Puerto Rico votes to become 51st state of America

It means Puerto Ricans have U.S. citizenship, but can't vote in presidential elections and have just one congressional representative, who has limited voting powers.

An official count of votes for Puerto Rico's plebiscite on Sunday showed overwhelming support for USA statehood, although adding another star to the US flag would likely face an uphill battle in Congress. Congress has final say on any changes to the territory's political status. "And that message is that we Puerto Ricans not only want our USA citizenship, but we want equal treatment".

But experts say it is highly unlikely a Republican-controlled Congress would acknowledge Sunday's results, let alone accept them because Puerto Rico tends to favor Democrats. On the other hand, independence and free association received 1.5% of the vote, while the current territorial status gained just 1.3%.

The 38-year-old governor accused opposition parties of undercutting the validity of the vote, having come to power in January on the promise that he would make the island territory the 51st U.S. state.

More than half a million people voted for statehood during Sunday's referendum, followed by almost 7,800 votes for free association/independence and more than 6,800 votes for the current territorial status.

Puerto Rico's governor Ricardo Rossello (R) and the Commissioner Resident in Washington Jennifer Gonzalez (L) celebrate the plebiscite's result at the headquarters of the New Progressive Party in San Juan, Puerto Rico, 11 June 2017.

Schatz argues that statehood would help Puerto Rico in its attempt to face down its debt crisis.

"We're American citizens, but second class citizens".

"It was a good turnout, but at the end of the day it is those who show up at the polls who decide", he said.

In a statement, the governor said that he would travel to the U.S. capital to speak with Congress, the White House, and other agencies regarding the referendum results.

"I think it is really rather unlikely that Puerto Rico will become the 51st state in a xenophobic administration like the one that we have in the USA at the moment".

About 1.3 million Puerto Ricans cast ballots in the last referendum in 2012, which also saw a majority support for statehood. They do not pay many federal taxes but receive far less support for social programs like Medicaid.

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

Puerto Rico is not an independent country and has been a U.S. territory since 1898 after the country acquired the island from Spain following the Spanish-American War.

The issue has struck a chord in Manhattan, where New Yorkers from Puerto Rico weighed in.

An unincorporated United States territory, under American control since 1898, Puerto Rico lacks sovereign powers - an urgent problem at a time when it faces a public debt of $73 billion and its economy has dragged through a century of stagnation.

Puerto Rico held a referendum on whether the U.S. Territory should apply for statehood.

Thousands of Puerto Ricans already cast their vote earlier this week in the newest referendum, including inmates and those who are hospitalized.

About 5.4 million Puerto Ricans live on the US mainland, a number that is growing because of an exodus of people who can not find jobs or continue school on the depressed island. "Puerto Ricans think of themselves as Americans, but most Americans don't recognize them as citizens".

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.

Options on Puerto Rico's referendum included remaining a commonwealth, becoming a state or entering free association/independence. Federal officials in April rejected the original version, in part because it did not offer the territory's current status as an option.

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