On Sunday, Puerto Rico held its fifth referendum on its status in the United States, and this time voters unambiguously chose statehood. Nearly 500,000 Puerto Ricans participated, equaling 23 percent of eligible voters, and several political parties had urged supporters to boycott the vote. The referendum was on the 100th anniversary of Puerto Ricans gaining U.S. citizenship, though they can't vote for president and their lone congressional representative has limited power, and it coincided with with the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City.
"Puerto Rico voted for statehood," said Gov. Pedro Rossello. "In any democracy, the expressed will of the majority that participates in the electoral processes always prevails," and "it would be highly contradictory for Washington to demand democracy in other parts of the world, and not respond to the legitimate right to self-determination that was exercised today in the American territory of Puerto Rico." The main opposition party disagreed, saying the low participation sent its own message. "The people rejected it by boycotting an inconsequential event," Anibal Jose Torres, a party member, tells The Associated Press.
The first three referenda were inconclusive, with voters split on statehood versus the status quo. In 2012, in the last referendum, 54 percent of voters expressed their desire for a change in status, and of the voters who answered the second question, 61 percent chose statehood, though nearly half a million voters left that second question blank, AP notes. Sunday's turnout was the lowest in any election since 1967, and even depressed among statehood proponents, says Carlos Vargas Ramos at Hunter College in New York. "Supporters of statehood did not seem enthusiastic about this plebiscite as they were five years ago."
Only Congress can change Puerto Rico's status.