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Puerto Rico - Introduction

Puerto Ricans voted 11 June 2017 for their fifth [non-binding] plebiscite asking voters if they want to be a free nation, become the 51st US state or remain a US territory. The plebiscite, which is not binding, saw the island's more than 2.2 million registered voters choose amid a debt crisis and growing protests against austerity measures in the island.

Nearly half a million votes were cast for statehood, about 7,600 for free association/independence and nearly 6,700 for the current territorial status, according to preliminary results. Voter turnout was just 23 percent, leading opponents to question the validity of a vote that several political parties had urged their supporters to boycott. Even among voters who supported statehood, turnout was lower this year compared with the last referendum in 2012.

The referendum coincided with the 100th anniversary of the United States granting U.S. citizenship to Puerto Ricans, though they are barred from voting in presidential elections and have only one congressional representative with limited voting powers. Those who support statehood, like Governor Ricardo Rossello, claimed that the change in status would help resolve the island’s US$123 billion debt load, including pension debts. Rossello said that being incorporated into the U.S. would allow Puerto Rico to become a “diplomatic center and a business center of the Americas.”

Puerto Rico on 03 February 2017 approved a measure to hold another referendum to vote on becoming a state, set for June 11. It came as the U.S. territory continues to struggle with the ongoing effects of colonialism and a major debt crisis. The referendum would be the fifth vote in the island's history to change the dynamic of the current colonialist relationship with the US. Governor Ricardo Rossello approved the non-binding referendum and said that “Colonialism is not an option for Puerto Rico.”

The new referendum asked voters for the option of statehood or for independence/free association. If the majority of people had voted for independence/free association, a second referendum would have taken place in October to choose the country’s political status. The island had so far had four referendums on its political status: in 1967, 1993, 1998 and 2012. In the last referendum, the majority of voters favored statehood, but the measure had not yet been approved by U.S. Congress, the final hurdle on the path to statehood.

Puerto Rico has been a territory of the U.S. since 1898 when it seceded from the Spanish empire. In recent years, the island has struggled with a US$70 billion government debt. Many Puerto Ricans who support statehood say that becoming the 51st U.S. state could help the island tackle the deficit. Unlike a state, Puerto Rico’s colonial status denies it the legal right to file for bankruptcy, which would allow the protection of public assets and pay for essential services. Puerto Ricans currently do not have the right to vote in presidential elections and have no voting powers in the U.S. Congress.

Since becoming president, Donald Trump had not spoken on the issue of Puerto Rican statehood. In his election campaign, he said that the will of the island’s people “should be considered” by U.S. Congress. “Having a Republican House, a Republican Senate and a Republican president, there's no excuse for not carrying it out,” Rossello earlier said.

Puerto Rico - the All-Star Island - is a US commonwealth and the U.S. dollar is the official currency; U.S. citizens don’t need a passport or a currency converter. Spanish and English are the official languages; most Puerto Ricans speak English. El Yunque is the only subtropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest Service, a place so indescribable that it must be seen, heard and felt. It’s one of our must-visit destinations. More than 70% of the rum sold in the U.S. comes from Puerto Rico; sample favorite local brands and enjoy a tour of our rum distilleries. Puerto Rico houses the world's second largest single-dish radio telescope, spanning almost 20 acres. It was responsible for the first asteroid images in history.

Maintaining Puerto Rico’s Spanish heritage included changing its official name from “Porto Rico” back to the original Spanish, “Puerto Rico.” The United States used “Puerto Rico” in diplomatic correspondence before the Spanish-American War but used the anglicized spelling “Porto Rico” in the Treaty of Paris, which ended the conflict. The House eventually passed S.J. Res. 36 changing the name 88 to 31; without debate, the Senate concurred, changing the name in May 1932. The passage of the resolution was a symbolic victory in the battle to maintain Puerto Rico’s cultural heritage.

Puerto Rico is neither a sleepy little Caribbean Island, nor is it a lush tropical paradise, as is sometimes depicted in tourism advertisements. There are places in Puerto Rico where both can be found, but, in fact, Puerto Rico today is the commercial engine of the Caribbean, and in many ways it has most of the contemporary problems and concerns that fully developed economies exhibit: air and water pollution, protection of endangered species and their habitats, forest management, regulation of all forms of waste and their disposal, pesticide regulation, marine protection, and others. Puerto Rico has over 2 million automobiles, trucks, and buses constituting one of the highest vehicle densities in the world.

At times, its metropolitan traffic jams rival those of California freeways. It built a 17.2-kilometer (10.3-mile) elevated train/subway at a cost of nearly $2 billion to alleviate traffic congestion in metropolitan San Juan. Old infrastructure is also a big problem for the island’s water supply in that almost 50 percent—about 950 liters (250 million gallons) per day—of all potable water processed by the Water Authority is lost prior to delivery because of leaks, broken hydrants, and unmetered connections to the system. Puerto Rico’s sewerage system is still developing. Fifty percent of the island lacks sanitary sewer lines, and some communities still have difficulty meeting secondary sewerage treatment standards, which is of concern to beach communities and the tourism industry. Sixty-eight treatment plants discharge into the ocean.

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Page last modified: 12-06-2017 11:15:14 ZULU