- - Monday, November 5, 2012

SAN JUAN — Puerto Rican voters will once again ponder the decades-old question over the island’s political future when they go to the polls Tuesday: What kind of relationship do they really want with the United States?

Do they support the status quo? Or would they prefer statehood, independence or “sovereign free association,” a designation that would give the island of nearly 4 million people more autonomy?

Officially, the Caribbean island is the U.S. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, a semiautonomous extension of the U.S. mainland, its giant neighbor 1,000 miles to the northwest. But in fact it is a territory, lacking both the freedom of an independent country and some of the fundamental rights it would have if it was a U.S. state.

Aimed at resolving the 114-year-old conundrum over Puerto Rico’s status, Tuesday’s referendum marks the fourth time in 45 years that a vote has been held on the island’s future. Past balloting has never given statehood a majority, and independence never garnered more than 5 percent, but debate over the territory’s legal standing remains heated.

The latest vote comes at an especially difficult time for the island as it struggles to recover from an economic crisis and fights a wave of violent crime. Puerto Rico reported a record 1,117 killings last year, and its 13.6 percent unemployment is higher than that of any U.S. state.


Farmers shot dead over crop dispute

TEGUCIGALPA — Three farmers were fatally shot in a restive area of Honduras plagued by tensions between landless farm workers and land owners switching to higher-earning crops, a farmers group reported Monday.

“Three farm workers were gunned down by heavily armed gunmen, as the farmers waited for a ride alongside a highway” near Tocoa, said a report from the Aguan United Farmers Movement.

More than 80 people have been killed in the past three years in the Aguan Valley.

In 2009, farm workers began squatting illegally on land owned by large landholders, who were switching their crops to African palms for the valuable oil extracted for the cosmetics and processed foods industries. Land owners have hired guards to protect the holdings.


Bankers, finance ministers meeting over global crisis

MEXICO CITY — Finance ministers and central bank governors from the world’s leading economies met in Mexico on Sunday amid growing fears over the global impact of Europe’s debt crisis and the stalemate over a fiscal plan in the United States.

The meeting of G-20 financial officials in Mexico City, coming just ahead of U.S. elections, lacked key players such as U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner.

Although recent financial talks have focused on the debt crisis in Europe, especially in Greece and Spain, some delegates in Mexico expressed concern over the fiscal situation in Washington.

Mexican Finance Minister Jose Antonio Meade said that among the issues dealt with at this meeting will be “the fiscal cliff” in the United States, where a package of spending cuts and tax increases are set to take effect unless Congress acts by Jan. 1.

“In recent meetings, the United States has expressed confidence that it will be able to build the political consensuses needed to make adjustments that will send clear signals that a fiscal consolidation is coming,” Mr. Meade said.

The closed-door meeting will be the last organized by Mexico in its role as president of the G-20 in 2012.


Leftist government bets on local elections

MANAGUA — Voters in Nicaragua cast ballots Sunday in elections that the leftist Sandinista government hopes will broaden its already strong hold on local offices across the Central American nation.

With the opposition divided among several small parties, President Daniel Ortega’s Sandinista Front is battling to boost its share of 153 Nicaraguan mayor’s offices to 120 from 109, which analysts said was within the realm of possibility.

Among the opposition forces are the conservative Independent Liberal Party and Liberal Constitutionalist Party.

Also in the mix are three other parties that some opposition members say are aligned with the government: Alliance for the Republic, the Conservative Party and Independent Liberal Alliance.

About 3.7 million voters over 16 are eligible to vote in the local elections.


Government seeks aid for hurricane recovery

PORT-AU-PRINCE — The Haitian government is calling on other countries and international organizations to provide emergency humanitarian aid after Hurricane Sandy caused major damage to the impoverished nation.

The eye of the storm passed west of Haiti the night of Oct. 24, but rain-heavy outer bands soaked the southern coast and capital for much of that week, causing many rivers to overflow. Authorities say the storm destroyed 70 percent of the crops in Haiti’s south and caused widespread deaths of livestock.

Officials say that as many as 54 people died. The United Nations said that 1.6 million people were affected.

The Caribbean country is still struggling to recover from a devastating earthquake nearly two years ago.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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