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US approves funds for referendum on Puerto Rico's status

Posted on Jan 17 2014 | IANS

San Juan, Jan 17 : The US House of Representatives' approval of a budgetary line item to provide funding for a referendum supervised by Washington on Puerto Rico's status is considered historic by pro-statehood parties here.

Puerto Rico's representative in Washington and the head of the main opposition PNP, Pedro Pierluisi, said Thursday that this is "an unprecedented act".

Pierluisi, whose party is in favour of making Puerto Rico the 51st state, said that late Wednesday evening the House approved the allocation of USD 2.5 million to organise the referendum.

The funding has no deadline or time limit and is subject to the requirement that the funds also be used to inform and educate the Puerto Rican public about the different options among which they will be allowed to choose.

It is expected that the Senate will approve the budget bill sometime later this week.

The referendum will consult Puerto Ricans about their opinions on the island's relationship with Washington and will be conditional upon the federal Justice Department giving its approval, so that it can be guaranteed that the phrasing of the questions adheres to the constitution.

The US invaded Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War.

Island residents were granted US citizenship in 1917 but they cannot vote in presidential elections, though Puerto Ricans living in the continental US can.

Since 1952, the island has been a Free Associated State of the US, an unincorporated territory with broad internal autonomy.

Fifty-four percent of Puerto Rican voters supported a change in status in a non-binding referendum coinciding with the November 2012 gubernatorial election.

The ballot consisted of two questions.

Sixty-one percent of those who answered the second question favoured statehood over the other two choices: enhanced commonwealth status - the PPD's proposal - or independence.

But more than 460,000 Puerto Ricans who voted on the first status question did not respond to the second question.

Pierluisi is of the opinion that the only possible options for Puerto Rico's future status are US statehood or independence.

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