Puerto Ricans vote for statehood

A woman exits the voting booth in San Juan during Puerto Rico's non-binding referendum Sunday. Among those hoping Puerto Rico will become the 51st state is Pedro Pierluisi, the island's former congressional representative.

As New York's annual Puerto Rican Day Parade moved along Fifth Avenue, voters on the home island cast ballots overwhelmingly endorsing statehood.

The ballot language was not approved by the U.S. Justice Department, which rejected an earlier version because it did not allow voters to endorse the territorial status quo.

Some see statehood as the best way to pull Puerto Rico out of its economic crisis, others blame the US for the malaise and would rather seek independence after five centuries of what they call colonial rule.

Puerto Rican voters made their way to the polling centers Sunday to vote on whether or not they want to become the 51st US state. Puerto Rico's governor is pushing ahead with his top campaign promise of trying to convert the USA territory into a state, holding a Sunday June 11, 2017, referendum to let voters send a message to Congress. Eastern the statehood vote had won over an astonishing 97% of the vote, with just 1.5% choosing independence and 1.3% voting to have the island maintain its current territorial status. The participation rate was almost 23 percent with roughly 2.26 million registered voters.

Many questioned the validity of the vote, however, because of a boycott by anti-statehood opposition parties that resulted in only about 500,000 voters, fewer than a quarter of those eligible, showing up.

Congress has the final say over whether the territory changes its status, making the vote merely an advisory opinion. The DOJ in its letter pointed out that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizenship by birth, asking that the "potentially misleading" statement be removed.

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. Turnout was less than 23 per cent.

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Opponents of statehood worry the island would lose its cultural identity and warn that Puerto Rico would struggle even more financially because it would be forced to pay millions of dollars in federal taxes.

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.

"We need a change in the way we're living", he said. Senior members of the party said that it would give the movement a huge boost as it sought to persuade Washington that after 119 years of colonisation it was time to bring Puerto Rico on board on an equal footing with the existing 50 states.

If the votes sway in favor of joining the US, the measure is still likely to face a tumultuous road ahead in Congress.

Those who remain behind have faced new taxes and higher utility bills on an island where food is 22 percent more expensive than the USA mainland and public services are 64 percent more expensive. "Whatever we might receive in additional federal funds will be cancelled by the amount of taxes the island will have to pay". Last month, Puerto Rico filed for the equivalent of bankruptcy protection.

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!"

Some argued the results should have been considered a "no" since more than one-third of voters left the part about alternative status blank.

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