Sunday, 25 June, 2017

Puerto Rican Day parade draws thousands despite controversy

Darrell Mcdonald | 12 June, 2017, 15:50

Puerto Rico's referendum on statehood delivered a lackluster turnout Sunday, with nearly four fifths of voters deciding not to cast a ballot, though those who did unanimously backed the territory becoming a USA state.

And the U.S. Congress has final say in any changes to Puerto Rico's political status.

In 2012, the last time statehood was put up to a vote and won, Congress did not take action to make it the 51st state.

"Puerto Rico voted for statehood", said Gov. Pedro Rossello.

Despite the low level of participation, Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rossello vowed, after casting his vote for full annexation by the United States, to defend internationally the result.

Puerto Rico's former governor, Rafael Hernandez Colon, said in a statement: "A contrived plebiscite fabricated an artificial majority for statehood by disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of Commonwealth supporters".

Puerto Rican governor Ricardo Rossello claimed victory, even though opposition leaders boycotted the ballot.

While many danced the salsa and cheered the procession, a small portion of the crowd booed the appearance Oscar Lopez Rivera, a political activist, who spent 35 years in prison for his involvement with the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN), a group that has for decades struggled for independence of the island nation.

The restructuring of Puerto Rico's roughly $70 billion in outstanding debt would be the largest in the history of the US municipal bond market and will set the stage for a lengthy legal battle between the island and its creditors, which include multiple hedge funds and mutual funds, as they face off in court where a federally appointed judge could force creditors to accept unfavorable repayment terms. But if they obtained statehood, Puerto Ricans living on the island would for the first time be able to vote in US presidential elections, and would elect lawmakers with the right to vote in the US Congress.

Almost half a million votes were cast for statehood, about 7,600 for free association/independence and almost 6,700 for the current territorial status, according to preliminary results. But even statehood supporters came out in lower than expected numbers.

About 1.3 million Puerto Ricans cast ballots in the last referendum in 2012, which also saw a majority support for statehood.

The parade has often been a venue to showcase the complicated history of the USA territory, now mired in a recession.

Votes were still being counted and the expected outcome is unlikely to change Puerto Rico's label as a U.S. territory, a move that would require an act of the U.S. Congress.

A woman exits the voting booth in San Juan during Puerto Rico's non-binding referendum Sunday.

Puerto Ricans head to polls Sunday with one question in mind: Should the US territory seek to become the country's 51st state?

But the so-called "Caribbean Greece" found easy relief in USA municipal bond markets, where investors could get attractive tax-exempt bonds that provided ready cash but sank the island deeper into debt. The board recommended, among many measures, to cut US$300 million to $500 million from the Puerto Rican state government budget.

A spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department told The Associated Press that the agency has not reviewed or approved the ballot's language. Federal officials in April rejected the original version, in part because it did not offer the territory's current status as an option.

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