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Puerto Rico’s new gov promises immediate push for statehood

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Pro-statehood supporters awaited the arrival of Puerto Rico’s new governor at the seaside Capitol in San Juan, Puerto Rico today. Ricardo Rossello was sworn in today as the U.S. territory prepares for what many believe will be new austerity measures and a renewed push for statehood to haul the island out of a deep economic crisis.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico >> Puerto Rico’s new governor was sworn in today, 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., today to back a bill to admit Puerto Rico as the 51st state.

He also said he would soon hold elections to choose two senators and five representatives to Congress and send them to Washington to demand statehood, a strategy used by Tennessee to join the union in the 18th century. The U.S. government has final say on whether Puerto Rico can become a state.

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.

“Puerto Rico’s recovery begins today,” he said.

Rossello announced that he has already signed several executive orders, including one to promote bilingual education and others ordering agencies to reduce their budgets and contracts for professional services by 10 percent.

He also seeks to privatize services such as the generation of energy, establish an office to oversee and distribute federal funds to cut down on corruption, and to create financial incentives for doctors to boost the number of dwindling specialists. In addition, Rossello pledged to provide female government employees with the same pay as their male counterparts.

Thousands of supporters cheered as they clutched umbrellas to protect themselves from a searing sun.

“This is a historic moment for Puerto Rico,” said 50-year-old Jose Davila as he waved a large flag from Rossello’s pro-statehood party. “He’s the hope of our island, he’s the hope for statehood, he’s the hope for a people that have suffered.”

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.

The federal control board has requested a revised fiscal plan that has to be approved by end of January, saying that the one Garcia submitted last year was in part unrealistic and relied too heavily on federal funds. Garcia had refused to submit a revised plan to include austerity measures. Rossello has said he would request an extension of that deadline as well as an extension of a moratorium that expires in February and currently protects Puerto Rico from lawsuits filed by angered creditors.

As supporters streamed early today toward the Capitol building, one yelled out, “Today, a new Puerto Rico begins!” to the cheers of others, including those holding U.S. flags.

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  • Hawaii and Hawaiians voted overwhelmingly for statehood in 1959 while Kamehameha III had begged for statehood as early as the 1850’s. Clearly, Purto Rico sees the same advantages as Hawaiians did and do. Lots of free market reform and anti-corruption measures needed to reform Puerto Rico first, though.

      • Allie should give it a rest for 2017. She like her consorts are laughable. They lost all credibility by supporting the biggest liar to ever run for POTUS. It is utterly amazing that they have the unmitigated audacity to be commenting about anything. Yet, no, they keep spewing total nonsense.
        At least ikefromeli has shown class.

    • Most of the states have been in financial problems at one time – including the 13 original colonies. The feds – recall Alexander Hamilton – bailed them out because it had the power of the Federal reserve banks and could assume their debts.

      Globalization doomed PR, not anything that they could have avoided as a state.Globalization just makes it harder for manufacturing to compete. PR just failed to innovate to keep their manufacturing. Hopefully they’ll learn their lesson this time.

      Although they speak Spanish, most of their sons and daughters migrate to the mainland so they feel a strong union with the US. Don’t think that language should be an impediment to their membership of the states of the US. Most of them are more bilingual than Filipinos, and I thought at one time, that the Philippines would be the next state.

        • No, you are actually the uninformed one (stupid is so pejorative). Read your history before you let your mouth move or your fingers type. Statehood for the Philippines was a real possibility before the US granted them independence from us. Many Filipinos wanted to be the 51st state. They fought for us in WWII with many actually in the the US Army. Many were granted US citizenship after the war. It was a long shot at best, much of it to do with racist attitudes in the US (we’d never suddenly take on 30 million asians, the population at the time) and certainly the economic issues of having a State 7500 miles from our west coast made it logistically almost impossible. So next time you use the word “stupid”, maybe you should look in the mirror and troll elsewhere. Don’t bother responding. I never relook at the comments section. And I can assure you, most sensible people, whether the comment or not, will agree with my comment, not yours.

    • If Hawaii didn’t become a state we all would probably be speaking with a British accent with tea shops on every corner instead of Starbucks. UH would have a Rugby and a Cricket team instead of football and baseball and Fish and Chips would take over McD’s.

    • Seriously, both houses would reject the proposal because the territory operates more like a third-world country than a state and is on the verge of financial collapse. Admitting it into the union would create a serious burden on taxpayers. Why buy the cow when they’re getting the milk for free? Hawaii’s acceptance into the union had little to do with the voting public and everything to do with its strategic importance. It was orchestrated and a done deal just like the overthrow of the monarchy.

  • Puerto Rico statehood would be a dream come true for liberal’s. It would bring into the USA a state with the highest unemployment rate, the highest poverty rate, the highest percentage of people on welfare, a population which speaks primarily Spanish and a government dependent entirely on the Federal government. What I described is the perfect recipe for making Democrats. There is no way Puerto Rico will become a state as long as common sense Republicans control Congress, which hopefully will be for a very long time.

  • NOOOOO! looking for a bail-out, the U S can do without their baggage. too much corruption, crime and not enough jobs, we have that, why ask for more of the same? their problems are endless, past time to cut the umbilical cord.

  • I don’t know about Puerto Rico’s cost of living. If the cost of living is high as Hawaii. Will they be our doppelgänger state with the same problems of the homeless?

    • New words – doppelgänger. German word for look alike or twin. Now back to your comment. No, Puerto Rico is an improverished territory with no foreseeable hope of recovery. Tourism seems to be the only asset that it has. At least Hawaii has the economy to grudgingly support our homeless whereas PR has not. For most of it’s citizens, close by Southern Florida would seem like paradise.

  • After almost 120 years, isn’t it time the US divested itself of the remnants of its 19th century colonial empire? Do we really need to be the post-colonial overlords of Puerto Rico, Guam, and American Samoa?

  • I think that PR has finally realized that they benefit more from statehood than as a commonwealth. But they have learned the hard way.

    It takes a bankruptcy to make them see the light.

  • The US should cut its losses by unilaterally declaring Puerto Rico an independent country. Do it immediately, be the first country to recognize PR’s independence, and then let PR turn to the UN for its financial support if it can’t support itself.

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