Puerto Rican voters support statehood in criticized referendum

The US Caribbean commonwealth territory of Puerto Rico has voted overwhelmingly in favor of seeking to become a full-fledged US state in a referendum marred by opposition boycott and low turnout. They pointed to a turnout of 23% of the territory's 2.3 million registered voters - a dismal figure on an island that regularly has participation rates of 60% or 70%. Although the 3 million residents of Puerto Rico are USA citizens, advocates for statehood say the island's current status makes it harder to meet its financial obligations.

Puerto Ricans are US citizens, but with fewer rights and responsibilities than residents of the other 50 states. According to a survey conducted in March by the Rasmussen Report, 40 percent of Americans believe Puerto Rico should be a state, up from 35 percent in 2013. While becoming a state would give Puerto Rico additional rights, it would also mean people there would have to pay federal income taxes for the first time.

The island's two main opposition parties boycotted the vote, which gave Puerto Ricans three options: becoming a USA state; remaining a territory; or becoming an independent nation, with or without some continuing political association with the United States.

Becoming a state would give Puerto Rico more say in Congress and more money for the USA government. So they got 300,000 fewer votes than they did in the 2012 plebiscite.

No clear majority emerged in the first three referendums on status, with voters nearly evenly divided between statehood and the status quo.

Moreover, this plebiscite was not authorized or certified by the U.S. Department of Justice or Congress, which throws its impact into question.

Students at the University of Puerto Rico, for example, have led a two-month-long strike against a proposed US$450 million education budget cut.

What's Puerto Rico's current status?

As U.S. citizens, Puerto Ricans can simply pack up and move to the mainland U.S. for better job and educational opportunities. 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.

A majority of the Puerto Rican voters for the first time voted for seeking U.S. statehood back in 2012, when a total of 54% voted in favor.

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

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

Ricardo Rosselló supports statehood as a way to solve the island's economic disaster.

Opponents of statehood are nevertheless concerned that 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 federal government can not ignore the results of this plebiscite and the will of our people", the governor said.

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