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The potential of Puerto Rico

Puerto Ricans are receiving another chance to vote on statehood after the territory’s governor Ricardo Rossello approved a non-binding referendum to determine the U.S. territory’s political future. The referendum will allow for a direct vote from all members of the electorate on the issue.

The referendum will be held on June 11, giving voters the option to vote for statehood or independent association. Although this is not the first referendum surrounding the issue, it is the first to bar the option to remain a commonwealth.

In addition, the referendum has the potential to help the island overcome a decade-long economic crisis as it struggles to restructure nearly $70 billion in public debt. The territory has been in a lasting recession since 2006, and has passed more than one bill to try to bring stability to its financial crisis.

Should the U.S. approve Puerto Rico as the 51st state, the island would be eligible to receive an extra $10 billion in federal funds annually.

Supporters say that statehood would also grant greater equality to Puerto Rico. With its current system, inhabitants are considered U.S. citizens, but are not allowed to vote in presidential elections and have limited influence in congressional matters. It would also allow for more secure Medicare and social security benefits.

“[It’s] a civil rights issue, the time will come in which the United States has to respond to the demands of 3.5 million citizens seeking an absolute democracy,” said Rossello in February.

Should the majority vote for the latter, there will be another vote on Oct. 8 to decide between independence and free association. Free association would allow Puerto Rico to exercise some U.S. sovereign powers on the condition that neither nation will terminate the association.

While the results of the vote do not bind Congress to take action, statehood or nationhood decisions are necessary for Puerto Ricans in order to achieve equal voting and representation in the U.S.