on whether what is presently a U.S. commonwealth should become the 51st U.S. state.
"If after 100 years the U.S. does not possess the will to put an end to a century of colonialism, Puerto Rico does," the governor militantly declares. But what he doesn't say is that, just five years ago, a majority of voters were still comfortable with commonwealth status -- which allows everyone U.S. citizenship but no payment of the U.S. income tax. (That's "colonialism"?)
On March 4 the U.S. House of Representatives passed by one vote flawed pro-statehood legislation -- and did so after killing an amendment to make English the official language of the United States. Indeed, the fact that the large majority of Puerto Ricans who are proud of their Spanish culture don't speak English remains the biggest obstacle to the U.S. Congress granting statehood.
Congress, remember, has the final say on Puerto Rico's status. And members have seen General Accounting Office estimates that statehood opens the floodgates to an annual transfer of $4 billion from the U.S. Treasury to the island. Besides, there have been absolutely no congressional studies or hearings on what the complicated issue of statehood would mean for tax revenues or liabilities.
Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss. -- the majority leader who controls the Senate's fall agenda -- wisely says no to any Puerto Rico legislation. That means Puerto Rico's December referendum, whatever the outcome, will be a moot point.