Puerto Ricans say yes to US statehood

Posted at 11/08/12 2:44 AM

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Puerto Ricans voted for the first time in favor of their island becoming a US state in a non-binding referendum, election officials said Wednesday.

The Caribbean island is now a self-governing US territory. The referendum was held Tuesday along with the US presidential and congressional elections.

A total of 61 percent of voters said 'yes' to statehood, the local election commission said, citing a tally of 95.7 percent of the votes cast.

The referendum's main sponsor, Governor Luis Fortuno, failed to win re-election, however.

The United States seized the island in the Spanish-American War in 1898, and Puerto Rico eventually became a US possession.

People here gained US citizenship in 1917, but residents who vote in local elections cannot vote in the US presidential elections. They have a representative but no vote in the US Congress.

Turnout in the referendum on this island of 3.7 million people was 77 percent.

Voters were asked to choose between statehood, the status quo or independence. Returns showed more than 61 percent picking statehood, 33 percent the status quo and 5 percent independence.

Asked whether they were happy with the status quo, 53.9 percent said they were unhappy while 46 percent said they were satisfied.

In earlier referendums, in 1967, 1993 and 1998, Puerto Ricans voted in favor of the status quo in terms of their relationship to the US. The island has been a US commonwealth since 1952.

The defeated Fortuno is also a member of the Republican Party and had backed Mitt Romney, who lost to incumbent President Barack Obama on Tuesday.

During the primaries before his nomination as the Republican candidate, Romney promised that if he reached the White House he would do whatever he could for Washington to honor Puerto Ricans' wishes as to statehood, the status quo or even independence.

Obama has not stated his position on the three options.

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