Puerto Rico’s New Gov Promises Immediate Push for Statehood

Danica Coto, AP, January 2, 2017

Puerto Rico’s new governor was sworn in Monday, promising an immediate push for statehood in a territory facing a deep economic crisis.

Gov. Ricardo Rossello, 37, proposed several measures aimed at alleviating the crisis shortly after he was sworn in at midnight. Among them is a proposal to hold a referendum that would ask voters whether they prefer statehood or independence. Many have argued that Puerto Rico’s political status has contributed to its decade-long crisis that has prompted more than 200,000 people to flee to the U.S. mainland in recent years.

“The United States cannot pretend to be a model of democracy for the world while it discriminates against 3.5 million of its citizens in Puerto Rico, depriving them of their right to political, social and economic equality under the U.S. flag,” Rossello said in his inaugural speech, delivered in Spanish. “There is no way to overcome Puerto Rico’s crisis given its colonial condition.”

The crowd rose to its feet and cheered as Rossello announced that he would fly to Washington, D.C., Monday to back a bill to admit Puerto Rico as the 51st state.

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Rossello said he also aims to boost public-private partnerships and use that revenue to save a retirement system that faces a $40 billion deficit and is expected to collapse in less than a year. He pledged to work closely with a federal control board that U.S. Congress created last year to oversee Puerto Rico’s finances, and he has said he supports negotiations with creditors to help restructure a public debt of nearly $70 billion.

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Puerto Ricans have been hit with dozens of new taxes in the past four years and increases in utility bills as former Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla aimed to generate more revenue for a government he said was running out of money. Despite those and other measures, the island’s government has defaulted on millions of dollars’ worth of bond payments and declared a state of emergency at several agencies.

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