Puerto Ricans are skeptical that the struggling U.S. territory’s political status will change any time soon, even after a vote on Sunday asking the U.S. Congress to make the island the 51st state of the union.
Although Puerto Rico voted overwhelmingly in favor of statehood, low voter turnout may weaken Governor Ricardo Rossello’s case for statehood in Washington, where Puerto Rico is seen as a low priority.
Puerto Rico’s two main opposition parties boycotted Sunday’s vote.
The mainly Spanish speaking island has $70 billion in debt, a 45 percent poverty rate, woefully underperforming schools and near-insolvent pension and health systems. Last month, the territory filed for the biggest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.
Rossello, who became governor in January, had campaigned for statehood as the best path out of the island’s financial troubles.
Yet eight out of 10 Puerto Ricans did not cast a vote in Sunday’s plebiscite, many because they did not believe the non-binding referendum would sway Congress.
“We’re bankrupt and 85 percent of us don’t speak English. Why would the U.S. government want to take on a problem like Puerto Rico?” said Carolina Santos, a single working mother struggling to make her mortgage payment and cover other bills.
“This is the fifth time there’s been a referendum on statehood. Nothing’s going to change. Maybe we should focus more on fixing our financial problems and our schools,” said Santos.
(Reporting by Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Daniel Bases, Bernard Orr)