Puerto Rico mulls political status in new referendum

A referendum was posed to Puerto Ricans on Sunday to determine whether Puerto Rico would change it's status as a US territory to become either a state or an independent nation.

Lopez Rivera's supporters, including "Hamilton" playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda and other celebrities, view him as a symbol of Puerto Rican nationalism and the campaign to end what they see as the colonial status of the USA territory, acquired by the United States after the Spanish-American War.

In 2012, the last time statehood was put up to a vote and won, Congress did not take action to make it the 51st state.

Puerto Rico Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz vowed to push for statehood.

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. However, the two main parties had pushed for a boycott of the vote.

For decades the territory enjoyed a United States federal tax exemption that attracted many American companies to set up shop - but those breaks were ended in 2006, prompting firms to leave the island en masse.

Protesters in favor of Puerto Rico's independence protest 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.

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.

More than half a million people voted for statehood during Sunday's referendum, followed by almost 7,800 votes for free association/independence and more than 6,800 votes for the current territorial status.

Of those who voted, some 97% chose statehood, according to early results released Sunday night.

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


Those who oppose statehood warn that Puerto Rico will struggle even more financially because it will be forced to pay millions of dollars in federal taxes.

Becoming the 51st star on the U.S. flag would instill "new hope" in Puerto Ricans, she told AFP, as well as sorely needed economic aid. The Chicago Tribune reported that out of the island's 2.26 million registered voters only an estimated 23 percent participated in the polls.

"We have to vote because things are not going well", she said. Even if it did, most analysts say statehood already faced an uphill battle in Washington, where President Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress don't appear all that enthusiastic about adding a 51st star to the US flag.

Gov. Ricardo Rosello shows his ballot at the San Jose Academy during the fifth referendum in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sunday, June 11, 2017.

Sunday's ballot was a revised version after the Department of Justice wrote to Rosello in April saying the referendum ballot at the time incorrectly omitted Puerto Rico's current commonwealth status as a ballot option, offering only statehood or free association/independence.

How would everyday life change if the island became a U.S. state?

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

Puerto Rico came under United States control in 1898 after the Spanish-American War.

The current territorial status option received 6,821 votes, or 1.32 percent. During the last referendum in 2012, 54 percent said they wanted a status change.

Still the result is hardly as convincing as Rosselló claims.

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