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Puerto Ricans voters back statehood in questioned referendum

Puerto Rico has effectively been in a state of bankruptcy following a decade of depression.But political reasons are the least of the island’s concerns going into the referendum.Meantime, right after the credit rating agencies reduced the island’s bonds to junk status, vulture funds swooped in to buy up numerous island’s heavily discounted bonds, hoping/thinking/planning/expecting to reap a windfall when the US taxpayers finally bailed out the island and paid off the bonds at face value.At present it owes more than $122 billion in bonds and unfunded pension liabilities, twice the island’s total economic output in a year. Congress has to make that decision.”It would be highly contradictory for Washington to demand democracy in other parts of the world, and not respond to the legitimate right to self-determination that was exercised today in the American territory of Puerto Rico”.For Puerto Ricans, Sunday was a day of celebration and contention. Home values are plunging.Students at the University of Puerto Rico, for example, have led a two-month-long strike against a proposed US$450 million education budget cut. The island’s economy is shrinking, its finances are a shambles, and since 2007, it has lost 20 percent of its jobs and 10 percent of its population. Many of those who are leaving are the best educated workers who can easily get jobs in Texas, Florida or NY.Sunday’s landslide vote in Puerto Rico to determine statehood and perhaps add the 51st star to the American flag, was nearly ignored by news media, until the last minute, because of all the political controversies emanating from Washington. The island is now under the thumb of a Fiscal Oversight Board installed by Congress.How would everyday life change if the island became a USA state? Thousands of Puerto Ricans serve in the USA military but can not vote for their commander in chief.On May 24, representatives of the Board of Students met with members of the Financial Control Board to present a plan to negotiate debt and build a possible consensus for an open and democratic university, which will be able to continue as the top rated public institution on the island. Still, the fate of the University of Puerto Rico is not clear.Lopez Rivera said last week he wouldn’t accept the National Freedom Hero title, which organizers at first granted him, but would join the parade as a regular citizen, partly because the focus was too much on him and not enough on Puerto Rico’s plight.Four previous plebiscites, or popular votes, have been held to decide the commonwealth’s status in relation to the United States, with a majority of voters for the first time choosing statehood in 2012.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. The island filed for bankruptcy earlier this year. There will have to be a resolution between creditors and the island to pay back most, if not all, of the debt. But with the PNP narrowly winning the governorship in 2016, the Republican Party’s GOTV (get-out-the-vote) operation funded social media and TV ads in favor of statehood.