It's complicated: Puerto Ricans vote on knotty U.S. relationship

Xavier Trudeau
Juin 26, 2017

Puerto Rico has voted to ask the US Congress to grant it full statehood in a non-binding referendum that had 97.1 per cent of voters in favour of the plan.

As of 7:00 pm, the island's State Commission on Elections (CEE-PR) had reported that about 500,000 (23 percent) of the island's eligible voters had cast ballots, in contrast to Puerto Rico's historically high turnout in most elections.

Sunday's landslide vote in Puerto Rico to determine statehood and perhaps add the 51st star to the American flag, was nearly ignored by news media, until the last minute, because of all the political controversies emanating from Washington.

Many Puerto Ricans attribute the malaise plaguing the island to Washington's power over them.

Puerto Rico's former governor, Rafael Hernandez Colon, said in a statement: "A contrived plebiscite fabricated an artificial majority for statehood by disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of Commonwealth supporters".

Rossello, who became governor in January, had campaigned for statehood as the best path out of the island's financial troubles.

Its young governor, Ricardo Rossello, said that regardless of the crisis the referendum could not wait, repeating over the past several days in interviews and on Twitter that "the moment to vote for the decolonization has arrived!"

Puerto Rico held a referendum on whether the U.S. Territory should apply for statehood. Instead, they pay local taxes and for social security while having a non-voting representative in the US Congress.

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. Cars, for example, cost about 40% more in Puerto Rico than on the USA mainland. As for the investors and mutual funds that purchased the island's bonds and the vulture funds who bought them at a huge discount, they are going to have to wait for the country's bankruptcy proceedings to be completed to learn just how much they will lose. There would be increases in Medicaid funding, there would be welfare benefits, tax credits, unemployment insurance, and a whole raft of other federal programs that aren't now available to the territory.

But, on the merits, do you think we should add Puerto Rico's star to the flag?

"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. Aren't "territories" remnants of a colonial past that we really shouldn't' have anymore?

Roselló has argued that statehood for Puerto Rico could help the island's economy.

One of the reasons for the economic difficulties faced by Puerto Rico is that the island's debt of almost $70 billion is now being restructured through a bankruptcy-like procedure.

Soto is well aware that the Republican-controlled House and Senate may be reluctant to approve statehood because voters in the new state likely would put Democratic House members and senators into the Congress. They are citizens of the United States, but they're not allowed to vote for president and they don't pay federal income taxes.

"Tomorrow, not voting is a form of voting".

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