Published: Mon, June 12, 2017
World News | By Cecilia Wilkerson

Puerto Rico mulls political status in new referendum

Puerto Rico mulls political status in new referendum

The island, a U.S. territory since 1898, held a non-binding referendum on statehood Sunday, and becoming the 51st state won with 97% of the votes, NBC reports, with 1.3% opting for the status quo and 1.5% choosing independence.

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

The question at the heart of the non-binding referendum has been asked of Puerto Rican voters before - four times, in fact.

She is pro-statehood and is forming a "Friends of Puerto Rico Caucus" that would press for statehood.

Governor of Puerto Rico Ricardo Rossello said in an address after Sunday's vote, "The people spoke and the USA will have to obey the will of our people".

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Also, granting Puerto Rico statehood would lead to greater federal spending on the island, which could prove unpopular at a time when the Republican majority in Congress is calling for sweeping spending cuts.

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

Many believe the island's territorial status has contributed to its 10-year economic recession.

A former Spanish colony taken over by the USA at the end of the 19th century, Puerto Rico has enjoyed broad political autonomy since 1952 as a commonwealth or "free associated state".

Puerto Ricans have been U.S. citizens since 1917, however, as residents of a commonwealth territory rather than a state they can't vote for president in the USA general election. The results of that vote showed that 97% of the 23% of Puerto Ricans who voted were in favor of statehood, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal. He also said that even among voters who supported statehood, turnout was lower this year compared with the last referendum in 2012.

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Statehood's advocates say it would help the economy; its opponents warn that the island will lose its cultural identity and struggle even more financially because it will suddenly have to pay millions of dollars in federal taxes.

Residents pay social security, Medicare and local taxes, while Puerto Rico receives less federal funding than U.S. states, but is exempt from the USA federal income tax.

Proponents of statehood also argue that if it became fully integrated into the Union, Puerto Rico would receive more federal spending to reactivate the economy, which now has an unemployment rate close to 12 percent. From the sidelines, she said she refuses to back the man who served 35 years in prison for his involvement with a group responsible for bombings that killed and maimed dozens of people.

Sunday's referendum is the fifth for Puerto Rico.

But the so-called "Caribbean Greece" found easy relief in United States municipal bond markets, where investors could get attractive tax-exempt bonds that provided ready cash but sank the island deeper into debt.

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How would everyday life change if the island became a USA state? This year, it came on the day Puerto Ricans were voting among three choices: independence, statehood or their current territorial status. Federal officials in April rejected the original version, in part because it did not offer the territory's current status as an option. During the last referendum in 2012, 54 percent said they wanted a status change.

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