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article imagePuerto Rico votes overwhelmingly for statehood but turnout dismal

By Ken Hanly     Jun 11, 2017 in Politics
San Juan - In a vote with historically low participation almost all those Puerto Ricans who voted today voted in favor of statehood. The other choices were independence or the present commonwealth status.
A recent tweet sums up the result: PUERTO RICO REFERENDUM- Become U.S. state: 97.1%- Independence: 1.5%- Status quo: 1.3% Turnout: 23%.
The turnout was historically low. The vote is non-binding. Ricardo Rossello the governor of the island and his government had been pushing for a vote for statehood as the best way to deal with Puerto Rico's debt. However, the two main parties had pushed for a boycott of the vote. This shows up in the turnout and the overwhelming result in favor of statehood.
Hector Ferrer, president of the Popular Democratic Party (PPD) which favors the present commonwealth status pointed out that most voters went to the beach or did everything but vote and claimed that most people did not actually want statehood. Only about 500,000 votes were cast. In the last vote in 2012 more than 1.9 voted with 800,000 choosing statehood. In 1992 almost 2 million Puerto Ricans voted.
In spite of the dismal turnout, Gov. Rosello said:"An overwhelming majority voted for statehood. Today we are sending a strong and clear message for equal rights as American citizens. This was a democratic process and statehood got a historic 97 percent of the vote. The federal government cannot ignore the results of this plebiscite and the will of our people".
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. She is pro-statehood and is forming a "Friends of Puerto Rico Caucus" that would press for statehood. She said: “As Resident Commissioner I will take this to Congress and defend it. I am taking it not just to Congress but to other forums, such as the Organization of American States."
Federico de Jesús, with FDJ Solutions in Washington is a former Obama and Puerto Rico government official. De Jesus says the plebiscite was unnecessary and costly:“This vote was a waste or precious resources at a time of severe fiscal constraints. Congress laid out a process through a provision in a 2014 law that said that if Puerto Rico wanted the federal government to pay attention to another status referendum, it had to follow certain rules. The current government of the Island entered the process and when it took longer than they wanted they decided to ignore the U.S. Justice Department’s plea for more time to evaluate the validity of the ballot language...Sadly, today's vote will thus go down in history as yet another non-binding glorified poll with no real effect on resolving Puerto Rico's relationship with the United States.”
Aside from the issues brought up by de Jesus, the low turnout will also provide a good reason for the US Congress to reject the results. It is ultimately up to the Congress to decide if it wished to take up the issue of the status of the island. Although the 2012 vote also favored statehood the US Congress never took up the matter.
Another report puts the debt load in Puerto Rico at upwards of $120 billion. The US Congress may not be interested in adding another state with a huge debt load. US Representative Luis Gutierrez, whose parents are from the island said that Congress would not do anything. Puerto Rico voters also tend to be pro-Democratic, another reason why the present Congress will not act on the referendum. The Congress seems unlikely to adopt a new state that would immediately require a federal bailout.
Nevertheless, Governor Rossello said of the present relationship: "The bad side of it is that we are not a full part of the United States. We're a territory or a colonial territory. We're aiming to change that and of course, from my perspective, I'd want Puerto Rico to become the 51st state of the nation."
More about Puerto Rico US relations, Puerto Rico statehood, Puerto Rico vote
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