New governor of Puerto Rico promises immediate push to become 51st state

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Puerto Rico’s new governor has been sworn in as the U.S. territory prepares for what many believe will be new austerity measures and a renewed push for statehood to haul the island out of a deep economic crisis.

Ricardo Rossello was sworn in Monday and proposed several measures aimed at alleviating the crisis. Among them is a proposal to hold a referendum that would ask voters whether they prefer statehood or independence.

“The United States cannot pretend to be a model of democracy for the world while it discriminates against 3.5 million of its citizens in Puerto Rico, depriving them of their right to political, social and economic equality under the U.S. flag,” Rossello said in his inaugural speech, delivered in Spanish. “There is no way to overcome Puerto Rico’s crisis given its colonial condition.”

The new governor said he would hold elections to choose two senators and five representatives and send them to Washington to demand statehood, similar to what Tennessee did in the 1790s in its push for statehood.

Rossello also aims to boost public-private partnerships and use that revenue to save a retirement system that faces a $40 billion deficit. Rossello has pledged to work closely with a federal control board that U.S. Congress created to oversee Puerto Rico’s finances. He said he supports negotiations with creditors to help restructure a nearly $70 billion public debt.

Rossello announced that he has already signed six executive orders, among them are efforts to promote bilingual education and to eliminate the wage gap for female government employees.

Supporters rallied outside the Capitol on Monday cheering the new governor, many waving U.S. flags.