Puerto Rican statehood set back

Statehood for this Caribbean island has been at least temporarily scut tled in the wake of Tuesday's tumultuous gubernatorial vote, writes Monitor Latin America correspondent James Nelson Goodsell. It is scuttled no matter who is elected governor in a close race here.

Former Gov. Rafael Hernandez Colon, who holds a paper-thin lead in the race to be top man in the statehouse, is solidly against statehood. He favors continuation, with modifications, of the present commonwealth or free-state relationship with the United States.

And now incumbent Gov. Carlos Romero Barcelo -- who said in the campaign that he would hold a plebiscite on the issue if he won -- says he won't do so, presumably because he did not win by the wide margin he expected. A spokesman for the governor said, "The issue of statehood is dead for at least a decade."

At the same time, the issue of island independence has also suffered a serious setback. Two gubernatorial candidates favoring this independence received barely 5 percent of the vote between them, a poorer showing than their forces had had in the past five elections.

But an immediate issue for the eventual winner -- whether Mr. Hernandez Colon or Mr. Romero Barcelo -- is healing the bitterness and rancor that developed in what both sides admit was "the dirtiest campaign in Puerto Rican history," to quote Hernandez Colon.

The election commission suspended its tabulations at noon Nov. 5 until Nov. 7 . With 57,000 votes still to be counted, Hernandez Colon held a 46.6 percent lead to Romero Barcelo's 46.5 percent.

Puerto Ricans probably won't know the identity of their next governor until the weekend at the earliest.

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