Puerto Rico upholds statehood demand in contentious vote

Lucy Bush
June 12, 2017

Puerto Rico's governor says the USA territory has overwhelmingly chosen statehood in a non-binding referendum.

Congress has the final say over whether the territory changes its status, making the vote merely an advisory opinion.

No clear majority emerged in the first three referendums on status, with voters nearly evenly divided between statehood and the status quo.

While President Trump signaled during his presidential campaign that he is open to Puerto Rico officially becoming a state, in April he tweeted his opposition to any bailout of the territory.

The island's two main opposition parties boycotted the vote, which gave Puerto Ricans three options: becoming a US state; remaining a territory; or becoming an independent nation, with or without some continuing political association with the United States.

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Becoming the 51st US state in any case depends on the US Congress, where there is little enthusiasm for the move. Since then it has laboured under the colonial relationship and in the past decade the island has endured a prolonged recession and accumulated debts and pensions shortfalls of more than $120bn. Chanting "Puerto Rico Not for Sale", people marched in front of their idol, while others called on the United States to release of the nation's "political prisoners". While Puerto Ricans are American citizens and contribute to Social Security and Medicare, they do not vote for the US president, and their single representative in Congress has no vote.

In 2012, around 1.8 million people voted - a turnout of 77.5% - but State Electoral Commission figures show that just 518,000 people (or 23% of eligible voters) voted in Sunday's referendum.

Michelle Sierra, a hospital patient who cast an early vote in the plebiscite, is in favor of US statehood: "We deserve a better future and my children deserve a better future".

Many Puerto Ricans doubt Congress can be convinced to incorporate the island, especially in the island's current economic condition, The New York Times reported.

Statehood's advocates say it would help the economy; its opponents warn that the island will lose its cultural identity and struggle even more financially because it will suddenly have to pay millions of dollars in federal taxes.

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For Puerto Ricans, Sunday was a day of celebration and contention.

"This plebiscite failed to live up to that standard, and the deck was stacked throughout the process, " she said in a statement.

People participate in the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade marching up 5th Ave. on Sun., June 11, 2017, in New York City.

Given the low voter turn-out and the failure of the U.S. DOJ to certify the plebiscite, Congress is likely to ignore the outcome of this vote - much as it did in 2012.

Many expect statehood supporters to crowd voting centers because three of Puerto Rico's political parties are boycotting the referendum, including the island's main opposition party. "Whatever we might receive in additional federal funds will be cancelled by the amount of taxes the island will have to pay". "If we were a state, we would have the same rights".

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A spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department told The Associated Press that the agency has not reviewed or approved the ballot's language. Sixty-one percent who answered a second question said they favored statehood, but almost half a million voters left that question blank, leading many to claim the results weren't legitimate.

Other reports by Info About Network

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