BARCELONETA, Puerto Rico — Thousands converged on this coastal town to celebrate 48 years since Puerto Rico was declared a U.S. "commonwealth" on Wednesday — a date also marking 102 years since invading U.S. troops wrested the Caribbean island from Spain.
The commemoration comes at a time of growing foment over Puerto Rico's unusual ties to the United States — a debate marked by growing nationalism among these Spanish speakers and a bitter dispute with the U.S. Navy over its bombing range on outlying Vieques Island.
As revelers waved Puerto Rican and U.S. flags, danced to salsa music and downed soft drinks in the blazing heat, opposition gubernatorial candidate Sila Calderon pledged that if victorious in November she would repel any move to make Puerto Rico the 51st U.S. state.
But her loudest cheers came when she championed Vieques, where the accidental bombing death of a civilian guard last year unleashed a storm of protest laced with anti-Americanism. "We are united with Vieques and will continue to be firm!" she said.
In San Juan, pro-statehood Gov. Pedro Rossello held a more modest ceremony emphasizing the creation of the Puerto Rican constitution as part of the 1952 deal with the United States establishing commonwealth.
Under the unusual arrangement, the 4 million Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens who can serve in the army and receive billions of dollars from the federal government. But they do not pay federal taxes, do not have a voting U.S. Congress member and cannot vote for president.
A series of nonbinding referendums on upgrading the ties to full statehood — the last in 1998 — have proven inconclusive and deeply divisive. A small minority of Puerto Ricans supports full independence.