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In the fifth referendum of its kind, the US territory voted overwhelmingly for statehood. Puerto Rico had three options for its political status at the ballot – independence, statehood, or a continuation of the status quo. It's unlikely that the results will be approved by the US Congress, and abysmally low turnout – just 23 percent voted – due to an opposition boycott has further undermined the non-binding plebiscite. Governor Pedro Rosello, the political force behind the referendum, was elected to office largely on a platform to bring statehood to the debt-burdened island.
The government filed for a special form of bankruptcy last month to address its monstrous $100 billion debt, the largest of its kind to do so. Meanwhile, steep austerity cuts have negatively affected many aspects of life. The University of Puerto Rico, the intellectual heart of the island, is looking at budget cuts that would gut the university. The proposed cuts led to months of student strikes, top university officials resigning, and a two month closure. Other institutions are suffering as well. Last month it was announced that 179 schools are to close permanently, and the healthcare system is on the verge of collapse because of cuts to federally funded programs like Medicaid that many rely on.
Puerto Ricans have been leaving the island in droves for decades. Unemployment is at nearly 12 per cent and 46 per cent live below the poverty line. There are now more Puerto Ricans living in the US than on the island. Although they have US citizenship, they're not allowed to vote in presidential elections and lack full representation in Congress. Governor Rosello says he will petition Congress with the results, but many doubt it will listen.
The question of its future political status is crucial to a deeply divided a society that is trying to define its identity and hold on to its cultural heritage.
Joining The Stream:
Kenneth McClintock @PRKDMc
Former Lieutenant Governor, Puerto Rico
Federico A. de Jesús @fdejesusfebles
Former Obama spokesman
Zulma Rovira-Pérez @zrovira
Legislative assistant, J.D., Zoe Lavoy & Henri Neumann
Juan Carlos Silén @JuanCarlosSilen
Law student, UPR School Law
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