97% of Voters in Bankrupt Puerto Rico Want Statehood

Puerto Rico bailout (Kathy Willens / Associated Press)
Kathy Willens/Associated Press

The banner headline will read 97 percent of Puerto Rico voted for statehood, but only 23 percent of voters cast ballots on June 11 due to opposition boycotting.

Of the 2,458,036 registered voters in Puerto Rico, about 548,387, or 97 percent, of Puerto Ricans voted in a non-binding referendum for the territory to become America’s 51st state, while approximately 16,960, or 3 percent, were opposed, according to the Wall Street Journal review of early returns. Turnout was just 23 percent.

Governor Ricardo Rosselló and his legislature-majority New Progressive Party [Republican] held the referendum, despite filing on May 3 for the largest municipal bankruptcy in the history of the United States. The island and its state-owned utility ran out of cash and defaulted on its $73 billion of debt. After the filing, Breitbart News reported that Puerto Rico’s public pension plans have only $1.8 billion in assets to pay $45 billion in liabilities.

The New Progressive Party, referred to as PNP in Spanish, pushed the “yes” vote for statehood. President Barack Obama provided the $2.5 million in funding to hold the referendum. But with the PNP narrowly winning the governorship in 2016, the Republican Party’s GOTV (get-out-the-vote) operation funded social media and TV ads in favor of statehood.

Jennifer Gonzalez-Colón, Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner and only nonvoting member of Congress, is a strong advocate of statehood as a leader of the PNP. Just after taking office in January, she introduced statehood legislation into Congress, but found little interest in the idea that Puerto Rico would pick up two U.S. Senators.

Congressional Democrats with Puerto Rican heritage, including Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL) and Nydia Velázquez (D-NY, oppose statehood and urged the islanders to boycott the referendum, according to the Associated Press.

Puerto Rico currently suffers from a poverty rate of 45 percent and 12.4 percent unemployment. The Republicans blame the island’s 10-year depression on the confusing status of being a territory. But Democrats enjoy spending the $22 billion in federal subsidies that the territory receives.

Puerto Rico faces a huge battle against vulture capitalist hedge funds that have bought its defaulted bonds for as little as 25 percent of face value. The vultures claim that Puerto Rico can regain its solvency by raising taxes and firing tens of thousands public sector workers.

Bloomberg reported on Election Day that Puerto Rico and the vultures will soon face off next week in a New York federal bankruptcy court “over who owns cash collected by the government’s sales tax agency, known by its Spanish acronym Cofina.” The island claims that despite not making any bond payments, it needs the cash to avoid beginning to miss payroll and disability payments by around November 1. Investors claim their bonds should be paid first.


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