Puerto Rico votes to become 51st state

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  By a Newsnet reporter

The Spanish speaking Carribean island of Puerto Rico, administered by the United States since the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898, voted in a referendum on Tuesday on whether to change the island’s relationship with the USA. 

On a 77% turnout, 54% of the electorate supported changing the island’s status in the non-binding referendum.  On a second question asking what sort of new relationship the islanders wanted, 61.9% of Portorriqueños opted to become the 51st state of the USA.  

The two other options on the ballot were to maintain the current status as an unincorporated territory of the United States, or independence; these options respectively got 32.89% and 5.29% of the vote.  

Puerto Rico’s economy is heavily reliant upon subsidies from the USA, which allow the island to maintain a much higher standard of living and better public services than the neighbouring Dominican Republic, also formerly a Spanish colonial possession.  

A large majority of the islanders have never considered independence for Puerto Rico as a serious option.  In three previous referendums on Puerto Rico’s constitutional status in 1967, 1993 and 1998, support for independence was less than 5%.

Although the island does not participate in the US presidential election, its people have been US citizens since 1917.  Constitutionally, the island is a Free State in Association with the USA, a status granted by the US Congress in 1952.  Unlike residents of other Carribean states Puertoricans have freedom to settle anywhere in the 50 states and it is estimated that there are now one million more Puertoricans on the mainland than reside on the island.

President Obama stated before the referendum that he will respect the outcome if it produces a clear decision.  Puerto Rico becoming the newest state in the Union will require approval by a two-thirds majority in the US Congress, but no territory which has made a formal petition for admission to the United States has ever been refused.  

If accepted into the USA as the newest state, Puerto Rico will become the first overwhelmingly Hispanic and Spanish speaking state.  America’s Hispanic minority has grown substantially in numbers and influence over recent decades. 

52 million Americans declare themselves to be Hispanic in census returns and an estimated 45 million are Spanish speakers.  The community is the second largest ethnic group in the United States, exceeded in number only by non-Hispanic White Americans.