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Sunday, July 26, 1998 Published at 04:26 GMT 05:26 UK

World: Americas

Puerto Rico to get statehood vote

Celebrating the past - but what does the future hold?

The people of Puerto Rico are to vote in a referendum to decide whether or not the island should become the 51st State of America.

Emma Patterson reports from Puerto Rico: "Time to determine the future"
Governor Pedro Rossello announced the referendum at a rally marking the centenary of US troops invading the island.

The Caribbean territory - population 3.6 million people - is a US Commonwealth nation with limited self-government but no say in Washington.

The referendum in December will decide whether Puerto Rico:

  • Moves to become the 51st State of America or
  • Pushes for independence.

As the governor made his referendum announcement he unfurled a Stars and Stripes flag - with 51 stars.

He said: "If after 100 years, the US Senate does not possess the will to put an end to a century of colonialism, Puerto Rico does.

"I trust in God that, presented with this decisive opportunity, our people will issue a clarion call for the validation of our claim to freedom, equality, dignity."

The US Congress is considering a bill on Puerto Rican statehood, but the Senate has not yet voted.

Divisions over US heritage

A BBC correspondent says that will put the status of the referendum in doubt.

In Puerto Rico and the US, opinion is divided on what the island's future status should be.

Governor Rossello is pro-statehood and made the announcement at a rally attended by islanders wearing star-spangled tee-shirts and celebrating their US citizenship.

Supporters of the statehood option believe that it would provide the territory with economic opportunities.

[ image: Independence Party supporters on the march]
Independence Party supporters on the march
But opposition parties who favour independence are also using the centenary to further their campaign.

They say Puerto Ricans have lived under "American oppression" for long enough.

Fernando Martin, vice president of the Puerto Rico Independence Party, said the Senate's stalling showed "tremendous opposition to statehood in the US".

In the US the majority of Republicans are opposed to a predominantly Spanish-speaking community becoming a fully-fledged American state.

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Internet Links

Office of Governor of Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico Pro-Statehood website

Puerto Rico Independence website

Puerto Rico Political Status Act

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