Puerto Rico to Vote on Becoming 51st State

'Colonialism is not an option' in June referendum
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 4, 2017 8:33 AM CST
Puerto Rico to Vote on Becoming 51st State
Statehood is a "civil rights issue," says Gov. Ricardo Rossello.   (Carlos Giusti)

Puerto Ricans are getting another shot at voting on statehood after the island's governor on Friday approved a non-binding referendum to determine the US territory's political future. The referendum will be held on June 11 and gives voters two options: statehood or independence/free association. If a majority chooses the latter, a second referendum would be held in October and will ask voters to choose between the two, the AP reports. "Colonialism is not an option for Puerto Rico," Gov. Ricardo Rossello said. "It's a civil rights issue ... The time will come in which the United States has to respond to the demands of 3.5 million citizens seeking an absolute democracy."

Backers say the referendum could help the island overcome a decade-long economic crisis as it struggles to restructure nearly $70 billion in public debt. Around half a million people have left Puerto Rico for the US mainland the last decade, leaving the government with a shrinking tax base. Puerto Ricans have voted in four previous referendums that have resulted in no action from Congress, which has final say on any changes the island's political status. There was no clear majority in the first three referendums. In the last one, held in 2012, 54% said they wanted a change in status. Some 61% who answered a second question said they favored statehood but nearly 500,000 left the question blank, leading many to dismiss the result as illegitimate. (More Puerto Rico stories.)

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