Puerto Rico votes for statehood in referendum

A government website for the status referendum, Puerto Rico's fifth since 1967, showed 97 percent of roughly 485,000 votes counted so far in favor of becoming the 51st US state.

In 2012, the last time statehood was put up to a vote and won, Congress did not take action to make it the 51st state.

Rosello has argued that statehood for Puerto Rico could help the island's economy. But Gov. Ricardo Rossello said the vote sends a clear message to Congress.

After the vote, Rosselló said Washington can "no longer ignore" Puerto Rico's statehood preference.

"Supporters of statehood did not seem enthusiastic about this plebiscite as they were five years ago", he said.

While many danced the salsa and cheered the procession, a small portion of the crowd booed the appearance Oscar Lopez Rivera, a political activist, who spent 35 years in prison for his involvement with the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN), a group that has for decades struggled for independence of the island nation. Puerto Rico has been under the control of the United States since 1898, and certain political parties are pushing for independence from the United States entirely.

The referendum coincided with the 100th anniversary of the United States granting USA citizenship to Puerto Ricans, though they are barred from voting in presidential elections and have only one congressional representative with limited voting powers. The results of that vote showed that 97% of the 23% of Puerto Ricans who voted were in favor of statehood, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.

The landslide victory led many critics to believe that only those who supported statehood went to the polls.

But the Rossello government insists statehood is the answer to the financial crisis hanging over the island of 3.4 million, where some 45 percent of the population live in poverty.

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

Almost half of the island's 3.4 million people live in poverty, and unemployment is 12.4 percent, compared with 4.3 percent on the US mainland.

A woman exits the voting booth in San Juan during Puerto Rico's non-binding referendum Sunday.

Nevertheless, the final say regarding Puerto Rican statehood lies with Congress despite the referendum's outcome.

Still, Rossello says that he's grateful for his island's connection with the US, and that he remains hopeful that connection will grow closer.

"In the democratic process there is no such thing as a boycott", he said. "The current government of the Island entered the process and when it took longer than they wanted they made a decision to ignore the U.S. Justice Department's plea for more time to evaluate the validity of the ballot language.Sadly, today's vote will thus go down in history as yet another non-binding glorified poll with no real effect on resolving Puerto Rico's relationship with the United States".

It also gets USA military protection and receives federal funding from the government for highways and social programs, just not as much as official states receive. That option was then added, but the department said it had not had enough time to review the changes, and asked that the election be postponed. During the last referendum in 2012, 54 percent said they wanted a status change.

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