Puerto Rico is set to vote on Sunday, June 11, 2017 on becoming the 51st state. The US Congress will now have to decide whether it wants to expand the nation’s borders and accept the poverty stricken Caribbean island into the Union.
Puerto Ricans will be presented with three options: Statehood, Independence/Free Association and Current Territorial Status (commonwealth).
With virtually all results in, 97.2 per cent backed statehood, 1.5 per cent supported independence and 1.3 per cent opted for no change, but just 23 per cent of the 2.2 million-strong electorate cast a ballot.
Thousands of Puerto Ricans already cast their vote earlier this week in the newest referendum, including inmates and those who are hospitalized.
Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello celebrates the results of a referendum on the status of the island, next to Congresswoman representing Puerto Rico Jennifer Gonzalez, left, at the New Progressive Party headquarters in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sunday, June 11, 2017.
However US Rep. Luis Gutierrez, whose parents hailed from Puerto Rico, cautioned that, consistent with its failure to take action in 2012, “Congress won’t do anything”.
Given the low voter turn-out and the failure of the U.S. DOJ to certify the plebiscite, Congress is likely to ignore the outcome of this vote – much as it did in 2012. Turnout was the lowest of any vote on the island in over 50 years with nearly eight out of 10 voters not even showing up at the polls. She is pro-statehood and is forming a “Friends of Puerto Rico Caucus” that would press for statehood. Statehooder Rossello, for example, won his own election with just 42 percent of the vote. Aren’t “territories” remnants of a colonial past that we really shouldn’t’ have anymore?
What’s Puerto Rico’s current status? “Supporters of statehood did not seem enthusiastic about this plebiscite as they were five years ago”. In 1917, the islanders were granted USA citizenship, but they continue to labour under a political half-life in which they can elect their own local government and governor but cannot vote in federal elections.
After the votes were tallied, the Popular Democratic Party called the vote a waste of public money and a stinging humiliation for the government.
A former Spanish colony taken over by the U.S. at the end of the 19th century, Puerto Rico has enjoyed broad political autonomy since 1952 as a commonwealth or “free associated state”.
That will make it harder for Rosselló to convince Congress that statehood has a mandate on the island. Thanks to its triple-tax-exemption (interest is free from federal, state, or local income taxation), individual investors and tax-exempt bond funds have been soaking up the island’s debt offerings for years, allowing it to spend far beyond its means. He has argued that the if statehood is achieved, it would help the attempts of Puerto Rico to handle its debt crisis. On top of that comes the nature of Puerto Rico linguistically, culturally and racially in terms of its integration with the larger power. Former Gov. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá says the skewed numbers could actually hurt the island’s cause, saying that a 97 percent win is “the kind of result you get in a one-party regime”.