Puerto Rican voters back statehood in questioned referendum

Puerto Rico Votes For Statehood In A Flawed Election

Puerto Rico's governor Ricardo Rossello (R) and the Commissioner Resident in Washington Jennifer Gonzalez (L) celebrate the plebiscite's result at the headquarters of the New Progressive Party in San Juan, Puerto Rico, 11 June 2017.

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

Apparently, two-thirds of the political parties in the US territory stood in opposition to the likelihood of Puerto Rico becoming an official state, further solidifying the U.S.' opposition towards finalizing the referendum outcome.

"I hope after 100 years of being a territory of the United States, we can send a message to Congress in the u.s. that Puerto Rico is ready to do something with its future", said Marco Rodriguez, a voter in Guaynabo.

The U.S. acquired the Puerto Rico territory in 1898 from Spain, but the island has never experienced the benefits that come with statehood, like federal funding.

Still, Rossello says that he's grateful for his island's connection with the USA, and that he remains hopeful that connection will grow closer. About 1.5 percent of voters were in favor of independence or free association with the U.S. and 1.3 percent voted for the current territorial status. They pointed to a turnout of 23% of the territory's 2.3 million registered voters - a dismal figure on an island that regularly has participation rates of 60% or 70%.

Many questioned the validity of the vote, however, because of a boycott by anti-statehood opposition parties that resulted in only about 500,000 voters, fewer than a quarter of those eligible, showing up.

Some 97.18 percent of the people who voted in Sunday's non-binding referendum said they want to become part of the United States, the State Elections Commission (CEE) commission announced.

Statehood would allow Puerto Ricans to claim full welfare benefits available to USA citizens, but would compel residents to begin paying federal taxes on income obtained on the island.

Most of the tens of thousands of revelers turned out simply to celebrate Puerto Rico, happily salsa-dancing and waving Puerto Rican flags.

Attachments to cultural and national identity are the main reasons why Puerto Ricans may oppose USA statehood, Cruz-Martinez said.


Four previous plebiscites, or popular votes, have been held to decide the commonwealth's status in relation to the United States, with a majority of voters for the first time choosing statehood in 2012.

Only 1.5 percent of voters said they would choose independence, while 1.32 percent said they want to remain a self-governing territory within the U.S. commonwealth.

"Puerto Ricans are very proud of being Puerto Ricans, Spanish speakers, they have a strong culture and identity and becoming a state could mean that they will start to speak English and they could lose their cultural identity and become a minority in the USA". Just last week, Rosello signed a law meant to force Congress to act in accordance with the results of the recent referendum.

Still, many Puerto Ricans see statehood as about a lot more than the economy.

The BBC posits this reluctance might arise from two reasons: a GOP-led Congress would be wary of admitting a Democratic-leaning electorate like Puerto Rico's, and the debt-troubled island would likely require more federal spending to get back on its feet. Federal officials in April rejected an original version, in part because it did not offer the territory's current status as an option.

It also gets U.S. military protection and receives federal funding from the government for highways and social programs, just not as much as official states receive.

But experts say it is highly unlikely a Republican-controlled Congress would acknowledge Sunday's results, let alone accept them because Puerto Rico tends to favor Democrats. Whether statehood would help with an influx of federal subsidies - or make matters worse by forcing Puerto Rico to pay off much of its soaring debt - is at the center of the disagreement. "We don't receive equal treatment", Alicea says.

"I think it's good that he declined it because it was entirely distracting from the issue at hand, which is Puerto Rico", Mayor Bill de Blasio, who planned to march all along, said last week.

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.

The next step in determining statehood for Puerto Rico would be for Congress to pass a statute detailing the transition process.

"I believe in the principle of equality", said Moraima Mendez, an attorney who studied in IN and voted for statehood.

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