In a non-binding referendum with only 23 percent turnout, 97 percent of Puerto Rico voters opted for statehood Sunday. Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares announced the results [press release, in Spanish] Sunday and said he will communicate the results with the US Congress. The other options, independence and free association received 1.5 percent of the votes, and the current territorial status received 1.3 percent. Rosselló Nevares said:
Today Puerto Ricans are sending a strong and clear message to the world, claiming equal rights as American citizens. It is now up to us to bring those results to Washington with the force of a democratic exercise, supervised by a National and International Observer Mission, which has validated the process as properly organized, just and democratic. This Mission will be reporting to Congress and the Federal Government on this historic election.
Congress is the only body that can approve the new status for Puerto Rico.
For several years, Puerto Rico has been facing a severe financial, economic and social crisis. The territory has been suffering from a massive recession [BBC report] since 2006. The island filed for bankruptcy [JURIST report] in May. The filing came under Article 3 of PROMESA [text, PDF], a special law passed last year to allow Puerto Rico to manage its significant debt. In January the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled [JURIST report] that a case brought by bondholders of Puerto Rico’s Employee Retirement System could proceed. Also in January a UN independent expert warned that increasing austerity measures to the American territory could threaten residents’ human rights [JURIST report].