Statehood vote gets mixed reaction from Puerto Ricans in Tampa Bay

Over the weekend, Puerto Rican voters backed statehood in a controversial referendum

FILE - In this July 29, 2015 file photo, the Puerto Rican flag flies in front of Puerto Rico's Capitol as in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico's governor is pushing ahead with his top campaign promise of trying to convert the U.S. territory into a state, holding a Sunday June 11, 2017, referendum to let voters send a message to Congress. (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo, File)

SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – The United States may soon be adding another star to its flag.

Puerto Rico has voted to become a full-fledged U.S. state, but some Puerto Ricans, both in Puerto Rico and here in the Bay area, are questioning whether this is a good idea. Only 23% of eligible voters showed up, one of the worst turnouts in 50 years.

The U.S. territory continues to battle crippling debt—$73 billion to be exact. Residents pay high food prices, the population is shrinking and the employment rate is at 12 percent.

The deep economic crisis has fueled an exodus of islanders to the United States. The hope is that statehood can boost the island’s economy.

Elizabeth Cuevas-Neunder, the CEO of the Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce of Florida, sees a better quality of life in statehood.

“They want the corruption to stop, they want the manipulation to stop, they want the illegal infiltration, we have a serious problem with identity theft in Puerto Rico,” said Cuevas-Neunder.

Cuevas-Neunder works to support local Puerto Rican business owners and Puerto Rican products, and says the population of Puerto Ricans in Florida surpasses Cubans and Mexicans.

Rigo Rivera has friends back home who don’t want Puerto Rico to become a state.

“They love to have their Miss Universe, they love to be able to go to the Olympics and have their own flag so that spirit of nationalism is very strong. They’re afraid they’re going to lose that by becoming a state,” said Rivera.

He feels the referendum should have been held during a general election.

“I want to see unity, I want to see the country united under one concept, one idea,” said Rivera.

He also feels the country should be more focused on fixing its financial problems first. But despite any differences in opinion, most agree that Puerto Rico is a beautiful territory that has much to offer, whether it becomes a state or not.

“Everyone who has left the island feels very attached to it for all the beauty it offers,” said Cuevas-Neunder.

The resolution was non-binding, so ultimately it will be up Congress to approve statehood. The governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosselló will assemble a commission to urge Congress to validate the results. In 2012, Puerto Ricans approved statehood, but Congress never took up the issue.

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