December 14, 1998
Puerto Ricans say 'no' to statehood
But governor won't give up

                  SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (CNN) -- Puerto Rico will not become the 51st
                  state of the United States anytime soon.

                  On Sunday, a majority of Puerto Rican voters rejected the statehood
                  idea for the second time in a decade.

                  With 100 percent of votes counted, Puerto Rico's state election
                  commission said 784,842, or 50.2 percent, voted for "none of the
                  above," at the ballot box, the option favored by supporters of Puerto Rico
                  remaining a U.S. commonwealth.

                  Another 726,766, or 46.5 percent, of voters in the Spanish-speaking
                  territory backed a measure to seek statehood status through the U.S.

                  The vote, on this Caribbean island of 3.8 million people, was a defeat for
                  Gov. Pedro Rossello, and followed an intense campaign estimated to have
                  cost more than $2 million, although officials of Rossello's New
                  Progressive Party (NPP) have declined to comment on that figure.

                  The opposition Popular Democratic Party (PDP), which championed the
                  "none of the above" vote after suing unsuccessfully to block the plebiscite,
                  called Sunday's election a victory for the Puerto Rican people.

                  Victory dance for opposition

                  The PDP contended that the plebiscite ballot was unfairly worded to favor

                  "Here is a people proud of its history. Here is a people proud of its
                  relationship with the United States. Here is a people proud of its citizenship,
                  and also proud of its Puerto Rican-ness," Anibal Acevedo Vila, president of
                  the PDP, told a crowd of dancing, cheering supporters during a victory

                  Under commonwealth status, Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens and receive
                  many federal benefits. But they do not pay federal income taxes or vote in
                  national elections.

                  On Sunday, voters chose whether the U.S. territory should: push the U.S.
                  Congress for statehood; remain a U.S. commonwealth; begin a new "free
                  association," a sort of quasi- independence with more power for the local
                  government and close ties to the United States; or seek independence.

                 The plebiscite was Puerto Rico's third in less than 30 years, all
                 losses for statehood. In 1993, shortly after starting his first term
                 as governor, Rossello backed a status plebiscite in which
                 commonwealth defeated statehood by 48 to 46 percent, with most of
                 the rest of votes for independence.

                 Statehood also was defeated in a 1967 plebiscite on Puerto Rico's
                 status, a defeat that split the existing pro-statehood party and
                 led to the birth of the NPP.

                  Analysts said prospects for Puerto Rican statehood looked hazier
                  than ever after Sunday's vote.

                  Despite results, governor claims victory, too

                  "Today, the people spoke and said that they want a change," Rossello
                  said. "... The people spoke and statehood won."

                  Instead of conceding defeat, he claimed victory for the statehood
                  movement. He said the "none of the above" votes were protest ballots --
                  many of them personal attacks on himself and his administration's policies --
                  that should not be counted in the total results, leaving statehood with an
                  overwhelming majority.

                  "I recognize that almost half of those who voted, voted against... (but many
                  of them) mounted a protest against me personally or in protest of my
                  administration," he told cheering supports at the NPP headquarters.

                  He promised to take the results of Sunday's vote to Congress and press for a
                  program for a transition to statehood for Puerto Rico. That plan, if passed in
                  Washington, would then face a vote on the island.

                  Experts have said anything but a strong vote for statehood will make it difficult to
                  persuade a balky U.S. Congress to admit Puerto Rico as the 51st state. It is
                  estimated that no more than 30 percent of Puerto Ricans speak English well
                  and the island's per capita income is about $8,100, less than one-third the
                  U.S. average of about $26,000 per year.

                  Rossello had pushed hard to hold the plebiscite in 1998, 100 years after
                  Puerto Rico became a U.S. possession at the end of the Spanish-American
                  War, angering Puerto Ricans hit hard in September by Hurricane Georges,
                  which caused more than $1 billion in damages here.

                  Voters also had expressed anger with Rossello over the pending sale of the
                  state-owned Puerto Rico Telephone Co., a deal that had prompted an
                  angry islandwide strike in June.

                  "I think this is absolutely stupid from this guy," Maria, a voter who declined
                  to give her name, said of Rossello.  "He believes he is the owner of this

                  With 100 percent of the vote counted, the commonwealth option on the
                  ballot had 974 votes, or 0.1 percent, free association had 4,472, or 0.3

                  Independence was chosen by 39,625 voters, or 2.5 percent.

                  Election officials said 71.1 percent of Puerto Rico's 2.2 million registered
                  voters participated in Sunday's vote, which was carried out peacefully and
                  without incident. In the 1993 plebiscite, 73 percent of voters cast ballots, a
                  spokesman for the election commission said.

                                 Reuters contributed to this report.