Charlie Rodriguez ’73, president of the Puerto Rican Senate since 1997, returned to Cornell yesterday to talk to students about the upcoming U.S. elections and Puerto Rico’s political situation.
A member of the Puerto Rican Senate for 20 years, Rodriguez said he aims to increase the level of mainland awareness regarding Puerto Rico’s position as a United States territory.
“U.S. citizens living abroad can vote for the President,” he said. “But if you are from a U.S. territory you cannot. That is a huge contradiction!”
Rodriguez considers this condition a civil rights infringement, particularly because his countrymen are still eligible for the draft.
“If we are equal at the moment we have to die for this country, then we have to be equal in life when we get to make decisions for this country,” he said.
To achieve this state of equality, Rodriguez advocates a plebiscite issued by Congress to Puerto Ricans, defining the available options for national standing, including statehood or independence.
Since 1980, Rodriguez has been a delegate of the Democratic Party. He endorses Vice President Al Gore for president because he believes Gore’s policies regarding the Puerto Rican vote are the most progressive.
“Both Clinton and Gore have implemented programs promoting Puerto Rican self-determination,” Rodriguez said.
Regarding the Republican presidential candidate, Rodriguez expressed misgivings. “George W. Bush doesn’t seem to grasp the issues very well,” he said. “It wouldn’t be surprising if he didn’t know what was going on in Puerto Rico.”
Although the Republican platform supports Puerto Rican statehood, Rodriguez stated that the Democrats have taken the most action towards making it a reality. As reason for Republican inaction, he said certain members of the party harbor an underlying racial or ethnic prejudice towards Puerto Ricans.
One of Rodriguez’s main justifications for achieving Puerto Rican statehood is the increasing Latin American population in the United States.
“Latinos are becoming very important in the mainland,” he said. “In 10 years they will become the largest minority group in the United States.”
Another reason to maintain good relations with Latin American countries, according to Rodriguez, is their potential as a market for U.S. goods. As a Spanish-speaking population, Puerto Rico’s holds a potentially crucial role in this exchange of goods.
“We in Puerto Rico do business the American way, but we do it in Espa