Puerto Rican voters back statehood in questioned referendum

Lopez Rivera's supporters, including "Hamilton" playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda and other celebrities, view him as a symbol of Puerto Rican nationalism and the campaign to end what they see as the colonial status of the US territory, acquired by the United States after the Spanish-American War.

Puerto Rico Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz vowed to push for statehood anyway.

Ricardo Rossello says the island has sent a strong and clear message to US Congress and the world.

Rossello will ask Congress to respect the result, but Puerto Rico is seen as a low priority in Washington.

Few expect current USA lawmakers to be very enthusiastic about eventual statehood for Puerto Rico.

However, the results of these referendums were hardly reliable due to fact that most results favor whichever party was in power.

Many believe the island's territorial status has contributed to its economic crisis, largely caused by decades of heavy borrowing and the elimination of federal tax incentives.

If Puerto Rico were a state, it could declare itself insolvent under USA bankruptcy laws. 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.

According to preliminary results, nearly half a million votes were cast for statehood, with just 7600 for independence and 6700 to stay the same.

Of those who voted, some 97% chose statehood, according to early results released Sunday night.

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

Puerto Ricans have been USA citizens since 1917.

Only 23 percent of the 2,260,804 registered Puerto Rican voters participated.

It also gets U.S. military protection and receives federal funding from the government for highways and social programs, just not as much as official states receive.

The referendum, the territory's fifth in 50 years, offered voters three choices: statehood, independence, or a continuation of the current territorial status.

"We have been a colony for 500 years, and we have had USA citizenship for 100 years, but it's been a second class one", Rossello said.

Sunday's referendum is the fifth one for Puerto Rico. Those who remain behind have been hit with new taxes and higher utility bills on an island where food is 22 percent more expensive than the USA mainland and public services are 64 percent more expensive. New York City Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the nation's largest police union, called for a boycott of the annual celebration by Americans with roots on the Caribbean island, home to 3.5 million residents.

A spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department told The Associated Press that the agency has not reviewed or approved the ballot's revised language. Take the last two referendums in 1998 and in 2012 for example.

The current territorial status option received 6,821 votes, or 1.32 percent. Sixty-one percent who answered a second question said they favored statehood, but almost half a million voters left that question blank, leading many to claim the results weren't legitimate.

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