Puerto Rico’s governor announced the US territory has overwhelmingly chosen statehood in a non-binding referendum on Sunday held amid a deep economic crisis that has sparked an exodus of islanders to the US mainland.
“From today going forward, the federal government will no longer be able to ignore the voice of the majority of the American citizens in Puerto Rico,” Governor Ricardo Rossello said, announcing the victory.
“It would be highly contradictory for Washington to demand democracy in other parts of the world, and not respond to the legitimate right to self-determination that was exercised today in the American territory of Puerto Rico.”
US Congress, however, has final say in any changes to the island’s political status.
Nearly half a million votes were cast for statehood, more than 7,600 for free association/independence, and nearly 6,700 for the current territorial status.
The participation rate was just 23 percent with roughly 2.26 million registered voters, leading opponents to question the validity of a vote that several parties had boycotted.
It was the lowest level of participation in any election in Puerto Rico since 1967, according to Carlos Vargas Ramos, an associate with the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College in New York.
Puerto Rico’s main opposition party rejected the pro-statehood result.
“The scant participation … sends a clear message,” said Anibal Jose Torres, a party member. “The people rejected it by boycotting an inconsequential event.”
Rossello, however, vowed to push ahead with his administration’s quest for statehood, which was his top campaign promise.
“In any democracy, the expressed will of the majority that participates in the electoral processes always prevails,” he said. “Puerto Rico voted for statehood.”
Among those hoping Puerto Rico will become a state is Jose Alvarez, a 61-year-old businessman.
“Now is the moment to do it,” he said. “We’ve spent a lot of years working on a socioeconomic model that has not necessarily given us the answer.”
Many believe the island’s territorial status has contributed to its 10-year economic recession, which has prompted nearly half a million Puerto Ricans to flee to the US mainland, and was largely sparked by decades of heavy borrowing and the elimination of federal tax incentives.
Maria Quinones, 66, said she voted for the first time in such a referendum, the fifth on Puerto Rico’s status.
“We have to vote because things are not going well,” she said. “If we were a state, we would have the same rights.”
Source: AP news agency
Tens of Thousands Rally in Barcelona for Catalan Independence
Tens of thousands of demonstrators including Pep Guardiola, the revered former manager of Barcelona’s soccer club, rallied in the city Sunday to support the Catalonia independence referendum to take place Oct. 1.
“We will vote, even if the Spanish state doesn’t want it,” Guardiola told the crowd speaking in Catalan, Spanish and English. “There is no other way; the only possible response is to vote,” he added.
Carles Puigdemont, leader of Catalonia’s regional government, defied Madrid Friday by setting a date for a binding vote even though the referendum has been ruled illegal by Spain’s Constitutional Court. As Puigdemont looked on, Guardiola also called for the international community’s support against “the abuses of an authoritarian state.”
Puigdemont said that people will be asked to vote on the question: “Do you want Catalonia to be an independent state in the form of a republic?” If a majority votes “Yes,” the region’s pro-independence government has said it will immediately start proceedings to separate from Spain.
But the Spanish government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has vowed to be as tough this time around as it was in the 2014 vote called by Catalonia’s regional President Arturo Mas, which was also outlawed by the national constitutional court. Mas was later put on trial and banned from holding office for two years.
In February, the court ruled against the latest planned referendum and warned Catalan leaders they would face repercussions if they continued with their project. Spain has a variety of measures available to halt Catalonia’s vote, including suspending Puigdemont for disobedience and even taking control of the regional government.
In a bid to circumvent such action, the regional government has drafted a law seeking to extract Catalonia from Spain’s legal system. It is expected to present the bill in the next few weeks to the regional parliament, where pro-independence lawmakers have an absolute majority. But this too will probably be suspended by the constitutional court.
The latest regional government poll found that 73 percent of Catalans were in favor of holding a referendum similar to the one held by Scotland in 2014 — though that one had the approval of the British government. But the same poll found that 48.5 percent of respondents opposed independence, with 44.3 percent in favor.
In 2014, Catalonia held a non-binding vote in which more than 80 percent of those who cast a ballot chose independence, though just 2.3 million out of 6.3 million eligible voters took part.
Catalonia, a wealthy region of 7.5 million people in northeast Spain, is fiercely proud of its language and customs and has long demanded greater autonomy from Madrid.