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Debate Is Heated About Puerto Rico

July 26, 1998

GUANICA, Puerto Rico (AP) _ When Angie Noya looks out from her porch she sees the exact spot where American troops landed a century ago, establishing a bridgehead from which they swiftly took Puerto Rico from the Spanish.

Her normally sleepy little town is transformed this weekend by thousands of Puerto Ricans streaming in to mark the anniversary.

Some are here to celebrate and demand that Puerto Rico finally become a full-fledged U.S. state _ the pet project of Gov. Pedro Rossello and a goal with which Noya agrees.

Some of those who support independence are protesting the American presence in their Spanish-speaking homeland.

In the Noya home, a debate raged over the weekend as pro-independence songs blared from a bandstand at the harbor side.

``I want my country to be free,″ said her friend Heydee Monge, a buyer for Bacardi rum, a proud Puerto Rican company.

She said she would happily give up her U.S. citizenship.

Noya disagreed: ``We’re not ready for independence. We gained much from being part of the United States. We should be a state.″

Rummaging through photograph albums, the 43-year-old gym teacher produced a yellowing newspaper clipping showing that the first U.S. flag to reach the island was given to her great-grandfather Agustin Darren Barrenechea, then mayor of Guanica.

Anita Garrido disagreed with both. She wants to preserve the commonwealth, even though it means Puerto Ricans cannot vote for president.

This way, she said, she can be an American and have her own country.

``She’s totally confused!″ exploded Antonio Delgado, a white-haired pediatrician.

Then the group retired to a dinner of traditional beans and rice with grilled chicken.

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