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In Referendum, 97% Support Making Puerto Rico 51st State
12 June 2017, 03:44 | Clarence Schmidt
Puerto Ricans who voted for US statehood in a non-binding referendum Sunday are "claiming our equal rights as American citizens", Puerto Rico's governor says.
Congress has the final say over whether the territory changes its status, making the vote merely an advisory opinion.
The question at the heart of the non-binding referendum has been asked of Puerto Rican voters before - four times, in fact.
Currently, Puerto Rico is a US-territory, but not officially a state.
An official count of votes for Puerto Rico's plebiscite on Sunday showed overwhelming support for US statehood, although adding another star to the USA flag would likely face an uphill battle in Congress.
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 NY.
The Republican Party has traditionally supported statehood for Puerto Rico, while the Democratic Party said it was ready to support whatever decision Puerto Ricans made through fair, open and democratic elections.
Boycotters were also angry about the costly referendum at a time when over 400 schools have closed and many Puerto Ricans are struggling to make ends meet. The governor announced that the US territory overwhelmingly chose statehood on Sunday in a non-binding referendum held amid a deep economic crisis that has sparked an exodus of islanders to the USA mainland.
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Results showed that 97.2 percent of those who voted wanted statehood, 1.5 percent supported independence and 1.3 percent backed no change.
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Puerto Rico's governor said the territory will now put its "Tennessee plan" into action, meaning it will choose two senators and five representatives to go to Washington, D.C., to request statehood.
Puerto Ricans have been USA citizens since a law made them so in 1917.
Almost half of the island's 3.4 million people live in poverty, and unemployment is 12.4 percent, compared with 4.3 percent on the USA mainland.
Organizers expected 1.5 million to watch Sunday's event, held the same day as the US territory holds a referendum on statehood.
Sunday's referendum is the fifth one for Puerto Rico. The board recommended, among many measures, to cut US$300 million to $500 million from the Puerto Rican state government budget.
Many expect statehood supporters to crowd voting centers because three of Puerto Rico's political parties are boycotting the referendum, including the island's main opposition party.
But the so-called "Caribbean Greece" found easy relief in U.S. municipal bond markets, where investors could get attractive tax-exempt bonds that provided ready cash but sank the island deeper into debt.
Despite the overwhelming vote to join the USA, nearly 80% of Puerto Rican voters avoided casting a ballot.
A spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department told The Associated Press that the agency has not reviewed or approved the ballot's revised language. This is in stark contrast to the last plebisciteheld in 2012 - in which 1,363,854 people, or 78.19 percent of registered voters, cast a ballot. Federal officials in April rejected the original version, in part because it did not offer the territory's current status as an option.
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