Who Owns Puerto Rico

In a referendum, the Puerto Ricans decided on their future status: The majority is in favor of Puerto Rico becoming a US state. We explain what's behind it.

San Juan - On Sunday the Puerto Ricans voted on the future status of the Caribbean island. 97.2 percent of the polls voted for admission by the US as a fully fledged state. A total of 23 percent of the 2.2 million eligible voters took part in the survey. However, the decision of the referendum is not binding. Only the US Congress can change the island's status.

It is the fifth plebiscite on Puerto Rico's future. The ruling New Progressive Party (PNP) called for the island to be accepted as a state in the USA. The opposition parties had called for a boycott of the vote.

The Special Territorial Status of Puerto Rico

As a US outer territory, Puerto Rico is not currently part of the United States of America. Its residents are US citizens, but they are not allowed to vote in the presidential election and their delegates in Congress in Washington do not have the right to vote. Puerto Rico came under the sovereignty of the United States in a US invasion in 1898. As a US outer territory, the island has had extensive autonomy rights since 1952. Critics speak of a colonial system.

"The United States has a moral obligation to admit Puerto Rico as a state," says the head of the Puerto Rican House of Representatives, Carlos Méndez Núñez. "It is ironic that a nation that defends freedom all over the world and even goes to war for it, holds over three million US citizens under colonial rule."

As a US state, Puerto Rico could apologize

Above all, the desire for admission is about the money. Puerto Rico is practically broke and could use Washington financial aid. In a kind of bankruptcy procedure, the liabilities of around 70 billion US dollars (64 billion euros) are currently being restructured. A control commission ordered painful incisions. The island government, on the other hand, announced a gentle renovation with a mixture of an economic stimulus package, cuts and structural reforms.

As a state, Puerto Rico could declare itself insolvent under US bankruptcy law, as did the city of Detroit, for example. Then Washington would have to be at least partially responsible for the debts from Puerto Rico. In the long term, however, a bailout of the Caribbean island will not help either. Puerto Rico suffers from a bloated state apparatus, high social spending, the emigration of many young people and poor infrastructure.

Washington is against the admission of Puerto Rico

"Puerto Rico is an island of US citizens without civil rights," says Governor Ricardo Rosselló. The head of government wants Puerto Rico to become the 51st state in the United States. In Washington he was already busy advertising, but the enthusiasm on Capitol Hill was limited.

The Republican majority in Congress is unlikely to have much interest in accepting the Caribbean island, as they fear that the majority of Puerto Ricans would vote democratically. US President Donald Trump has repeatedly made derogatory comments about Latinos and would probably be just as unsatisfied with the inclusion of Spanish-speaking Puerto Rico.

"If Puerto Rico ever has the chance to become a US state, it must first get its budget problems under control and create economic growth," says Ike Brannon of the conservative Cato Institute. “The latest draft budget does nothing to reform the economy. Rather, he will ensure that the island remains excluded from the capital markets for years to come. "

Puerto Ricans - Second Class US Citizens?

The actor Benicio del Toro, the singer Ricky Martin and the tennis player Mónica Puig are from Puerto Rico. US federal judge Sonia Sotomayor and pop diva Jennifer Lopez have Puerto Rican ancestors. Numerous Puerto Ricans are fighting in the US armed forces. Nevertheless, the islanders feel like second-class citizens.

dpa / vf

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