Puerto Rico casts symbolic vote for statehood

Lopez Rivera was cheered and booed as he stood proudly clutching a Puerto Rican flag when the parade stepped off in Manhattan on Sunday, the day the USA territory voted overwhelmingly to choose statehood in a non-binding referendum. Almost 500,000 Puerto Ricans participated, equaling 23 percent of eligible voters, and several political parties had urged supporters to boycott the vote.

While the 2012 referendum saw a turnout of 77.5%, with 1.8 million votes cast, Sunday's referendum had only 518,000 votes cast - 23% of the eligible voters.

But that didn't stop Gov. Pedro Rossello from vowing to push ahead with his administration's quest to make the island the 51st USA state and declaring that "Puerto Rico voted for statehood".

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".

Last year, former president Barack Obama signed legislation to address Puerto Rico's fiscal crisis allowing it to file for bankruptcy-like proceedings to relieve its debt. This is the fifth vote on the issue since 1967, with the first three failing to gain a majority vote for statehood.

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. A majority of Puerto Ricans chose statehood for the first time in the last referendum in 2012 but Congress ignored the result because of voter confusion.

But becoming a state won't magically solve the island's deep problems.

Congress, the only body that can approve new states, will ultimately decide whether the status of the U.S. commonwealth changes.

"It is because Puerto Rico is in an unequal relationship" with the USA government that the bankrupt island's finances are now under a largely US-appointed control board, he told AFP.

Puerto Rico is now in the midst of a massive debt crisis totaling $70 billion.

What's Puerto Rico's current status?

Still the result is hardly as convincing as Rosselló claims.

Decades ago, FALN claimed responsibility for more than 100 bombings in the USA and Puerto Rico, including a 1975 blast that killed four people at New York's historic Fraunces Tavern. We will now take these results to Washington, D.C., with the strong support of not only a duly executed electoral exercise, but also of a contingency of national and worldwide observers, who can attest to the fact that the process was fair, well organized and democratic.

Among those hoping Puerto Rico will become a state is Jose Alvarez, a 61-year-old businessman.

"Some see statehood as the best way to pull Puerto Rico out of its economic crisis", says CNBC.

Ricardo Rosselló supports statehood as a way to solve the island's economic disaster.

Those who remain behind have faced new taxes and higher utility bills on an island where food is 22 percent more expensive than the USA mainland and public services are 64 percent more expensive.

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