Puerto Rico Votes To Become 51st US State

Puerto Rico is exempt from the USA federal income tax, but it still pays Social Security and Medicare and local taxes but receives less federal funding than US states. Congress has to make that decision.

According to preliminary results, almost half a million votes were cast for statehood, more than 7,600 for free association/independence and almost 6,700 for retaining the current territorial status. Voter turnout was just 23 percent.

The parade often has been a venue to showcase the complicated history of the US territory, now mired in a recession.

Despite the overwhelming vote to join the USA, nearly 80% of Puerto Rican voters avoided casting a ballot.

For decades the territory enjoyed a USA 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. If Congress does not pass a statute, Puerto Rico’s status will remain as it is. Now they take the issue to the U.S. Congress, which has the final say on whether U.S. territories like Puerto Rico become states.

Puerto Rico previously voted in favor of becoming a state in 2012, but statehood opponents said the voter turnout was not high enough to accurately reflect will of the Puerto Rican people. Over 97% of the votes were for statehood, but turnout was very low.

Most of the tens of thousands of revelers turned out simply to celebrate Puerto Rico, happily salsa-dancing and waving Puerto Rican flags. Statehooder Rossello, for example, won his own election with just 42 percent of the vote.

Only 1.5 percent of voters said they would choose independence, while 1.32 percent said they want to remain a self-governing territory within the USA commonwealth. Aren’t “territories” remnants of a colonial past that we really shouldn’t’ have anymore?

Puerto Rico’s governor Ricardo Rossello (R) and the Commissioner Resident in Washington Jennifer Gonzalez (L) celebrate the plebiscite’s result at the headquarters of the New Progressive Party in San Juan, Puerto Rico, 11 June 2017.

“Statehood isn’t going to happen and the status quo is a trap”, said 23-year-old engineering and economics student Daniel Montalvo.

At the moment, residents on the Caribbean island, a USA territory since 1898, have United States citizenship but can not vote in federal elections and have no formal representation in Congress.

Schatz argues that statehood would help Puerto Rico in its attempt to face down its debt crisis.

“I pray to God that before I die I see Puerto Rico as the 51st state”, Edwin Alicea, an Army veteran, told CNNMoney.

The BBC posits this reluctance might arise from two reasons: a GOP-led Congress would be wary of admitting a Democratic-leaning electorate like Puerto Rico’s, and the debt-troubled island would likely require more federal spending to get back on its feet.

Those in favor of statehood say it could help the island access more US federal funding. In February 2014, Puerto Rico’s general obligation bonds were downgraded to speculative, or non-investment, grade by three ratings agencies.

Meantime Senator Juan Dalmau of the Puerto Rican Independence Party said on Twitter that: “Including colony as an option in the plebiscite is a setback to the aspirations of decolonization and former governor Anibal Acevedo Vila of the Popular Democratic Party said on Facebook that he would not be voting “as an act of conscience”.