Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló on Thursday demanded that the U.S. government recognize his commonwealth as the 51st state, citing the island’s overwhelming vote for statehood four days ago. He faces long odds. “The U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico have taken a stand and have pleaded a choice,” said Rossello, speaking in a small, half-empty room occupied by reporters and his own staff at the National Press Club in Washington. Yet while 97 percent of those who participated backed statehood in the June 11 vote, the nonbinding referendum was boycotted by opposition parties, who either support the current commonwealth status or independence. As a result, less than a quarter of eligible voters cast ballots. Héctor Ferrer, the head of the opposition Popular Democratic Party, called the referendum “a rigged process,” in an interview with POLITICO this month.
There is almost no chance Congress will approve legislation providing statehood for the commonwealth, which last month filed for what amounts to the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history and is in the middle of a crippling, decade-long recession.
“Political theater,” Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.), who is originally from Puerto Rico, said of the referendum. “It’s going nowhere. 23 percent of those eligible to vote cast their vote, there was a boycott … what it tells you is it was a flawed process, it was undemocratic, and so I didn’t support it.”
What is more, the U.S. Justice Department said last month it had not approved the ballot language. The referendum’s title, translated from Spanish, was, “A plebiscite for the immediate decolonization of Puerto Rico.” The law passed by the commonwealth to hold the vote also referred to its current territorial status as “colonial,” a loaded term on an island whose population often feels forgotten by the federal government.