Puerto Rico votes for statehood in nonbinding, low-turnout election

Posted June 12, 2017

Puerto Rico's governor is pushing ahead with his top campaign promise of trying to convert the USA territory into a state, holding a Sunday June 11, 2017, referendum to let voters send a message to Congress.

Héctor Ferrer, president of the Popular Democratic Party that embraces the island's current status as a territory, also fears that statehood would bring a loss of Puerto Rican identity.

It did not act on the previous referendum's result, which was the first time ever a majority of valid votes were cast for statehood in the former Spanish colony.

Puerto Rico's main opposition party rejected the pro-statehood result. 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 US mainland.

If Puerto Rico became a state, the island would be required to pay federal taxes. Three of the four political parties that participated in the elections of November 2016 called for a boycott of this plebiscite - which seems to have had a large impact.

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For decades the territory enjoyed a United States 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. Statehood advocates point out that while USA laws have allowed other heavily indebted U.S. local governments to seek bankruptcy protection, Puerto Rico has fewer means of legal defence because it is not a USA state.

Puerto Ricans have been U.S. citizens since 1917, however, as residents of a commonwealth territory rather than a state they can't vote for president in the USA general election. In 2012, in the last referendum, 54 percent of voters expressed their desire for a change in status, and of the voters who answered the second question, 61 percent chose statehood, though almost half a million voters left that second question blank, AP notes. Turnout was the lowest of any vote on the island in over 50 years with nearly eight out of 10 voters not even showing up at the polls.

Puerto Rico's governor said the territory will now put its "Tennessee plan" into action, meaning it will choose two senators and five representatives to go to Washington, D.C., to request statehood. "Puerto Ricans think of themselves as Americans, but most Americans don't recognize them as citizens".

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello campaigned for the island's 2.2 million eligible voters to select statehood as the best avenue to boost future growth for the struggling island. Numerous voters who came out to vote Sunday morning are over 50 and retired, and, like Abreu, hope to see their island become economically competitive through joining the other 50 us states.

Anthony Suarez, president of the Puerto Rican Bar of Florida, said the vote is nothing more than political posturing.

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How would everyday life change if the island became a USA state?

The Caribbean island has been a U.S. territory since 1898.

The referendum, the territory's fifth in 50 years, offered voters three choices: statehood, independence, or a continuation of the current territorial status.

A spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department told The Associated Press that the agency has not reviewed or approved the ballot's language. During the last referendum in 2012, 54 percent said they wanted a status change.

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