Puerto Ricans vote for US statehood

Oscar Lopez Rivera

Voters in the US territory of Puerto Rico approved a non-binding referendum to seek statehood.

The original version of the ballot reportedly only gave voters the option to become a state or a free association/independence, leaving out the option to retain its current commonwealth status.

The status referendum is Puerto Rico's fifth since 1967.

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

Rosselló is heading to Washington this week to try to convince Congress that statehood is best for the island, but it's unclear whether that would help stop the downward spiral of the island's economy.

Sunday's two-part plebiscite, the fifth held since 1967, will decide the future of the unincorporated US territory. Each has serious ties to Wall Street, and each makes a handsome living buying low and selling high, especially the bonds of failed or failing states such as Puerto Rico.

Many traditional sponsors of New York's largest ethnic parade withdrew their support this year because of Lopez Rivera's prominent role, and the parade was boycotted by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, among other politicians. But only about 500,000 Puerto Ricans - about 23 percent of the electorate - voted.

Many believe the island's territorial status has contributed to its economic crisis, largely caused by decades of heavy borrowing and the elimination of federal tax incentives.

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The parade has often been a venue to showcase the complicated history of the US territory, now mired in a recession for which many blame the USA government, partly because of the elimination of tax credits that many say led to the collapse of the island's manufacturing sector.

"It is because Puerto Rico is in an unequal relationship" with the United States government that the bankrupt island's finances are now under a largely US-appointed control board, he told AFP. The most recent was in 2012, where the majority voted in favor of statehood, but Congress never picked up the matter.

Becoming the 51st star on the USA flag would instill "new hope" in Puerto Ricans, she told AFP, as well as sorely needed economic aid. Typically it would include Puerto Rico still receiving military assistance and funding but the ballot says the terms would be agreed upon by the two countries as sovereign nations.

2012 referendum which also backed statehood was left without consequences by the US Congress.

As American citizens, often proudly so, Puerto Ricans can freely enter the United States, live and work.

Statehood would allow Puerto Ricans to claim full welfare benefits available to USA citizens, but would compel residents to begin paying federal taxes on income obtained on the island. De Jesus says the plebiscite was unnecessary and costly: "This vote was a waste or precious resources at a time of severe fiscal constraints". They do not pay many federal taxes but receive far less support for social programs like Medicaid. Voter turnout was just 23 percent, leading opponents to question the validity of a vote that several political parties had urged their supporters to boycott.

However, the results of these referendums were hardly reliable due to fact that most results favor whichever party was in power. On the other hand, independence and free association received 1.5% of the vote, while the current territorial status gained just 1.3%. He said he would create a commission to ensure that Congress validate the referendum's results.

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