Puerto Rico votes in favor of statehood

The Associated Press reports that only partial results are in but a low turnout and boycott by several opposition parties calls into question the validity of the non-binding vote.

Around one million people flooded the streets of Manhattan for the annual Puerto Rican Day parade on the same day the Caribbean island went to polls in a non-binding referendum to decide whether or not to join the Union as the 51st state.

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". Others said they'd march to show support for Puerto Rico despite disagreeing with FALN's methods.

Puerto Rico is now in the midst of a massive debt crisis totaling $70 billion. Residents of Puerto Rico are exempt from the US federal income tax, but still pay Social Security and Medicare and local taxes, and the territory receives less federal funding than USA states.

Only 23 percent of the 2,260,804 registered Puerto Rican voters participated.

As for those who chose to stay away because of Lopez Rivera, she said "that's their decision".

"The cost of statehood on the pocketbook of every citizen, every business, every industry will be devastating", Carlos Delegado, secretary of the opposition Popular Democratic Party, told AP. When the previous plebiscite was held in 2012, 61% of those who voted were in favour of statehood, but the reaction from Washington was a deafening silence.

But those who did vote were looking into the future.

"The federal government will no longer be able to ignore the voice of the majority of the American citizens in Puerto Rico", Rossello said after the results were announced.

Becoming the 51st star on the United States flag would instill "new hope" in Puerto Ricans, she told AFP, as well as sorely needed economic aid.

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Nevertheless, the final say regarding Puerto Rican statehood lies with Congress despite the referendum's outcome.

But according to the The Hill, Gov. Rosello remains determined to make his island a part of the United States.

The question of status is "fundamental" to breaking free from economic turmoil, said Christian Sobrino, chief economic advisor to the government.

In early May, Puerto Rico officially requested to enter into a bankruptcy-like proceeding to restructure its massive debt load after talks with its creditors failed.

In the decades ago, FALN claimed responsibility for more than 100 bombings in the US and Puerto Rico, including a lunchtime blast in 1975 that killed four people at New York's historic Fraunces Tavern. The governor announced that the US territory overwhelmingly chose statehood on Sunday in a non-binding referendum held amid a deep economic crisis that has sparked an exodus of islanders to the USA mainland.

Beaten down by that loss in revenues and the global financial crisis, the island plunged into recession.

More than 97 percent of voters favoured attempting to join the United States over becoming independent or remaining a self-governing territory.

That would mean a 30 percent cut to the administrative budget of the University of Puerto Rico.

Rossello has launched a drastic austerity regime to restore finances, but Washington still has the last word, via its oversight board. Time to update all the USA maps?

  • Megan Austin