Bill could change Puerto Rico's status House hearing in San Juan weighs new plebiscite


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Opening another chapter in the long and complex relationship between this island territory and the United States, a Republican congressman led a hearing yesterday on a bill he said could bring either sovereignty or statehood to Puerto Rico by 2010.

Several hundred Puerto Ricans demonstrated outside the hearing at the Government Receptions Center in Old San Juan, waving flags and holding placards, ranging from "statehood now" to "commonwealth forever."

Inside, their political leaders defended their status preference before the often heated session of the House Subcommittee on Native American and Insular Affairs.

The hearing, led by Rep. Don Young of Alaska, focused on a bill he filed two weeks ago to call a referendum in Puerto Rico before the end of 1998 and ask voters to choose among statehood, sovereignty or free association.

Free association would involve a pact between Puerto Rico and the United States, which could be terminated by either side.

The governing New Progressive Party, which favors statehood, has hailed the bill, which has the support of some 36 representatives, including Speaker Newt Gingrich.

But the opposition Popular Democratic Party, which favors improving upon the existing commonwealth status, mounted an embittered response to the measure. Party leaders have accused Mr. Young, who is openly pro-statehood, of filing a bill that is weighted heavily in favor of the New Progressive Party.

Pub Date: 3/24/96

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