Puerto Rico votes in favor of U.S.
statehood amid low turnout
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[June 12, 2017]
By Tracy Rucinski
SAN JUAN (Reuters) - The economically
struggling U.S. island territory of Puerto Rico voted overwhelmingly on
Sunday in favor of becoming the 51st state, although turnout was low and
adding another star to the U.S. flag likely faces an uphill battle in
A government website for the non-binding referendum, Puerto Rico's fifth
such plebiscite since 1967, showed 97 percent supported statehood. Only
23 percent of the 2.2 million eligible voters participated in the vote.
Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello campaigned for statehood as the
best avenue to boost future growth for the island, which has $70 billion
in debt, a 45 percent poverty rate, woefully underperforming schools and
near-insolvent pension and health systems.
"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," Rossello said in a statement.
"It would be highly contradictory for Washington to demand democracy in
other parts of the world, and NOT respond to the legitimate right to
self-determination that was exercised today in the American territory of
Puerto Rico," he added.
Puerto Rico's hazy political status, dating back to its 1898 acquisition
by the United States from Spain, has contributed to the economic crisis
that pushed it last month into the biggest municipal bankruptcy in U.S.
"I voted for statehood," Armando Abreu, a 74-year-old retiree, said
after voting. "Even if it's still a long way off in the distance, it's
our only hope."
Those in favor of statehood for the mainly Spanish-speaking Caribbean
island hope the new status would put the territory on equal standing
with the 50 U.S. states, giving them more access to federal funds and
the right to vote for U.S. president.
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. The U.S. government oversees policy and
financial areas such as infrastructure, defense and trade.
Rossello will ask Congress to respect the result, but Puerto Rico is
seen as a low priority in Washington.
[to top of second column]
Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello (C) shows his ballot paper
next to his wife Beatriz Rossello as Puerto Ricans head to the polls
on Sunday to decide whether they want their struggling U.S.
territory to become the 51st U.S. state, in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico
June 11, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
The island's two main opposition parties boycotted the vote, which
gave Puerto Ricans three options: becoming a U.S. state; remaining a
territory; or becoming an independent nation, with or without some
continuing political association with the United States.
Puerto Rico's former governor, Rafael Hernandez Colon, said in a
statement: "A contrived plebiscite fabricated an artificial majority
for statehood by disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of
Rather than heading to the polls, some 500 Puerto Ricans marched on
the streets of San Juan, waving Puerto Rico's flag and burning the
American flag while chanting in support of independence.
"This is a bogus plebiscite. Our future is independence. We need to
be able to decide our own fate," said Liliana Laboy, one of the
organizers of the protest.
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. Schools where voting took place were
in poor condition, with cracked paint and bare-bones playgrounds.
Puerto Rico spent an estimated $8 million on the campaign and
election process, according to a government spokesman.
(Reporting by Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Grant McCool and Peter
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