Puerto Rican voters back statehood in questioned referendum

  • Puerto Rican voters back statehood in questioned referendum

Puerto Rican voters back statehood in questioned referendum

Opposition leaders led a boycott of the vote, calling the referendum futile because in their view, the U.S. Congress would not approve statehood.

Currently, Puerto Rico is a US-territory, but not officially a state.

According island's election commission (CEE in Spanish) had reported that about 23 percent of the island's eligible voters had cast ballots and 97 percent of the votes were for statehood.

Becoming a state would give Puerto Rico more say in Congress and more money for the USA government.

"We Puerto Ricans not only want our USA citizenship, but we want equal treatment".

Puerto Ricans would also become eligible for the full welfare benefits now available to USA citizens living in the 50 states. Those Puerto Ricans who voted gave statehood a big victory, but it's not as big a win as it first looks, largely because turnout was far lower than anticipated.

The June 11 vote brought out the second lowest turnout rate of all electoral contests conducted in Puerto Rico since 1967.

"More than 480,000 votes were cast for statehood, more than 7,500 for free association/independence and more than 6,500 for independence, with roughly half of polling centers reporting".

Of a total of 2,260,804 registered voters, less than half a million went to the polls in the non-binding referendum.

"Public opinion is divided", said Edwin Melendez, director of the Puerto Rican Studies Center at the City University of NY. If that option wins, the island will pursue the Tennessee Plan, where US territories send a congressional delegation to Washington.

The constraints placed on the population by a distant colonial power have had a particularly destructive impact in the last few years when Puerto Rico's lack of economic flexibility has contributed to a devastating financial crisis.

According to the government, 97% of the voters expressed their support towards the decision of Puerto Rico to become US's incorporated territory. Rossello, who campaigned on a push for statehood, said in a telephone interview with Reuters that he will go to the USA capital this week to urge federal lawmakers to begin the process of admitting Puerto Rico into the union.

An election worker waits for voters in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Pedro Peurluisi, the island's former congressional representative, is among those backing statehood.

Puerto Rico's debt and migration crisis is in part result of its territorial status.

Puerto Rico is exempt from the USA federal income tax, but it still pays Social Security and Medicare and local taxes and receives less federal funding than US states.

Many Puerto Ricans who turned out to vote on Sunday morning were retirees hoping that eventual statehood would finally put the island on equal standing with the 50 U.S. states, giving them more access to federal funds and the right to vote for the U.S. President.

The opposition Popular Democratic Party had said "statehood will win by a landslide" because of the boycott by opposition parties, which supported the status quo as a United States territory. "Gov. Rosselló is now going to go to Washington and say this (statehood) is what people wanted".

The bubble ultimately popped and, unable to repay creditors, Puerto Rico declared bankruptcy in early May - the largest ever by a local United States government.