Puerto Ricans to vote on U.S. territorial status
Puerto Ricans, long divided over the U.S. Caribbean territory's political status, head to the polls on Tuesday in a vote that will help determine whether the island seeks to become the 51st U.S. state.
Debate over the island's status has long dominated politics in Puerto Rico, where political parties are formed around the preference for statehood, independence or its current status as a self-governing commonwealth.
Puerto Ricans have voted to remain a U.S. territory in four previous votes held since 1967, but the margin of victory has decreased over the years.
The plebiscite was proposed by Republican Governor Luis Fortuno, president of the New Progressive Party, which supports statehood. It is alternately viewed by Puerto Ricans as an opportunity to improve the island's economic future, a chance to shake off the vestiges of its colonial past or a ploy by Fortuno to win a second term.
The vote coincides with gubernatorial and municipal elections. Supporters of the current status describe it as a bilateral pact that allows the island some autonomy while enjoying being a part of the United States. But critics say it means Puerto Rico is in effect a colony under the complete authority of the U.S. Congress.
Under its current commonwealth status, Puerto Ricans living on the island are U.S. citizens but they cannot vote in presidential elections and their only representation in Congress is a non-voting member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Most Puerto Ricans pay no federal income tax, but they contribute to the Social Security retirement program, are eligible to receive federal welfare benefits and have long served in the armed forces