Puerto Rico’s governor on Monday said the island’s vote in favor of becoming a U.S. state, despite low voter turnout and widespread boycotts, was “a fair and open” process that U.S. Congress should act upon. An island-wide referendum on Sunday favored statehood in a 97 percent landslide, though voter turnout reached just 23 percent as opponents of Governor Ricardo Rossello’s push to become a state boycotted the vote. The non-binding plebiscite is not expected to sway the U.S. Congress, which would have to agree to make Puerto Rico a state. Currently a U.S. territory, the island is struggling with $70 billion in debt and a 45 percent poverty rate, and is not viewed as a priority in Washington.
Rossello, who campaigned on a push for statehood, said in a telephone interview with Reuters that he will go to the U.S. capital this week to urge federal lawmakers to begin the process of admitting Puerto Rico into the union. “We will make sure this becomes an issue,” Rossello said.
The vote comes at a critical time for Puerto Rico, whose hazy status – which dates to its 1898 acquisition by the United States from Spain – has contributed to its ongoing economic crisis.
Last month, the island filed the biggest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. Its woes make statehood even more urgent, Rossello said. “Statehood brings stability, allows us to have fewer rule-changes from Congress, provides resources to our people,” he said.