Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló on Feb. 3 approved a law (PDF) calling for a non-binding referendum on statehood for the US territory. The referendum, to be held in June, will allow the voters to choose between statehood, independence or "free association." Those in support of statehood believe it could help Puerto Rico restructure its $70 billion in public debt and stave off further federal austerity measures. If approved, statehood would allow Puerto Rico to receive $10 billion in federal funds per year, as well as allowing government agencies and municipalities to file for bankruptcy. Rosselló called the vote "a civil rights issue" and said the US will have to "respond to the demands of 3.5 million citizens seeking an absolute democracy." Puerto Rico's citizenry is currently denied many of the benefits of citizens of US states, including equal access to Social Security and Medicare, despite paying taxes for these services. In addition, Puerto Rico's representative in Congress, Jenniffer González, is only allowed to vote in House committees in which she is a member.
For several years, Puerto Rico has been facing a severe financial, economic and social crisis. The territory has been suffering from a massive recession since 2006. Currently, the island is no longer able to service its public debt of around $71.5 billion. The Puerto Rican legislature passed a bill in April that would allow the island territory to enter into a state of fiscal emergency and begin the negotiation process toward a one-year debt moratorium. However, the Puerto Rico Electronic Power Authority, a major player in the economic crisis, reached a deal to restructure its debt in December. This deal is the first of many restructuring plans to alleviate the government's debt. Last February the Puerto Rico Legislature passed a bill that would restructure the island's debt, which was then estimated to be $9 billion.
From Jurist, Feb. 4. Used with permission.