Puerto Rico Wastes Everyone's Time With Another Statehood/Independence Referendum

The island's two main opposition parties boycotted the vote, which gave Puerto Ricans three options: becoming a US state; remaining a territory; or becoming an independent nation, with or without some continuing political association with the United States. 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.

Almost half a million Puerto Ricans voted for statehood compared to more than 7,600 who voted for free association/independence and almost 6,700 who wanted full independence. Along with the missing option, the original ballot incorrectly claimed statehood was the only way Puerto Ricans would be granted American citizenship.

However, Puerto Rico is now exempt from the federal income tax, and opponents of statehood say beginning to pay it is a non-starter for a place where everything from electricity to basic groceries is more expensive than USA cities. We're aiming to change that and of course, from my perspective, I'd want Puerto Rico to become the 51st state of the nation.

The vote was non-binding and it's up to Congress to accept or reject the referendum results.

But that, the governor said, is how democracy works: "Everybody knows that those who go through the voting process have a louder voice than those who don't", he said. The Chicago Tribune reported that out of the island's 2.26 million registered voters only an estimated 23 percent participated in the polls.

Many Puerto Ricans, like Ms. Martínez, live off food stamps, public housing vouchers or other federal programs and worry that a change in political status could affect that aid.

Still, Rossello says that he's grateful for his island's connection with the US, and that he remains hopeful that connection will grow closer.

97% voted to make Puerto Rico the fifty-first state.

Sunday's two-part plebiscite, the fifth held since 1967, will decide the future of the unincorporated USA territory.

The referendum coincides with the 100th anniversary of the United States granting US citizenship to Puerto Ricans, though they are barred from voting in presidential elections and have only one congressional representative with limited voting powers. "If the U.S.is going to go to Venezuela and Cuba and Afghanistan and push democracy overseas, they've got to do the same" with their own territories, he said. They are citizens of the United States, but they're not allowed to vote for president and they don't pay federal income taxes. "We need to be able to decide our own fate", said Liliana Laboy, one of the organizers of the protest.

Many believe the island's territorial status has contributed to its 10-year economic recession. Statehood would also give them the ability to have voting representatives in Congress and have a say in decisions that are made that affect the island. The results from these elections are but a reflection of, not simply the economic crisis Puerto Rico is facing, but of the political crisis it is facing as well.

Last month, Rossello said that being incorporated into the USA would allow Puerto Rico to become a "diplomatic center and a business center of the Americas", Florida's WLRN reported.

  • Leroy Wright