Puerto Ri­can vot­ers back U.S. state­hood in ref­er­en­dum.

Sup­port­ers say move would help with eco­nomic cri­sis

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY DANICA COTO

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

Nearly a half-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.

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

But that didn’t stop Gov. Ri­cardo 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.

“In any democ­racy, the ex­pressed will of the ma­jor­ity that par­tic­i­pates in the elec­toral pro­cesses al­ways prevails,” Mr. Ros­sello said. “It would be highly con­tra­dic­tory for Wash­ing­ton to de­mand democ­racy in other parts of the world, and not re­spond to the le­git­i­mate right to self-de­ter­mi­na­tion that was ex­er­cised to­day in the Amer­i­can ter­ri­tory of Puerto Rico.”

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 is ex­empt from the fed­eral in­come tax, but it still pays So­cial Se­cu­rity and Medi­care and lo­cal taxes and re­ceives less fed­eral fund­ing than the states. The ref­er­en­dum co­in­cides with the 100th an­niver­sary of the United States grant­ing cit­i­zen­ship to Puerto Ri­cans, though the ter­ri­tory does not vote in pres­i­den­tial elec­tions and has only one con­gres­sional rep­re­sen­ta­tive with lim­ited vot­ing pow­ers.

Among those hop­ing Puerto Rico will be­come a state is Jose Al­varez, a 61-yearold busi­ness­man.

“Now is the mo­ment to do it,” he said. “We’ve spent a lot of years work­ing on a so­cioe­co­nomic model that has not nec­es­sar­ily given us the an­swer.”

Nearly half a mil­lion Puerto Ri­cans have moved to the U.S. main­land in the past decade to find a more af­ford­able cost of liv­ing or jobs as the is­land of 3.4 mil­lion peo­ple strug­gles with a 12 per­cent un­em­ploy­ment rate.

Those who re­main be­hind have been hit with new taxes and higher util­ity bills on an is­land where food is 22 per­cent more ex­pen­sive than the U.S. main­land and pub­lic ser­vices are 64 per­cent more ex­pen­sive.

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

“The cost of state­hood on the pock­et­book of ev­ery ci­ti­zen, ev­ery busi­ness, ev­ery in­dus­try will be devastating,” Car­los Del­e­gado, sec­re­tary of the op­po­si­tion Pop­u­lar Demo­cratic Party, told The As­so­ci­ated Press. “What­ever we might re­ceive in ad­di­tional fed­eral funds will be can­celed by the amount of taxes the is­land will have to pay.”

His party also has noted that the U.S. Jus­tice De­part­ment has not backed the ref­er­en­dum.

A de­part­ment spokesman told the AP that the agency has not re­viewed or ap­proved the bal­lot’s lan­guage. Fed­eral of­fi­cials in April re­jected an orig­i­nal ver­sion, in part be­cause it did not of­fer the ter­ri­tory’s cur­rent sta­tus as an op­tion.


Puerto Ri­can res­i­dent Ciri­aca Perez votes dur­ing the fifth ref­er­en­dum on the is­land’s sta­tus, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Sun­day. Congress ul­ti­mately has to ap­prove the out­come that of­fered vot­ers three choices: state­hood, in­de­pen­dence or re­main a ter­ri­tory.

“In any democ­racy, the ex­pressed will of the ma­jor­ity that par­tic­i­pates in the elec­toral process al­ways prevails,” said Ri­cardo Ros­sello, the gov­er­nor of Puerto Rico.

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