Puerto Ricans vote for statehood amid economic turmoil

Ruben Ruiz
June 13, 2017

The referendum coincides with the 100th anniversary of the United States granting USA citizenship to Puerto Ricans, though they are barred from voting in presidential elections and have only one congressional representative with limited voting powers.

Almost 97% of all the votes were in favor of statehood but just 23 percent of registered voters cast ballots.

Sunday's landslide vote in Puerto Rico to determine statehood and perhaps add the 51st star to the American flag, was nearly ignored by news media, until the last minute, because of all the political controversies emanating from Washington. Puerto Rico has been under the control of the United States since 1898, and certain political parties are pushing for independence from the United States entirely. But they are not allowed to vote in presidential or congressional elections unless they reside in the mainland United States. The Republican-majority U.S. Congress is unlikely to approve statehood, since Democratic-leaning Puerto Rico would acquire two senators and several House members.

On June 11, millions of Puerto Ricans will head to the polls to decide the political status of the Caribbean island.

Schatz argues that statehood would help Puerto Rico in its attempt to face down its debt crisis.

Puerto Ricans have had US citizenship since 1917 but as residents of a commonwealth territory rather they can not vote for president in the US elections, and have a nonvoting member in the US Congress called a resident commissioner.

According to U.S. Representative Nydia Velázquez, because the turnout was so low, the results can not be trusted.

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

Although exempt from USA federal income tax, Puerto Rico still pays Social Security, Medicare and local taxes and receives less federal funding than U.S. states.

Dr. Gibran Cruz-Martinez, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Agder, Norway, told Radio Sputnik that calls from all major opposition parties to boycott the vote resulted in low participation of just 23 percent, one-third of the number of people who voted in the 2012 referendum.

For decades the territory enjoyed a USA federal tax exemption that attracted many American companies to set up shop - but those breaks were ended in 2006, prompting firms to leave the island en masse.

For Puerto Rico to become a U.S. state, Congress would need to pass a statute laying out the transition process. Just 7,600 opted for free association/independence; 6,700 voted to remain a US territory.

Some statehood supporters on Sunday expressed dismay that certain voting centers appeared empty. "Whatever we might receive in additional federal funds will be canceled by the amount of taxes the island will have to pay". One of the more poignant is the fact that Puerto Ricans can serve in the U.S. military and be sent into battle by a president whom they cannot elect. You have to understand, in Puerto Rico, it's normal for 78 to 80 percent of the people to vote in a normal election or plebiscite.

However, Ferrer told the New York Daily News that Rosselló claiming the vote reflects what the people want is untrue, saying instead, "the numbers speak for themselves".

Other reports by GizPress

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