Puerto Rico gov upholds statehood in vote hit by boycott

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Puerto Ricans voted overwhelmingly Sunday to become the 51st USA state, but there is no celebrating yet. Whether statehood would help with an influx of federal subsidies - or make matters worse by forcing Puerto Rico to pay off much of its soaring debt - is at the center of the disagreement.

"From today going forward, the Federal government will no longer be able to ignore the voice of the majority of the American citizens in Puerto Rico", Rossello said in a statement.

On that occasion, statehood was selected by more than 800,000 voters, and Rivera Schatz said that the loss in votes this time around was due to the emigration of Puerto Ricans to the U.S. mainland.

And the U.S. Congress has final say in any changes to Puerto Rico's political status. They would, after all, be representing 3.4 million people who are used to their entitlements, even if they didn't earn them and the government can't afford them.

More than half a million people voted for statehood during Sunday's referendum, followed by almost 7,800 votes for free association/independence and more than 6,800 votes for the current territorial status.

Puerto Ricans have been U.S. citizens since 1917, however, as residents of a commonwealth territory rather than a state they can't vote for president in the USA general election.

Congress, the only body that can approve new states, will ultimately decide whether the status of the U.S. commonwealth changes.

He maintains that statehood is key to overcoming Puerto Rico's economic problems, which reached crisis point last month it filed for bankruptcy in May, owing more than $70 billion in public debt and with 12.7 percent unemployment. Opposition parties boycotted the referendum because they considered it rigged.

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. On top of that comes the nature of Puerto Rico linguistically, culturally and racially in terms of its integration with the larger power. Our future is independence.

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Attachments to cultural and national identity are the main reasons why Puerto Ricans may oppose US statehood, Cruz-Martinez said. Schools where voting took place were in poor condition, with cracked paint and bare-bones playgrounds.

The governor, a 38-year-old member of the ruling Partido Nuevo Progresista (PNP), insisted the referendum sent a clear and strong message to Washington.

The turnout for the nonbinding referendum was 23 percent.

According to the government, 97% of the voters expressed their support towards the decision of Puerto Rico to become US's incorporated territory.

The New Progressive Party, referred to as PNP in Spanish, pushed the "yes" vote for statehood.

It is under United States military protection and is entitled to federal funding for infrastructure and social programs.

"This Sunday's plebiscite wastes millions of dollars and is not a good use of the time and energy we must devote to solving the fiscal and economic crisis of Puerto Rico".

"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.

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