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Friday, 13 November, 1998, 18:47 GMT
The Puerto Rican paradox
A doorway in San Juan, Puerto Rico's capital: national pride is growing
In this week's Crossing Continents, Meriel Beattie travels to Puerto Rico to report on the difficulties Puerto Ricans face as citizens - but not full citizens - of the United States.Puerto Rico has been classed as a "territory" of the U.S. for 100 years - and it currently has a commonwealth arrangement with Washington.

This means Puerto Ricans have U.S. passports - but they can't vote in U.S. elections. They receive federal aid and don't pay federal taxes - but they are liable for the U.S. military draft. Is this relationship the best of both worlds ? Or is it little more than second-class citizenship ? Would a different arrangement be better for the island and its 3.8 million people?

Meriel reports first from the island of Vieques, which for decades has been used by the U.S. military as a bombing range - against the wishes of many of the 8,000 islanders. She meets the people on Vieques who feel they and their homeland are being used the backyard of the United States. Fishermen, teachers and other people on the island vent their frustration that their current status as Puerto Ricans leaves them with no political voice that can be heard in Washington.

But that status may be changing very soon. On December 12 Puerto Ricans will get the chance to air their own views on what kind of citizenship they think would be best for them, in a referendum called by the pro-Washington Governor of the island, Pedro Rossello. The referendum voting paper, which you can see reproduced to the left, will offer five options:

-To become the 51st State of the USA. (This would give the island senators and six congressional representatives, but would end the tax incentives which U.S. investors in Puerto Rico currently enjoy.)

- To retain the current commonwealth status

- To modify the commonwealth status to one of "Free Association"

- To become completely independent.

- None of the above

Meriel Beattie grills Puerto Rico's Governor Pedro Rossello
Governor Rossello is openly in favour of Puerto Rico becoming the 51st State of the Union - not least because of the economic advantages that option would bring. But if the island did follow the example of Hawaii and Alaska and became a full U.S. state, how much of the island's Spanish culture would be lost? And, most importantly, will Puerto Rico really get any more respect?

To find get an idea of what young Puerto Ricans feel about the future, Meriel spends "Social Friday" - the traditional end-of -the-week drink and debate session -- with four young lawyers in the island's capital, San Juan.

Heart-throb Marc Anthony is one of the foremost 'new wave' salsa artists
And, like hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans over the years, Meriel makes the trip from the island for New York. Gone are the days of the gang-ridden underclass portrayed in "West Side Story". Today the New York Puerto Ricans - or "Nuyoricans" as they call themselves -- are a force to be reckoned with. Along with other Spanish-speaking groups, they now make up a staggering 18 per cent of the city's population - and they're certainly making themselves heard.

Meriel visits a radio station which has become a broadcasting phenomenon in New York. The Spanish-language WSKQ La Mega has had a meteoric rise through the ratings to the very top. Its breakfast show mix of Salsa and Merengue music now vies with the notorious "shock jock" Howard Stern for the accolade of the city's most listened-to programme - and has given rise to a new Salsa boom in the clubs of New York.

Click here to listen to the programme in full (28 minutes)
WEBSITE EXCLUSIVE: Listen in on the debate
as Puerto Ricans discuss the plebiscite...
The Nuyorican sound:
Marc Antony's smash 'Si Te Vas'
Crossing Continents
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