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Advocate sees Puerto Rico independence vote as 'win-win'
The Washington Times / March 31, 1996

By Larry Luxner

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Sen. Rubén Berríos Martínez, 56, is one of this island's best-known politicians. As president of the Puerto Rican Independence Party for the past 25 years, Berríos has dedicated his life for a cause relatively few people believe in. Current polls give the PIP only a 6% electoral share, well behind the Popular Democratic Party, which wants to retain commonwealth status, and Gov. Pedro Rosselló's New Progressive Party, which wants to make Puerto Rico the 51st state. Nevertheless, this gifted orator -- who has studied at Georgetown, Oxford and Yale universities and has been a frequent candidate for governor -- told The Washington Times that his people "have been fighting against colonialism for 100 years." Here are excerpts from the Mar. 21 interview:

Q: A bill just submitted by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) would, if passed, require Puerto Rico to hold a referendum on political status by 1998. Given that status plebiscites have been conducted before -- with commonwealth winning in 1967 and again in 1993 -- will this one will make any difference?

A: "I think that if the bill is amended, it can be a very positive step on the road to independence. Once we engage Congress, I have no doubt what the result will be.

Q: Do you really think independence has a chance?

A: "It's a win-win proposition for us. We have everything to gain. If we win, we win. If we don't obtain victory now, we'll obtain it tomorrow, because statehood will never be granted. Commonwealth is the problem, and statehood is totally unacceptable to the U.S."

Q: Why is it totally unacceptable?

A: "What does the U.S. have to gain from statehood? Statehood was made for Americans, not Puerto Ricans. The U.S. would never allow a Spanish-speaking state into the union, even if Puerto Rico petitioned for statehood. To think otherwise is absurd. Besides, Puerto Rico would have more votes than 25 states [based on its current population of 3.7 million]. It would receive more funds from the federal government per-capita than any state, and would contribute much less."

Q: Why, then, is statehood becoming more popular as a status option among Puerto Ricans?

A: "Because our people are more economically dependent on the United States. It's a marriage of convenience for statehooders. They know they have to push for it as soon as possible."

Q: And what's wrong with the present commonwealth status?

A: "To put it bluntly, commonwealth is the umbilical cord that feeds statehood's fetus."

Q: Without Section 936 tax benefits and unlimited travel to and from the United States, how would Puerto Rico survive economically as an independent nation?

A: "Look at Singapore. The most important thing is to have flexibility. Puerto Rico's three advantages are its geographical position, its people and its smallness. Finance and high-tech industries are our future. At the moment, we have no way of attracting foreign capital. We need the political power, for example, to sign tax treaties with Japan. Colonialization is like a straitjacket."

Q: What about market access to the United States, Puerto Rico's main trading partner?

A: "We could have that as a republic, like Mexico does."

Q: As time goes on, is Washington showing greater interest in Puerto Rico's political status?

A: "Yes. If it weren't, it wouldn't be continuing this process, which began in 1989.

Q: Your party has never won a gubernatorial election. What has kept PIP going all these years?

A: "We've had ups and downs in Puerto Rico over the last century. We're not in the majority, but our candidates are the most respected. Until 1980, we were persecuted by the CIA, the FBI and the Puerto Rican police. It's a miracle we're still alive."

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