Voters in Puerto Rico head to the polls Sunday to decide whether to back a bid to make the U.S. territory the 51st state, at a time when the island is gripped by an economic crisis that is creating stiff challenges for such a proposal.
The nonbinding plebiscite in the island of 3.4 million people presents three options: statehood, independence or a continuation of its current status as a territory. Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, a member of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party, has made the push for statehood a centerpiece of his administration since assuming office in January.
“The people of Puerto Rico cherish our relationship with the United States,” said Jenniffer González, the island’s nonvoting member of Congress and a member of the pro-statehood party. “We hope to strengthen that relationship” by becoming the 51st state.
But the opposition Popular Democratic Party—which supports keeping the island’s current status, though with more autonomy—has urged voters to boycott the vote. It calls the referendum rigged in support of statehood, in part because the governing party had initially sought to exclude the territorial option from the ballot. The smaller Puerto Rican Independence Party has also called for a boycott.
Sunday’s vote will be the fifth plebiscite since 1967 on the island’s status, an issue that has divided Puerto Ricans for decades. Under the current status, Puerto Ricans are born U.S. citizens, but those living on the island can’t vote for president and have only one representative in Congress, a resident commissioner who cannot vote.
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