March 28, 1999
Puerto Rican statehood activists won't give up dream

                  SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- When Puerto Ricans rejected a proposal
                  last year to become the 51st U.S. state -- the second statehood setback in
                  six years -- it looked like the century-long fight would stop for many years to

                  But Puerto Rico's "statehooders" are still in the ring.

                  Through renewed lobbying, fund-raising and involvement in Vice President
                  Al Gore's presidential campaign, the movement led by Gov. Pedro Rossello
                  is raising the issue again.

                  "It's obvious that Rossello is trying to convince the leadership of the
                  Congress to hold another plebiscite," said Anibal Acevedo Vila, head of the
                  rival Popular Democratic Party.

                  It's sure to be another tough sell in Washington, where skepticism is strong
                  about letting a Spanish-speaking island that is poorer than every state join
                  the union. Republicans, especially, fear a Puerto Rican state would send
                  mainly Democrats -- two Senators and up to seven representatives -- to
                  Capitol Hill.

                  So far, the Senate has scheduled hearings for May 6 to examine the result of
                  December's nonbinding referendum, and President Clinton has issued a
                  favorable letter on "the need to further clarify" the island's political status.

                  Puerto Rico has been a U.S. territory since the United States wrested it from
                  Spain during the 1898 Spanish-American War.

                  Some Puerto Ricans see the "commonwealth" arrangement set up in 1952 as
                  optimal: the island's 3.8 million residents are U.S. citizens, it receives more
                  than $10 billion in federal funds annually and has some trappings of
                  independence, like its own Olympic team. Many fear statehood would mean
                  not only federal taxes but imposed English as well.

                  Statehood supporters say Puerto Ricans are second-class U.S. citizens,
                  unable to vote for the president and Congress that can send them to war.

                  Rossello's New Progressive Party has argued that the United States is a
                  "nation of nations" and a Spanish-speaking state would not be so unusual.

                  Last year the House passed, by a single vote, a bill allowing a Puerto Rico
                  statehood referendum. The bill died in the Senate. Rossello held a vote
                  anyway -- but the gamble didn't pay off. Statehood drew 46 percent of the
                  vote compared with 52 percent for "none of the above" -- an option backed
                  by supporters of the status quo who disagreed with the way it was defined
                  on the ballot.

                  The referendum exhausted the party's treasury -- it was $3.2 million in debt
                  by January -- but not its leaders, who began trips to Washington last month
                  to paint the vote as inconclusive.

                  President Clinton met with Rossello and issued a statement saying he is
                  "strongly committed to enable the people of the islands to choose Puerto
                  Rico's status. ... I recognize the need to further clarify these options."

                  Gore recently named Rossello to head his primary campaign on the island
                  and serve as point man for mainland Hispanics -- sparking speculation the
                  Yale- and Harvard-educated pediatrician might be tapped for a Gore
                  Cabinet post.

                  Rossello also met last month with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, House
                  Speaker Dennis Hastert and other Congressional leaders to push statehood.

                  Days later, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural
                  Resources, Republican Frank Murkowski, announced the hearings to
                  examine the referendum results. He was vague on the prospect of another
                  vote. "We should provide a forum for our fellow citizens in the territories,
                  when they have taken the initiative, to express their views," he said.

                  On Tuesday, Puerto Rico's non-voting delegate in Congress, Carlos
                  Romero Barcelo, circulated a letter signed by 15 Hispanic members of
                  Congress calling for "equality" in federal funding for Puerto Rico. Only two
                  refused to sign, anti-statehood Democrats Luis Gutierrez of Illinois and
                  Nydia Velazquez of New York; they called it a prelude to more demands
                  for statehood.

                  Statehood opponents fear the Rossello administration may support new
                  efforts to impose federal taxes on Puerto Rico to eliminate the issue as a
                  drawback to statehood.

                  Murkowski's counterpart in the House, Republican Don Young of Alaska,
                  suggested to the Washington Times last week that Puerto Ricans be required
                  to pay taxes.

                  "(Young) doesn't feel the U.S. taxpayer should continue indefinitely
                  subsidizing Puerto Rico," said Manase Mansur, Young's adviser on Puerto
                  Rican affairs.

                  Statehood opponents say Young -- who wrote the binding referendum bill
                  that passed the House last year -- wanted to punish Puerto Ricans for voting
                  down statehood.

                    Copyright 1999 The Associated Press.