Puerto Rico upholds statehood demand in contentious vote

Tuesday, 13 Jun, 2017

To become a true USA state, to choose independence or to maintain the status quo: Puerto Ricans will on Sunday mull their political future in a non-binding referendum many have vowed to boycott.

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello said voters in the economically troubled USA island territory were sending a strong message to Congress.

Almost half a million Puerto Ricans have fled to the US mainland to escape the island's 10-year economic recession and 12 percent unemployment rate.

But the ballot's previous language prompted calls by opposition parties to boycott what they saw as a rigged vote.

The Spanish-speaking United States territory's referendum proposes "the immediate decolonization of Puerto Rico" - just as the bankrupt island is drowning in $70 billion in debt.

About 5.4 million Puerto Ricans live on the US mainland, a number that is growing because of an exodus of people who can not find jobs or continue school on the depressed island.

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

Hector Ferrer, leader of Popular Democratic Party, said eight out of 10 "stayed home" or "went to the beach" instead of voting.

Puerto Ricans voted overwhelmingly in favor of statehood in a referendum on Sunday. Congress laid out a process through a provision in a 2014 law that said that if Puerto Rico wanted the federal government to pay attention to another status referendum, it had to follow certain rules. This year, it comes on the same day Puerto Ricans vote among three choices: independence, statehood or their current territorial status.

Rossello, who became governor in January, had campaigned for statehood as the best path out of the island's financial troubles. According to the commission's numbers, 300,000 fewer people voted for statehood on Sunday than in 2012.

The standing of this tropical Caribbean island in relation to the U.S. has been the running sore, and dominant topic of local conversation, ever since it was handed to Washington as war booty at the end of the Spanish-American war of 1898.

Also, granting Puerto Rico statehood would lead to greater federal spending on the island, which could prove unpopular at a time when the Republican majority in Congress is calling for sweeping spending cuts.

Puerto Rico has a huge debt load of $70 billion - or about $20,000 for every man, woman and child living on the island.

However, critics have called the referendum "meaningless" and an "absolute, unmitigated disaster". The island has been incapacitated by their high rates of debt and unemployment which encourages the U.S.to stray away from finalizing the inviable results from Sunday.

So what the governor has said is that he's going to now - based on this 97 percent vote in favor of statehood, will now elect two United States senators and five congressmen and send them to Congress and demand admission as a state.