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Puerto Rico vote raises hopes, but few expectations, for statehood

By Eloisa Ruano Gonzalez, Orlando Sentinel –

ORLANDO, Fla.—Anthony Suarez is thrilled that Puerto Rican voters Tuesday overwhelmingly supported becoming a U.S. state.

At the same time, the Orlando attorney said, nothing will become of the vote unless Congress supports the effort.

Residents made it clear they wanted to join the union after casting 61 percent of the votes for statehood in the non-binding ballot measure.

Suarez said it’s now up to the 4.9 million Puerto Ricans living on the mainland, who weren’t able to vote in the plebiscite despite strong ties to the island, to push their congressmen for statehood.

“If 100 percent of Puerto Rico wanted statehood, they can’t have it,” said Suarez, who’s of Puerto Rican descent. “It requires congressional approval.”

Suarez, who hosts an Orlando radio talk show, said attitudes have shifted toward statehood as more people on the island have become immersed in U.S. politics and culture and want to vote in national elections. Under its current commonwealth status, the 3.5 million people on the island are considered U.S. citizens but cannot vote for president. They also don’t have voting representation in Congress. Statehood would grant them those rights.

It was the first time voters on the island clearly favored becoming a state, although politicians have long pushed for it. Statehood failed in plebiscites in 1967, 1991, 1993 and 1998.

Alan Grayson, who was elected Tuesday to represent the newly drawn 9th Congressional District that includes a substantial Puerto Rican population, said he was pleased Puerto Ricans got the chance to voice their preference at the polls.

“This vote for self-determination is actually a vote I fought for in Congress,” said Grayson, noting he collaborated with Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, the island’s delegate to Congress, on the issue during his 2009-11 term. “Now that the people of Puerto Rico have spoken, it’s my job to make sure their desires are respected,” Grayson said.

Longwood City Commissioner Bob Cortes, who still has family living on the island, doubts anything will come of the referendum. While voters strongly supported statehood, he said, they ousted members of the pro-statehood party. Gov. Luis Fortuno lost his bid for re-election to Alejandro Garcia Padilla, a member of the Popular Democratic Party, which supports Puerto Rico’s current commonwealth status.

“Honestly, I don’t see this going anywhere,” he said.

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