Puerto Ricans vote overwhelmingly to apply for USA statehood

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - A large majority of voters in Puerto Rico supported USA statehood for their island in a referendum on Sunday, according to partial results, but a low turnout and a boycott by several opposition parties called into question the validity of the non-binding vote.

Among those eager for the US territory to become the 51st state is Pedro Pierluisi, the island's former congressional representative.

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

Either way, U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, whose parents hailed from Puerto Rico, cautions the wire service that "Congress won't do anything".

Becoming the 51st US state in any case depends on the US Congress, where there is little enthusiasm for the move. Three of the four political parties that participated in the elections of November 2016 called for a boycott of this plebiscite - which seems to have had a large impact.

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'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.

Puerto Ricans have been U.S. citizens since 1917, however, as residents of a commonwealth territory rather than a state they can't vote for president in the USA general election. According to the commission's numbers, 300,000 fewer people voted for statehood on Sunday than in 2012.

In the 1998 referendum, the top choice among Puerto Ricans was "none of the above" while in 2012 referendum voted heavily in favor of statehood, with the rest of the ballots left blank. Puerto Rican voters are weighing whether to ask Congress for statehood.

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello campaigned for the island's 2.2 million eligible voters to select statehood as the best avenue to boost future growth for the struggling island. Today we are sending a strong and clear message for equal rights as American citizens. Meanwhile, 7,600 voted for independence and almost 6,700 voted for Puerto Rico to remain a territory.

Congress will have to approve the outcome of Sunday's referendum.

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.

But the so-called "Caribbean Greece" found easy relief in United States municipal bond markets, where investors could get attractive tax-exempt bonds that provided ready cash but sank the island deeper into debt.

"We have been a colony for 500 years, and we have had USA citizenship for 100 years, but it's been a second class one", Rossello said.

A spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department told The Associated Press that the agency has not reviewed or approved the ballot's language.