Puerto Rican voters back statehood in questioned referendum

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello, center, 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. The governor announced that the U.S. territory overwhelmingly chose statehood on Sunday in a non-binding referendum held amid a deep economic crisis that has sparked an exodus of islanders to the U.S. mainland. Voter turnout was just 23 percent. | Associated Press photo by Carlos Giusti, St. George News

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Puerto Rico’s governor announced that the U.S. territory overwhelmingly chose statehood on Sunday in a nonbinding referendum held amid a deep economic crisis that has sparked an exodus of islanders to the U.S. mainland.

Nearly half a million votes were cast for statehood, about 7,600 for free association/independence and nearly 6,700 for the current territorial status, according to preliminary results. Voter turnout was just 23 percent, leading opponents to question the validity of a vote that several political parties had urged their supporters to boycott.

And the U.S. Congress has final say in any changes to Puerto Rico’s political status.

But that didn’t stop Gov. Ricardo Rossello from vowing to push ahead with his administration’s quest to make the island the 51st U.S. state and declaring that “Puerto Rico voted for statehood.” He said he would create a commission to ensure that Congress validate the referendum’s results. Rosello said:

In any democracy, the expressed will of the majority that participates in the electoral processes always prevails. 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.

It was the lowest level of participation in any election in Puerto Rico since 1967, according to Carlos Vargas Ramos, an associate with the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College in New York. He also said that even among voters who supported statehood, turnout was lower this year compared with the last referendum in 2012.

“Supporters of statehood did not seem enthusiastic about this plebiscite as they were five years ago,” he said.

Puerto Rico’s main opposition party rejected the pro-statehood result.

The scant participation … sends a clear message,” said Anibal Jose Torres, a party member. “The people rejected it by boycotting an inconsequential event.”

The referendum coincides with the 100th anniversary of the United States granting U.S. citizenship to Puerto Ricans, though they are barred from voting in presidential elections and have only one congressional representative with limited voting powers.

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

Now is the moment to do it,” he said. “We’ve spent a lot of years working on a socioeconomic model that has not necessarily given us the answer.”

Many believe the island’s territorial status has contributed to its 10-year economic recession, which has prompted nearly half a million Puerto Ricans to flee to the U.S. mainland and was largely sparked by decades of heavy borrowing and the elimination of federal tax incentives.

Puerto Rico is exempt from the U.S. federal income tax, but it still pays Social Security and Medicare and local taxes and receives less federal funding than U.S. states.

Those inequalities and the ongoing crisis prompted 66-year-old Maria Quinones to vote for the first time in such a referendum, the fifth on Puerto Rico’s status.

“We have to vote because things are not going well,” she said. “If we were a state, we would have the same rights.”

Quinones said many of her relatives are among the nearly half a million Puerto Ricans who have moved to the U.S. 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.

A masked protester in favor of Puerto Rico’s independence demonstrates after a referendum was held on the island’s status by marching through the financial district, known as the golden mile, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sunday, June 11, 2017 | Associated Press photo by Carlos Giusti, St. George News

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

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.

“The cost of statehood on the pocketbook of every citizen, every business, every industry will be devastating,” Carlos Delegado, secretary of the opposition Popular Democratic Party, told The Associated Press. “Whatever we might receive in additional federal funds will be cancelled by the amount of taxes the island will have to pay.”

His party also has noted that the U.S. Justice Department has not backed the referendum.

A department spokesman told the AP that the agency has not reviewed or approved the ballot’s language. Federal officials in April rejected an original version, in part because it did not offer the territory’s current status as an option. The Rossello administration added it and sent the ballot back for review, but the department said it needed more time and asked that the vote be postponed, which it wasn’t.

No clear majority emerged in the first three referendums on status, with voters almost evenly divided between statehood and the status quo. During the last referendum in 2012, 54 percent said they wanted a status change. Sixty-one percent who answered a second question said they favored statehood, but nearly half a million voters left that question blank, leading many to claim the results weren’t legitimate.

Written by DANICA COTO, Associated Press.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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  • Not_So_Much June 12, 2017 at 6:40 am

    Not at this time.

  • Caveat_Emptor June 12, 2017 at 6:57 am

    The US Govt spurred the development of high technology manufacturing facilities, including attracting numerous American Pharmaceutical and Medical Device companies, as a result of their Caribbean Basin Initiative, and the significant tax breaks (S. 936) for those PR facilities.
    Over the years this helped the local education system deliver well qualified graduates for a wide range of technical and managerial jobs in these facilities.
    The productivity levels, and quality of these products, were essentially equivalent to stateside operations. Operations could run very successfully with few, if any, ex-pats present. This is a testament to their very good education system.
    The huge downside = cost of operations remained high, as a result of the complex supply chain.
    Once the tax breaks were phased out these companies had to look closely at their operations, and many determined that they could not continue. The tax incentives had been such an important factor that their expiration was devastating. NAFTA also created a huge opportunity to reduce cost of operations, by establishing facilities in Mexico.
    The PR Government failed to acknowledge reality, and continued to offer excessively generous public service employment opportunities and social welfare benefits, leading to the financial mess they are currently in……..

  • Brian June 12, 2017 at 8:09 am

    No. Heck no. Nyet. Nein. Nada. NO. NO. NO. And while you’re at it you can have California, Oregon, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

    • Sedona June 12, 2017 at 9:16 am

      I couldn’t have said it better in Nepalese…

    • comments June 12, 2017 at 11:40 am

      Agree, wish we could divest ourselves of Puerto Rico completely. Unfortunately, those people are technically “US citizens”.

  • Proud Rebel June 12, 2017 at 4:05 pm

    From the article, “Those who remain behind have been hit with new taxes and higher utility bills on an island where food is 22 percent more expensive than the U.S. mainland and public services are 64 percent more expensive.”
    And just what do they think would bring these costs down? Have they taken a look at the cost of living in Hawaii?
    Just like everyone else, the folks pushing this have figured a way to make a personal fortune off of statehood, without regard for what it would do to the average resident.

  • commonsense June 12, 2017 at 8:46 pm

    Let’s just say it. Puerto Rico is broke just like California ($500 billion debt) but we have to help California which consumes one third of all US welfare. No more blue bankrupt states are needed. No more pockets of fiscal irresponsibility. No more low-information voters. Can islands just sink, then so be it. Sink in a sea of red ink. Not our problem.

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