Puerto Ricans vote for statehood

Puerto Rico's governor says the USA territory has overwhelmingly chosen statehood in a non-binding referendum.

And the U.S. Congress has final say in any changes to Puerto Rico's political status.

It did not act on the previous referendum's result, which was the first time ever a majority of valid votes were cast for statehood in the former Spanish colony.

Puerto Rico Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz vowed to push for statehood.

"It will be up to this new generation of Puerto Ricans to demand and claim in Washington the end of the current improper colonial relationship, and begin a transition process to fully incorporate Puerto Rico as the next state of the Union", Governor Ricardo Rossello of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party said in a statement Sunday.

Also, granting Puerto Rico statehood would lead to greater federal spending on the island, which could prove unpopular at a time when the Republican majority in Congress is calling for sweeping spending cuts.

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Many believe the island's territorial status has contributed to its economic crisis, largely caused by decades of heavy borrowing and the elimination of federal tax incentives. Puerto Rico's attempt to restructure its debt, a bankruptcy-like proceeding tailor-made for its status as a territory, vastly outpaces similar municipal bankruptcies like Detroit's $18.5 billion Chapter 9 filing in 2013.

The referendum coincides with the 100th anniversary of the United States granting US citizenship to Puerto Ricans, who are barred from voting in presidential elections and have one congressional representative with limited voting powers.

Almost half a million Puerto Ricans voted for statehood compared to more than 7,600 who voted for free association/independence and almost 6,700 who wanted full independence.

Of those who voted, some 97% chose statehood, according to early results released Sunday night.

Puerto Rico's governor said the territory will now put its "Tennessee plan" into action, meaning it will choose two senators and five representatives to go to Washington, D.C., to request statehood.

Moreover, this plebiscite was not authorized or certified by the U.S. Department of Justice or Congress, which throws its impact into question.

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Those inequalities and the ongoing crisis prompted 66-year-old Maria Quinones to vote for the first time in such a referendum, the fifth on Puerto Rico's status.

Congress will have to approve the outcome of Sunday's referendum. The Partido Popular Democrático, which broadly advocates the continuation of the current colonial arrangement whereby the island's 3.4 million people have U.S. citizenship but can not vote in federal elections, said the ballot was flawed from the outset. "If we were a state, we would have the same rights".

Rossello, who heads the pro-statehood New Progressive Party, said his government would fight "in Washington and throughout the world" for the Caribbean island territory to be accepted as the 51st U.S. state, and for Puerto Ricans to gain "all the same opportunities" as other American citizens.

"The US government has no obligation to pay attention to the result", he said, arguing that it will "lack legitimacy" if a significant part of the electorate abstains. This is in stark contrast to the last plebiscite held in 2012 - in which 1,363,854 people, or 78.19 percent of registered voters, cast a ballot.

The current territorial status option received 6,821 votes, or 1.32 percent.

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