It's complicated: Puerto Ricans vote on knotty USA relationship

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.

The status referendum is Puerto Rico's fifth since 1967.

Congress will ultimately have to approve the outcome of Sunday's referendum.

If Puerto Rico were a state, it could declare itself insolvent under U.S. bankruptcy laws.

SAN JUAN, June 11 Puerto Rico voted overwhelmingly on Sunday to apply to Congress to become the 51st state, election officials said, although less than a quarter of eligible voters cast ballots in the plebiscite.

Those who support statehood, like Gov. Ricardo Rossello, have claimed that it would help resolve the island's debt problems. Eastern the statehood vote had won over an astonishing 97% of the vote, with just 1.5% choosing independence and 1.3% voting to have the island maintain its current territorial status.

Almost half a million Puerto Ricans have moved to the US mainland in the past decade to find a more affordable cost of living or jobs as the island of 3.4 million people struggles with a 12 percent unemployment rate. As on top of the vote is non-binding, it has witnessed a mass boycott from major political parties, which lead to the voter turnout to be extremely low. The parade came on the same day when Puerto Rico held a controversial referendum on political status.

Luis Sanchez told The Wall Street Journal that he voted in favor of statehood because he believes it will separate Puerto Rico from other Latin American countries "in terms of quality of life and civil rights".

Puerto Rico spent an estimated $8 million on the campaign and election process, according to a government spokesman.

But rival parties on the island - the Popular Democratic Party and the Puerto Rican Independence Party - support a kind of continued territory status or independence, respectively.

"Congress never freely gave away statehood", he said.

"We will go before worldwide forums to defend the argument of the importance of Puerto Rico being the first Hispanic state in the United States", Rossello said.

Jennifer Gonzalez-Colón, Puerto Rico's Resident Commissioner and only nonvoting member of Congress, is a strong advocate of statehood as a leader of the PNP.

Rossello had requested that the federally appointed oversight board trigger Title III of the Promesa Act, a court-supervised debt restructuring similar to bankruptcy, in order to guarantee the best interests of the Puerto Rican people. "If we were a state, we would have the same rights".

Of those who did vote, 97 percent of voters were in favor of statehood.

Its commonwealth status means Puerto Rico is subject to USA federal laws, though island residents are exempt from some federal taxes. So the statehood party got a little over 500,000 votes.

"From today going forward, the federal Government will no longer be able to ignore the voice of the majority of the American citizens in Puerto Rico".

But the Rossello government insists statehood is the answer to the financial crisis hanging over the island of 3.4 million, where some 45 percent of the population live in poverty.

"This Sunday's plebiscite wastes millions of dollars and is not a good use of the time and energy we must devote to solving the fiscal and economic crisis of Puerto Rico".

  • Zachary Reyes