Puerto Rico approves statehood in non-binding referendum

Of the 2,458,036 registered voters in Puerto Rico, about 548,387, or 97 percent, of Puerto Ricans voted in a non-binding referendum for the territory to become America's 51st state, while approximately 16,960, or 3 percent, were opposed, according to the Wall Street Journal review of early returns.

Sunday's landslide vote in Puerto Rico to determine statehood and perhaps add the 51st star to the American flag, was nearly ignored by news media, until the last minute, because of all the political controversies emanating from Washington.

A total of 97% of the Puerto Ricans who cast their vote in the island's non-binding referendum on Sunday voted in favor of seeking to become a full-fledged USA state, CNN reported.

"This brings out the worst in the US Congress", said Dr Amilcar Barreto, a specialist in Puerto Rican politics at Northeastern University in Boston.

Puerto Ricans have had US citizenship since 1917 but as residents of a commonwealth territory rather they can not vote for president in the US elections, and have a nonvoting member in the US Congress called a resident commissioner. The U.S. territory filed for the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history in May. "They lost 300,000 votes in four years", Ferrer said. Free association is an official affiliation with the United States. "Why would the US government want to take on a problem like Puerto Rico?" said Carolina Santos, a single working mother struggling to make her mortgage payment and cover other bills. Also, Puerto Ricans living on the USA mainland, who outnumber those on the island, tend to be more in favor of independence but could not cast ballots in the referendum. However, the two main parties had pushed for a boycott of the vote. They do not pay many federal taxes but receive far less support for social programs like Medicaid.

The campaign director and vice president of the governing PNP party, Thomas Rivera Schatz, meanwhile, defended the statehood win and downplayed the significance of the loss of votes the option received relative to the November 2012 plebiscite on the same subject. While becoming a state would give Puerto Rico additional rights, it would also mean people there would have to pay federal income taxes for the first time.

The archipelago is now an "unincorporated territory" of the US, which means it doesn't have a vote in the US Congress but the Congress has full jurisdiction over the territory.

Puerto Rico's economic crisis has helped drive nearly half a million Puerto Ricans to the mainland in the past decade.

But experts say it is highly unlikely a Republican-controlled Congress would acknowledge Sunday's results, let alone accept them because Puerto Rico tends to favor Democrats.

How would everyday life change if the island became a USA state?

Governor Ricardo Rossello, an integration advocate, struggled to find the support in Washington without success.

Puerto Rico hopes a change in status will help it better address $74 billion in debt $49 billion in pension obligations.

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 US mainland and public services are 64 percent more expensive.

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