Puerto Rico's governor Ricardo Rossello said Sunday that the island has sent a strong and clear message to U.S. Congress and the world, with the Caribbean island overwhelmingly choosing statehood in a non-binding referendum.
Becoming the 51st US state in any case depends on the US Congress, where there is little enthusiasm for the move.
Nearly half a million votes were cast for statehood, more than 7,600 for free association/independence and nearly 6,700 for independence. The participation rate was nearly 23 percent with roughly 2.26 million registered voters.
But many question the validity of the vote amid a low turnout and a boycott by several opposition parties.
Governor Rossello, a strong supporter of statehood, had beat the drum for the cause in Washington, where he found little support.
One reason is Puerto Rico's economic struggles: The island's liabilities of around 70 billion dollars are currently being restructured via a kind of bankruptcy proceeding.
An oversight commission has ordered painful budget cuts, but the island's government would prefer a combination of economic stimulus, cuts and structural reforms.
If Puerto Rico were a state, it could declare itself insolvent under US bankruptcy laws. That would render Washington at minimum partly responsible for Puerto Rico's debts.
Puerto Rico suffers from a bloated bureaucracy, high social spending, poor infrastructure and the migration of many of its youth.