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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 March 2006, 16:39 GMT 17:39 UK
Puerto Rico questions US ties

By Jonathan Beale
BBC News, Puerto Rico

A recent White House report on the question of the political status of Puerto Rico, a self-governing commonwealth of the United States, could open the way for a possible change, after more than a century.

Baseball fan with flag of Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is questioning its ties with the United States

In 1898, the territory, then under Spanish rule, was invaded by the US - it has remained a US territory ever since. But some islanders are now demanding independence, others want Puerto Rico to become a US state - still others believe it should retain its current status.

Cuba's leader Fidel Castro has long argued for Puerto Rico to be given its independence. And the arrival of the recent visit of the Cuban baseball team to the island further fuelled the debate:

The international tournament of baseball, the World Baseball Classic took place in Puerto Rico amid great fanfare. Yet this American game being played on American soil, was also being played by an enemy of the United States.

Cuba and Puerto Rico are Latino brothers, and Puerto Ricans were among those here cheering on the Cuban team.

They are both former Spanish colonies that share the same language culture and history - even similar flags - but are now politically poles apart.

The United States is fighting a war in Iraq for democracy and right here we have people without the right to vote for the president of the United States

The Cuban team was banned from talking politics but still Pedro Cabrera, the Cuban team's spokesman, could not resist a dig at his hosts:

"The politics that are being applied is the politics of the powerful against the poor," he said.

It is the kind of rhetoric associated with Mr Castro's Cuba - but even here it strikes a chord.

On the airwaves, Puerto Ricans like Ignacio Ribero - the host of Crossfire on Radio Isla - are now vigorously debating their own relationship with the United States.

Inspired by Castro

"Every Latino admires Fidel Castro because he has had the bravery or madness to face an empire that can wipe him out in 20 seconds and he has done that for 40 years and he's still around," he says.

Map of Puerto Rico
US invaded Puerto Rico during 1898 Spanish-American War
Puerto Ricans do not pay US income tax, but island gets federal funds
Run as a self-governing commonwealth, but President Bush is head of state
A number of referendums on the status of the island have favoured retaining this status - in 1998 only 2.5% favoured independence
A presidential task force concluded in 2005 that the islanders should be asked whether they wanted to review Puerto Rico's status

"So he has a deep admiration in the psyches of Puerto Ricans because all of us would like to have a little of Fidel Castro.

Out in demonstrations on the streets, some Puerto Ricans are already demanding full independence.

In part they are inspired by Mr Castro's revolutionary fervour - he, too, has called for an end to American occupation.

But there is also home grown resentment. Increasingly vocal demonstrations are evidence of a growing anger and resentment by Puerto Ricans, directed at the mainland.

But opinion is divided among those who argue for full independence, and those who are happy with the way things are and those who want statehood, for Puerto Rico to be the 51st state of the US.

Many of those Puerto Ricans who are proud of being American citizens are also ashamed that their country continues to deprive them full voting rights.

As one demonstrator said: "The United States is fighting a war in Iraq for democracy and right here we have people without the right to vote for the president of the United States."

'True injustice'

That sense of injustice is tangible at the island's war memorial in San Juan.

Symbolic coffins at a protest at Puerto Rico's Capitol
Some 2,000 islanders have died fighting for the United States

In front of a fountain, engraved in stone are the names of hundreds of Puerto Ricans who have died fighting for the United States - in wars from Europe to Vietnam and most recently Iraq.

Kenneth McClintock is the president of the island's Senate and a leading advocate for Puerto Rico to be made a US state.

"When you see behind us over 2,000 names of Puerto Ricans who served in the US armed forces and were the only members of the armed forces that were not allowed to vote for the commander-in-chief and served in wars that were declared by a congress at which we don't have representation.

"Here's where you can actually see the true injustice."

Back at the baseball game, few Puerto Ricans envy the lives of their Cuban brothers.

Yet more people in Puerto Rico appear to be questioning the territory's ties with the United States - and many are now asking whether the US will be prepared to allow a Latino island to become the 51st state, or even let Puerto Rico go its own way?

Call for Puerto Rico referendum
23 Dec 05 |  Americas
Ruling party wins in Puerto Rico
24 Dec 04 |  Americas
Island marks US Navy's exit
01 May 03 |  Americas
The Puerto Rican paradox
10 Jan 02 |  Crossing Continents
Regions and territories: Puerto Rico
06 Oct 05 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Puerto Rico
06 Oct 05 |  Country profiles

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