7 Nov 2012

Referendum in Puerto Rico

5:14 pm on 7 November 2012

Citizens of Puerto Rico are voting on Tuesday in a referendum on the future of their island.

Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States, and voters are to decide if they want to be a state instead, or even whether they want to become fully independent.

The first question in the referendum asks voters whether they want to keep the island's current status.

The second asks whether they would prefer independence, US statehood, or an option known as "sovereign free association" with the United States that would grant the island more autonomy.

This will be the fourth such vote in 45 years. The others failed.

But this time, the BBC says the economic situation on the island could be a deciding factor. The recession has been long and hard in Puerto Rico, which last year had a debt of $US68 billion.

Unemployment is more than 13%.

Puerto Rico's population is nearly four million and an estimated 4.7 million Hispanics of Puerto Rican descent live in the United States. The territory's status has not changed since 1952.

Puerto Rico is self-governing at a local level. The referendum is non-binding, so even if the overall vote is in favour of statehood, the decision lies with the US Congress.