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  • Students of the University of Puerto Rico protest as a meeting of the PROMESA board taking place at the Convention Center in San Juan.

    Students of the University of Puerto Rico protest as a meeting of the PROMESA board taking place at the Convention Center in San Juan. | Photo: Reuters

Published 18 April 2017

June will see the island's fifth vote on its territorial status with the United States. 

Puerto Rico’s Senate approved Tuesday a number of amendments that will set the foundation for the country’s upcoming referendum on its future relationship as a territory of the United States.

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After fierce debate, the Senate approved Bill 427 on the options for the referendum after midnight. It will now be sent to the House of Representatives and if passed will be presented to Governor Ricardo Rossello for his signature.

Rossello will then have to travel to Washington, D.C., to consult with the U.S. Department of Justice, after a requested that the island make the amendments over the options that will be given to Puerto Ricans in the referendum.

The dispute between Puerto Rico and the U.S. Department of Justice stems from the wording over the referendum and to give voters the option of choosing “statehood” or for independence/free association.

Under the amendments applied to the option of independence/free association, the phrase “under this option American citizenship would be subject to negotiation with the U.S. government” was removed.

Another amendment defined a third option of “current territorial status,” which would mean Puerto Rico would remain under the absolute powers of the U.S. Congress. Under their current status, Puerto Ricans currently do not have the right to vote in presidential elections.

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The first part of the referendum is set to take place on June 11, and if the majority of people vote for independence/free association, a second referendum on Oct. 8 to choose between the two options will then take place.

Puerto Rico has been a territory of the U.S. since 1898 when it seceded from the Spanish empire. So far there have been 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.

Unlike a state, Puerto Rico’s colonial status denies it the legal right to file for bankruptcy, which has crippled its ability to deal with its massive nearly US$73 billion debt, which has brought on harsh austerity measures on the island and pushed its medical system to the brink of collapse.

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