Puerto Rico votes on possible statehood

If the turnout is too low, political foes to statehood will say the vote isn't credible, which could further hurt Puerto Rico's already daunting chances of getting Congress to grant the island full admission to the US, said Christina Duffy Ponsa, an expert on constitutional law and Puerto Rican statehood at Columbia Law School.

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.

It was the lowest level of participation in any election in Puerto Rico since 1967, according to Carlos Vargas Ramos, an associate with the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College in NY. As a USA territory and not a state, the island can not file for bankruptcy like other states and municipalities.

Sunday's referendum is the fifth for Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rican activist Oscar Lopez Rivera, center, rides in a float along 5th Ave. during the National Puerto Rican Day Parade Sunday, June 11, 2017 in NY. Chanting "Puerto Rico Not for Sale", people marched in front of their idol, while others called on the U.S. to release of the nation's "political prisoners".

"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", 54-year-old Felix Salasarar told reporters.

Lopez Rivera said last week he wouldn't accept the National Freedom Hero title, which organizers at first granted him, but would join the parade as a regular citizen, partly because the focus was too much on him and not enough on Puerto Rico's plight. A federal oversight board appointed by U.S. Congress is managing its finances.

"I voted for statehood", 74-year-old retiree Armando Abreu told reporters outside a polling center at the Escuela Gabriela Mistral. The parade recognizes 100 years of USA citizenship for Puerto Ricans.

Under the current system, Puerto Rico's 3.5 million American citizens do not pay federal taxes, vote in presidential elections or receive proportionate federal funding on programs like the Medicaid health insurance system for the poor.

Some believe that has to do with them being a territory and not a state. Some Puerto Ricans blame the current recession on the USA government, partly because of the elimination of tax credits that many say led to the collapse of the island's manufacturing sector. Others said they'd march to show support for Puerto Rico despite disagreeing with FALN's methods.

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. Federal officials in April rejected an original version, in part because it did not offer the territory's current status as an option.

No clear majority emerged in the first three referendums on status, with voters nearly evenly divided between statehood and the status quo.

About 1.3 million Puerto Ricans cast ballots in the last referendum in 2012, which also saw a majority support for statehood. Sixty-one percent who answered a second question said they favored statehood, but almost half a million voters left that question blank, leading many to claim the results weren't legitimate.

  • Leroy Wright