Puerto Rico upholds statehood demand in contentious vote

Puerto Rico upholds statehood demand in contentious vote

Puerto Rico upholds statehood demand in contentious vote

Residents of the USA territory of Puerto Rico voted Sunday to become the 51st state of the United States of America.

Ricardo Rossello said Sunday that the island has sent a strong and clear message to U.S. Congress and the world. The results of that vote showed that 97% of the 23% of Puerto Ricans who voted were in favor of statehood, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.

But Sunday's results showed only 23 percent of the island's nearly 2.2 million voters took part in the referendum. Despite a low turnout of 23%, nearly all those who cast their votes supported statehood for Puerto Rico.

Congress has final say over whether to approve the outcome of the referendum that offers voters three choices: statehood, free association/independence or the current territorial status.

Yet eight out of 10 Puerto Ricans did not cast a vote in Sunday's plebiscite, many because they did not believe the non-binding referendum would sway Congress.

Just like 2012, opponents of statehood are expected to argue that the lopsided results thrown by the dismal turnout would not buttress Rossello's cause. "If we were a state, we would have the same rights". Hector Ferrer, president of the Popular Democratic Party (PPD) which favors the present commonwealth status pointed out that most voters went to the beach or did everything but vote and claimed that most people did not actually want statehood.

The campaign director and vice president of the governing PNP party, Thomas Rivera Schatz, meanwhile, defended the statehood win and downplayed the significance of the loss of votes the option received relative to the November 2012 plebiscite on the same subject. It means Puerto Ricans have United States citizenship, but can't vote in presidential elections and have just one congressional representative, who has limited voting powers.

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If Puerto Rico were a state, it could declare itself insolvent under U.S. bankruptcy laws. And three Puerto Rican political parties that favor other options than statehood boycotted the vote, which took place amid an economic crisis that has triggered an exodus of islanders to the USA mainland.

The vote came against the backdrop of a financial and economic crisis that has helped drive nearly half a million Puerto Ricans to the mainland in the past decade.

"That could be used as an excuse by many for not allowing a debtor state into the Union at this time", he said.

Despite the low level of participation, Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rossello vowed, after casting his vote for full annexation by the United States, to defend internationally the result. "Whatever we might receive in additional federal funds will be canceled by the amount of taxes the island will have to pay".

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

The Republican Party has traditionally supported statehood for Puerto Rico, while the Democratic Party said it was ready to support whatever decision Puerto Ricans made through fair, open and democratic elections. But even statehood supporters came out in lower than expected numbers.

Puerto Rico declared a form of bankruptcy on May 3, owing its creditors $73 billion. Many Puerto Rican opposition groups boycotted the vote.

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