Published: Mon, June 19, 2017
National | By Rosalie Gross

Puerto Rico Overwhelmingly Say Yes To Statehood But Will Congress Approve?

Puerto Rico Overwhelmingly Say Yes To Statehood But Will Congress Approve?

While Puerto Ricans are American citizens and contribute to Social Security and Medicare, they do not vote for the US president, and their single representative in Congress has no vote.

Protesters in favor of Puerto Rico's independence protest after a referendum was held on the island's status by marching through the financial district, known as the golden mile, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sunday, June 11, 2017.

"I'm not voting. The government has spent millions of dollars on this campaign hoping that statehood wins, but even if it does, the U.S. Congress won't want to do anything about it", said Felix Salasarar, 54.

The student strikers, who will return to classes the day after the plebiscite, have frequently attributed the origins of the country's debt crisis cuts to Puerto Rico's colonial status.

Puerto Ricans voted overwhelmingly Sunday to become the 51st US state, but there is no celebrating yet. With the result of the referendum, Gov. Ricardo Rosello says that the island sent a strong message to the U.S. Congress and the world.

The original version of the ballot reportedly only gave voters the option to become a state or a free association/independence, leaving out the option to retain its current commonwealth status. The participation rate was almost 23 percent with roughly 2.26 million registered voters. However, the vote was boycotted by the island's other two main political parties, and it showed in the turnout numbers.

Following the ballot, Puerto Rico's governor announced that his nation has overwhelmingly voted "yes" in the non-binding referendum to join the USA as the 51st state.

The results of the newest referendum could lead to similar claims, Vargas said.

"What is really best for my island, and what is really the best for the United States?"

Many Puerto Ricans believe the current territorial arrangement is responsible for a massive 10-year economic recession on the island, which has left it with a 12% unemployment rate. This is unusual in a political system in which turnout in general elections has ranged between 78 and 89 percent of registered voters.

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Many islanders see the United States authority as an intolerable stranglehold, especially considering that President Donald Trump has several times argued against bailing out the distant territory.

Those who remain behind have been hit with new taxes and higher utility bills on an island where food is 22 percent more expensive than the US mainland and public services are 64 percent more expensive.

But observers of Puerto Rico's long and tortured relationship with its vastly more wealthy and powerful overlord scoffed at the idea that the plebiscite would have any impact.

"I believe that decision is exclusively up to the voters (of Puerto Rico), he said in an April interview, adding, " But I did ask to be appointed to the Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs, just in case they asked for statehood", Soto said. "Statehood brings stability, allows us to have fewer rule-changes from Congress, provides resources to our people", he said.

"The US government has no obligation to pay attention to the result", he said, arguing that it will "lack legitimacy" if a significant part of the electorate abstains.

But, on the merits, do you think we should add Puerto Rico's star to the flag?

Alejandro García Padilla, the vote was overwhelmingly in favor of choosing statehood.

About 1.3 million Puerto Ricans cast ballots in the last referendum in 2012, which also saw a majority support for statehood. If that option wins, the island will pursue the Tennessee Plan, where US territories send a congressional delegation to Washington.

The first three referenda were inconclusive, with voters split on statehood versus the status quo.

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