Puerto Rican voters back statehood in questioned referendum

Governor Ricardo Rossello, right, and Congresswoman representing Puerto Rico Jennifer Gonzalez celebrate the results of a referendum on the status of the island, at the New Progressive Party headquarters in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sunday, June 11, 2017. While Puerto Ricans are American citizens and contribute to Social Security and Medicare, they do not vote for the USA president, and their single representative in Congress has no vote.

The ballot language was not approved by the U.S. Justice Department, which rejected an earlier version because it did not allow voters to endorse the territorial status quo.

Aside from the 97 percent voting for statehood this time around, a little more than 1.5 percent voted in favor of independence from the United States, while 1.3 percent wanted to preserve status quo and remain a territory.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - Puerto Ricans are getting the chance Sunday to tell the U.S. Congress which political status they want for the U.S. territory that is mired in an economic crisis that has triggered an exodus of islanders to the mainland. But Gov. Ricardo Rossello said the vote sends a clear message to Congress.

Puerto Rico's referendum on statehood delivered a lackluster turnout Sunday, with nearly four fifths of voters deciding not to cast a ballot, though those who did unanimously backed the territory becoming a U.S. state.

Almost half a million Puerto Ricans have moved to the USA mainland in the past decade to find jobs and a more affordable cost of living as the island of 3.4 million people also struggles with a 12 percent unemployment rate.

Votes were still being counted and the expected outcome is unlikely to change Puerto Rico's label as a U.S. territory, a move that would require an act of the U.S. Congress.

Boycotters were also angry about the costly referendum at a time when over 400 schools have closed and many Puerto Ricans are struggling to make ends meet.

"We will now take these results to Washington, D.C., with the strong support of not only a duly executed electoral exercise, but also of a contingency of national and global observers, who can attest to the fact that the process was fair, well organized and democratic", Rossello said.

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.

Four previous plebiscites, or popular votes, have been held to decide the commonwealth's status in relation to the United States.

John Bravo, 36, who marched with a pro-independence delegation in black, holding up placards denouncing colonialism, blamed Puerto Rico's crippling debt crisis and poverty on its ambiguous status as a commonwealth, where people have US citizenship but can not vote for Congress or the president.

It also gets U.S. military protection and receives federal funding from the government for highways and social programs, just not as much as official states receive. That works out to just under 1% of the island's population, a very similar percentage that most other states have joining the USA military each year.

"I voted for statehood", Armando Abreu, a 74-year-old retiree, said after voting at the Escuela Gabriela Mistral. Voter turnout was just 23 percent. The opposition had called for a boycott of the referendum.

Many believe the island's territorial status has contributed to its 10-year economic recession.

"More than 480,000 votes were cast for statehood, more than 7,500 for free association/independence and more than 6,500 for independence, with roughly half of polling centers reporting".

"We have to vote because things are not going well", she said.

  • Leroy Wright