Puerto Ricans vote for statehood again. Is it likely?

Puerto Rico made headline after headline Sunday when statehood received the most votes in their non binding referendum on territorial status. But close observers know Puerto Rico is far from becoming a state.

Don’t tell that to Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rossello, head of the party pushing statehood, who soaked in the victory Sunday, regardless of questions about its validity.

“The United States of America will have to obey the will of our people!” Rossello declared to a jubilant crowd of supporters following the results of the referendum.

A little over a half a million people voted for statehood, 7,800 for free association/independence, and 6,800 voted to maintain their current status.

However, a boycott organized by the opposing party may have won the day, as turnout was just 23%, and more people refrained from voting than those who voted for statehood.

For now, Rossello is fixated on the bright side, noting that turnout for the ratification of states like Hawaii and Wisconsin ranged for 7% to 35%.

Former Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla, member of the party opposing statehood, easily brushed off Sunday’s results. “Whoever claims that statehood triumphed is being intellectually dishonest,” he said. “The boycott defeated statehood.”

The Puerto Rican referendum comes during a time of grave financial struggle for the territory, that some believe is exacerbated by their territorial status. Puerto Rico is exempt from the US income tax but still pays Social Security and Medicare but receives far less in aid. Roughly half a million Puerto Ricans have moved to the mainland to avoid the 10 year economic recession and the 12% unemployment rate.

Sadly for those pushing statehood, this referendum demonstrated the least amount of support for the change of the four the territory has held.

Carlos Vargas Ramos, an associate with the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College in New York noted the bad news for pro-staters.

“Whether those results are legitimate or not depends on the audience that may be receiving (them),” he said. “If the advocates for statehood for Puerto Rico want to address the results to the U.S. Congress…then the results may appear weak, particularly when five years ago 834,000 voters supported statehood for the island. If the audience is the electorate in Puerto Rico, well, they spoke louder by their overwhelming abstention.”

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