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Puerto Rican Politicians To Debate Isle's Status

By Bartle Bull

As part of an ongoing effort to raise Harvard consciousness about Puerto Rican affairs, three of the commonwealth's leading politicians will visit the University this month to present their visions of the island's future.

In the first of the visits next week, current Gov. Rafael Hernandez-Colon will make the case that Puerto Rico should retain its current status as an American commonwealth, according to members of La Organizacion, the student group sponsoring the event.

Hernandez-Colon will be followed by former Gov. Carlos Romero Barcelo, a strong advocate of statehood, and Ruben Berrios Martinez, president of the Puerto Rican Independence Party.

The impetus for the visits is the June 1991 referendum in which Puerto Ricans will vote on whether to retain commonwealth status, apply for statehood or seek independence, according to Lee Pai of the Harvard Foundation, which is co-sponsoring the program.

"This referendum will not only affect Puerto Ricans but all Americans, and we feel that it is extremely important that people realize the issues at stake," said Teresita Riera-Carrion '92, president of La Organizacion. "Puerto Rico could become the 51st state overnight, and too many people around here don't even know that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens."

Puerto Rico became an American territory after the Spanish-American War in 1898, and its residents have held U.S. citizenship since 1917.

La O members said they originally intended a three-way debate between the politicians but that scheduling problems forced them to hold the speeches on different days.

"It's a shame, because whenever they debate in Puerto Rico they're at each others' throats," said Jorge Ramirez '93. "This issue stirs a lot of passions in Puerto Rico, and it would have been helpful for people to see not just the various viewpoints but also the depth of concern."

Ramirez said that many Puerto Ricans at Harvard nonetheless are excited by the upcoming visits.

"We're very lucky to have three such prominent leaders coming to Harvard," Ramirez said. "The caliber of their statesmanship and the importance of the issue should make it a fruitful event."

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