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  • A protester holding a Puerto Rico

    A protester holding a Puerto Rico's flag takes part in a march to improve health care benefits in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Nov. 5, 2015. | Photo: Reuters

Published 4 February 2017

The referendum will be the fifth vote in the island's history to change the dynamic of the current colonialist relationship with the U.S. 

Puerto Rico Friday approved a measure to hold another referendum to vote on becoming a state, set for June 11. It comes as the U.S. territory continues to struggle with the ongoing effects of colonialism and a major debt crisis.

Puerto Rico Passes ‘Emergency’ Law Regulating $70B Debt

Governor Ricardo Rossello approved the non-binding referendum and said that “Colonialism is not an option for Puerto Rico.”

The new referendum will ask voters for the option of statehood or for independence/free association. If the majority of people vote for independence/free association, a second referendum will take place in October to choose the country’s political status.

The island has so far had four referendums on its political status: in 1967, 1993, 1998 and 2012. In the last referendum, the majority of voters favored statehood, but the measure has not yet been approved by U.S. Congress, the final hurdle on the path to statehood.

Puerto Rico has been a territory of the U.S. since 1898 when it seceded from the Spanish empire. In recent years, the island has struggled with a US$70 billion government debt. Many Puerto Ricans who support statehood say that becoming the 51st U.S. state could help the island tackle the deficit.

Non-Aligned Movement Calls for Puerto Rican Independence

Unlike a state, Puerto Rico’s colonial status denies it the legal right to file for bankruptcy, which would allow the protection of public assets and pay for essential services. Puerto Ricans currently do not have the right to vote in presidential elections and have no voting powers in the U.S. Congress.

Since becoming president, Donald Trump has not spoken on the issue of Puerto Rican statehood. In his election campaign, he said that the will of the island’s people “should be considered” by U.S. Congress.

“Having a Republican House, a Republican Senate and a Republican president, there's no excuse for not carrying it out,” Rossello earlier said.

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