- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 16, 2002

This year, Puerto Rican communities on the island and throughout the United States are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico's constitution. As we reflect on our strong tradition of democracy and citizenship, I am launching a voter registration campaign to empower the 3.4 million Puerto Ricans who live on the U.S. mainland (compared to 3.8 million in Puerto Rico). In sharp contrast to voting rates that average 80 percent or better on the island, merely 40 percent of Puerto Ricans living in the United States are registered to vote. What's more, the voting rate of those registered in the United States hovers at just 40 percent. For a commonwealth that contributes integrally to America's democratic and economic interests, this must change.

The campaign's theme Que Nada Nos Detenga (Let Nothing Stop Us) reflects Puerto Ricans' spirit of determination and our belief that a better future is attainable through participation in the democratic process. The goal of the campaign is to register thousands of new voters for the elections both this year and in 2004. Indeed, the Hispanic vote is an increasing focus of both Democrats and Republicans, especially in New York, New Jersey, Florida and other states with strong ethnic populations.

More than ever, issues affecting Puerto Ricans are decided not only in San Juan, but also in Washington. By voting, the mainland Puerto Rican community can ensure that its voice is heard on national, state and local levels. After all, there are Puerto Rican communities in every state, and seven states have Puerto Rican populations of more than 150,000. Seventy-nine of the 435 congressional districts have Puerto Rican populations of at least 10,000. Of these, 38 districts have more than 25,000 Puerto Rican residents.

Puerto Ricans continue to embrace the dual nature of our U.S. citizenship and Puerto Rican heritage. We proudly serve in the U.S. armed forces and have distinguished ourselves on battlefields in both World Wars, the Korean War, Vietnam and Desert Storm. And while the smoke of September 11 was still rising, Puerto Rican rescue and recovery teams were among the first overseas volunteers to join the effort at the World Trade Center.

Intertwined with Puerto Rico's rich democratic heritage is its vital role in the U.S. economy. Major U.S.-based companies operate facilities here, creating both high-quality goods for the global marketplace and thousands of well-paying jobs. In addition, Puerto Rico is one of the world's leading per capita consumers of U.S. mainland products and services, purchasing more U.S. products than much larger countries such as China, Russia, Brazil, Australia and Italy. In 1999 alone, Puerto Rico purchased $16 billion in U.S. goods, which translated into 320,000 U.S. jobs.

For a half-century, democratic participation has been the gateway to freedom, self-government and economic prosperity to successive generations of Puerto Ricans. During this time, Puerto Rico has built a robust democracy, established a solid social and economic platform and enhanced our distinct national identity all within the broader framework of America. As a means of strengthening these attributes over the next half-century from which the United States and Puerto Rico will derive mutual benefits I encourage all Puerto Ricans living on the mainland to register and vote.

Let nothing stop us.

Sila M. Calderon, a democrat, is governor of Puerto Rico.

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