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Puerto Ricans back full USA statehood but vote marred by low turnout

14 June 2017

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - Puerto Rico's governor is vowing to make the US territory the 51st state after statehood won in a non-binding referendum hit by a boycott and low turnout that raised questions about the vote's legitimacy.

However, Commonwealth supporters disagree with the governor's statement about it being "the will of our people", because yes, 97% of the voters supported statehood; however, only about 23% of eligible voters went to the polls.

"According to pro-statehood supporters, Puerto Rico becoming a state will increase investment and stabilize the economy, but as far as I know there is no research to support this and actually this will increase the tax burden for Puerto Ricans and increase the amount of resources that the USA will have to send to Puerto Rico", Cruz-Martinez said. This year, it came on the day Puerto Ricans were voting in the referendum among three choices: independence, statehood or their current territorial status.

Puerto Rico has effectively been in a state of bankruptcy following a decade of depression. "Puerto Rico voted for statehood".

Just 1.5 percent of the votes cast were for independence for the Caribbean island, and just 1.3 percent of those who cast valid ballots opted for maintaining Puerto Rico's current status as a U.S. commonwealth. Congress has final say on any changes to the territory's political status. So they got 300,000 fewer votes than they did in the 2012 plebiscite. The island and its state-owned utility ran out of cash and defaulted on its $73 billion of debt. That majority is required for the U.S. Congress to consider it.

Puerto Rico now suffers from a poverty rate of 45 percent and 12.4 percent unemployment. If it fails to do so, Puerto Rico's status will remain as it is.

The results of the newest referendum could lead to similar claims, Vargas said.

However, Sunday's non-binding referendum, the fifth that the land has held on the issue, was marred by low voter participation. In 1917, the islanders were granted USA citizenship, but they continue to labour under a political half-life in which they can elect their own local government and governor but cannot vote in federal elections.

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.

Puerto Rico's status quo is somewhat between full independence and statehood.

Decades ago, FALN claimed responsibility for more than 100 bombings in the US and Puerto Rico, including a 1975 blast that killed four people at New York's historic Fraunces Tavern.

The bubble ultimately popped and, unable to repay creditors, Puerto Rico declared bankruptcy in early May - the largest ever by a local USA government.

For Puerto Rico to become a U.S. state, Congress would need to pass a statute laying out the transition process.

"In any democracy, the expressed will of the majority that participates in the electoral processes always prevails", the territory's Governor Pedro Rossello said.

Those funds have enabled politicians to install a welfare state that has turned vast numbers of the island's population into dependents on the government.