The Spanish-speaking USA territory’s referendum proposes “the immediate decolonization of Puerto Rico” – just as the bankrupt island is drowning in $70 billion in debt.
Ricardo Rossello said Sunday that the island has sent a strong and clear message to U.S. Congress and the world. If Congress does not pass a statute, Puerto Rico’s status will remain as it is. Puerto Rican voters are weighing whether to ask Congress for statehood.
Puerto Rico has also held plebiscites in 1967, 1993, 1998 and 2012.
But the ballot’s previous language prompted calls by opposition parties to boycott what they saw as a rigged vote.
Jose Rosa, a 62-year-old retired corrections officer, said the island’s situation is the reason he voted for the first time in such a referendum, the fifth on Puerto Rico’s status. The letter was published in the local newspaper El Vocero.
NY state has been the main destination for mainland Puerto Ricans, with about 1.2 million people of Puerto Rican descent. Federal officials in April rejected an original version, in part because it did not offer the territory’s current status as an option. If the majority vote for Independence/Free Association, a second vote will be arranged to decide the outcome – either complete independence as a sovereign nation or an associated free state status with independence allowing “free and voluntary association” with the United States.
Although exempt from USA federal income tax, Puerto Rico still pays Social Security, Medicare and local taxes and receives less federal funding than U.S. states.
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. Congress did not act on that referendum.
Of a total of 2,260,804 registered voters, less than half a million went to the polls in the non-binding referendum. “So that means that the statehood support decreased by more or less 300,000 people in just five years”. De Jesus says the plebiscite was unnecessary and costly: “This vote was a waste or precious resources at a time of severe fiscal constraints”.
Rosselló contested the commission’s figures, telling CNN the electorate was 1.6 million – meaning turnout was 33%.
However, Sunday’s non-binding referendum, the fifth that the land has held on the issue, was marred by low voter participation.
Rossello was nevertheless upbeat in announcing the result.
“Puerto Rico is poorer than MS by half, and Americans don’t care, ” Bravo said.
What’s Puerto Rico’s current status? There has to be a process of real self-determination for the island of Puerto Rico that has not happened yet.
Those who oppose statehood worry the island will lose its cultural identity and warn that Puerto Rico will struggle even more financially because it will be forced to pay millions of dollars in federal taxes. As a US territory Puerto Rico does not elect members of the US Congress, but it does have a representative in Congress Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez.
Rossello, 38, came to power in January on the promise that he would work to end a long “colonial” relationship with the United States and make the island the 51st state.
What are the arguments for and against?
According to U.S. Representative Nydia Velázquez, because the turnout was so low, the results can not be trusted. Authorities said the group was responsible for dozens of bombings in the 1970s and 1980s in a campaign to secure Puerto Rico’s independence.
Unemployment is high, holding steady about 11.5% since March, and about 46% of the population of 3.4 million people live below the poverty level. So the statehood party got a little over 500,000 votes.
An unincorporated U.S. territory, under American control since 1898, Puerto Rico lacks sovereign powers – an urgent problem at a time when it faces a public debt of $73 billion and its economy has dragged through a century of stagnation.