Puerto Rico’s governor announced that the U.S. territory overwhelmingly chose statehood on Sunday in a nonbinding referendum held amid a deep economic crisis that has sparked an exodus of islanders to the U.S. mainland.

Nearly half a million votes were cast for statehood, about 7,600 for free association/independence and nearly 6,700 for the current territorial status, according to preliminary results. 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.

And the U.S. Congress has final say in any changes to Puerto Rico’s political status.

But that didn’t stop Gov. Pedro Rossello from vowing to push ahead with his administration’s quest to make the island the 51st U.S. state and declaring that “Puerto Rico voted for statehood.” He said he would create a commission to ensure that Congress validate the referendum’s results.

 


 

On an island where voter participation often hovers around 80 percent, just 23 percent of registered voters cast ballots. Voting stations accustomed to long lines were virtually empty on Sunday.

Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo A. Rosselló of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party, said he planned to take the victory to Washington and press Congress to admit Puerto Rico to the union.

But his political opponents who do not want statehood argued that heading to Congress with such lopsided results would actually hurt the governor’s cause.

“A 97 percent win is the kind of result you get in a one-party regime,” former Gov. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá said in an interview. “Washington will laugh in their faces.”

Puerto Rico has been a United States territory since 1898, when the island was acquired from Spain after the Spanish-American War. Sunday’s nonbinding referendum was the fifth time during Puerto Rico’s relationship with the United States that Puerto Ricans voted on their future. They have generally chosen from statehood, independence and remaining a territory.

But the process is usually marred, with ballot language phrased to favor the party in office. In 1998, “none of the above” was the top winner. In 2012, 61 percent of counted votes went to statehood — and half a million ballots were left blank.

 


 

It was the lowest level of participation in any election in Puerto Rico since 1967, according to Carlos Vargas Ramos, an associate with the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College in New York. He also said that even among voters who supported statehood, turnout was lower this year compared with the last referendum in 2012.

“Supporters of statehood did not seem enthusiastic about this plebiscite as they were five years ago,” he said.

Puerto Rico’s main opposition party rejected the pro-statehood result.

“The scant participation … sends a clear message,” said Anibal Jose Torres, a party member. “The people rejected it by boycotting an inconsequential event.”

The referendum coincides with the 100th anniversary of the United States granting U.S. citizenship to Puerto Ricans, though they are barred from voting in presidential elections and have only one congressional representative with limited voting powers.

 


 

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

Puerto Rico’s main opposition party rejected the pro-statehood result.

“The scant participation … sends a clear message,” Anibal Jose Torres, a party member, told Fox. “The people rejected it by boycotting an inconsequential event.”

Puerto Rico previously voted in favor of becoming a state in 2012 during a vote that was also distorted by low turnout, the Hill reported.

Puerto Rico’s governor requested bankruptcy protection for a portion of the island’s $73 billion in debt back in May, setting up a showdown with Wall Street firms owed billions of dollars, in what will be the largest-ever U.S. municipal debt restructuring.

 


 

Editor’s note: The last quote is what does it for me. Why on Earth would we let Puerto Rico, who sees us as “colonizers,” become a state? Use of that term is a major signal that they don’t feel they are, or want to be, Americans. They just want a bailout.

It’s fine with me if they don’t want to be Americans. They should vote for independence and stop trying to get America to bail them out.

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