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Puerto Rico Votes For U.S. Statehood In Non-Binding Referendum


Yesterday Puerto Rico held a non-binding referendum on whether to become a U.S. state, and 97 percent of people voted yes. But fewer than 1 in 4 Puerto Ricans actually voted. Opposition parties boycotted it.

Carla Minet is executive director of The Center for Investigative Journalism in Puerto Rico. And considering the low turnout, I asked her, how do people in Puerto Rico really feel about statehood?

CARLA MINET: As you may know, Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States since 1898. We have an official non-incorporated territorial status. So Puerto Ricans have been in this dilemma for as long as we have lived. Yesterday was just the fifth time we've been consulted about this issue. And there are lots of analyses about what's happening in Puerto Rico.

SHAPIRO: Given the divide between the number of people voting who supported statehood and the small number of people who actually showed up to cast a vote, how do you think Puerto Ricans actually feel on the issue today?

MINET: We have a very special context. Puerto Rico has been facing such a great fiscal and economy crisis. We have a 72 billion debt. Schools have been closing in the past year. Health services are worse every day. So in this context, the plebiscites seemed like the last priority for lots of people, most of them thinking about if they will have a job next month or not. That definitely had an impact on participation.

SHAPIRO: Given that this is not a binding referendum - ultimately it's up to Congress whether Puerto Rico becomes a state or not, and Congress has not shown any desire to take that step - what does this actually do?

MINET: Well, it gives the actual administration, which is a pro-statehood administration, some talking points for their time in, you know, governing Puerto Rico. I don't think something's going to be happening in the next years or so.

SHAPIRO: What do supporters of statehood believe Puerto Rico would get that would help its economy that it doesn't have given the current status?

MINET: I think statehood voters have been thinking that more federal funding would come our way if we were to get to be a state - you know, lots of programs that are available for the states that are not for Puerto Rico and equality in terms of Medicaid and Medicare. Definitely those are the main things the pro-statehood people have projected to their voters.

SHAPIRO: Puerto Rico has been in such a deep economic crisis. Would statehood change that?

MINET: Well, there is a U.S. General Accounting Office story from 2014. It says that Puerto Rico faces economic and fiscal challenges that could potentially impact changes in federal spending and revenue of their own in Puerto Rico. So nobody knows really what would happen if this would go through.

SHAPIRO: The parties that do not support statehood boycotted the vote yesterday. Is there any way of knowing if a hundred percent of people had cast their vote how much support for statehood there actually would have been?

MINET: It's very difficult. Population has been changing in the last year because of migration to the U.S.

SHAPIRO: People moving away from Puerto Rico to the U.S. mainland because of the economic crisis.

MINET: Exactly. If there would have been a serious process where everybody had participated, we would have very different results, definitely.

SHAPIRO: Carla Minet is executive director of The Center for Investigative Journalism in Puerto Rico. Thank you for joining us.

MINET: Thank you.