News / Americas

Obama to Visit Puerto Rico

President Barack Obama arrives Tuesday in the U.S. commonwealth of Puerto Rico, making the first official visit to the island by a sitting U.S. president since John F. Kennedy traveled there in 1961.  Although brief, the visit to the territory has major significance for the people of Puerto Rico, and political overtones for the 2012 presidential race.

When he was running for president in 2008, Mr. Obama visited Puerto Rico, a U.S. commonwealth whose citizens have a non-voting representative in the U.S. Congress but are still unable to vote in a U.S. general election.

Mr. Obama vowed to return if elected president.  Tuesday's stop will last only five hours, and while it fulfills his pledge, it is just as much about 2012 electoral politics as he continues to reach out to an increasingly powerful Hispanic voting bloc.

Puerto Rico was ceded to the United States by Spain in 1898 after the Spanish-American war.  The island elects its own governor and sends delegates to major U.S. party nominating conventions.  Statehood has long been a hot political issue.  A referendum on the question is scheduled to take place before the end of next year.

Mr. Obama will arrive from Miami after speaking at Democratic party fundraising events there.  He will make brief airport remarks in San Juan, then go to the historic Governor's mansion for talks with Governor Luis Fortuno.

In an interview with VOA, Governor Fortuno called it puzzling that a U.S. president has not paid an official visit in 50 years, and said Mr. Obama's visit reflects a new reality in American politics: the influence of Hispanic voters. "We are so close to the mainland, that it is flabbergasting at times to understand why.  Why this is happening now?   It is clear to everyone that the Hispanic community is gaining ground, politically and otherwise, and I am glad that it is happening under my watch here," he said.

A Republican with strong views on statehood, Governor Fortuno says the visit will allow Mr. Obama to understand the issues that concern Puerto Ricans, particularly the need for job creation, and the impact of a worsening drug-trafficking problem in the Caribbean that affects the island.

Puerto Rico received about $7 billion from the Obama administration's economic stimulus.  The island has a more than 16 percent unemployment rate, far above the national level.   

Earlier this year, Mr. Obama and the U.S. Congress received a report from the President's Task Force on Puerto Rico's Status.  The focus of that task force was expanded at the president's order to include economic issues, such as jobs, education, health care and clean energy.  

Cecilia Munoz, who co-chaired the panel, said "There is a reason that the president asked the task force specifically to expand its mandate to look at economic conditions.  That is tantamount to asking every Cabinet level agency to focus attention on the situation of Puerto Rico, the situation of its people and to engage in meaningful work to move the ball forward."

Governor Fortuno says the economic stimulus has been felt more in some areas than others, with net gains in job creation and other progress, but says "it has taken a lot of time to get there."

In his interview with VOA, the governor talked about the political status issue and the scheduled referendum next year. "The ball is on our side of the court, and we should conduct before the end of December 2012 a local plebiscite and assuming we have a clear mandate one way or another we will go back to Washington and will have an opportunity to request both Congress and the White House to act upon that mandate," he said.

Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli, who also co-chaired the presidential task force, says the goal is to allow the people of Puerto Rico to control the decision on their future. "The focus of all the recommendations is consistent with the president's commitment to give the people of Puerto Rico the opportunity to express their will and have it acted upon by the president and Congress quickly," he said.

Before he ends his brief visit to Puerto Rico, President Obama will attend a Democratic party event.  That reflects the importance he and his advisers place on maintaining support there, and among Puerto Ricans living on the mainland, and potential contributions to his 2012 campaign.

For the president and Republican presidential candidates, appealing to Hispanic voters has become even more important as the percentage of the U.S. population that is Latino has increased, now more than 16 percent, and Hispanics wield increasing power to determine the winners of local, state and national elections.

You May Like

Video Egyptian Journalists Call for Freedom of Press

Despite release of al-Jazeera journalists and others, Egyptian Journalist Syndicate says some remain imprisoned More

Turkey Survey Indicates Traditional Distrusts, Shift to the West

Comprehensive public opinion survey also found a large majority of those interviewed distrust all countries other than country’s neighbor, Azerbaijan More

Pakistan Court Upholds Death Sentence in Blasphemy Killing

Highest court upholds sentence of Mumtaz Qadri convicted of 2011 killing a provincial governor for criticizing country’s controversial blasphemy law More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Making a Minti
October 07, 2015 4:17 AM
While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video Self-Driving Cars Getting Closer

We are at the dawn of the robotic car age and should start getting used to seeing self-driving cars, at least on highways. Car and truck manufacturers are now running a tight race to see who will be the first to hit the street, while some taxicab companies are already planning to upgrade their fleets. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Clinton Seeks to Boost Image Before Upcoming Debate

The five announced Democratic party presidential contenders meet in their first debate next Tuesday in Las Vegas, Nevada. Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton continues to lead the Democratic field, but she is getting a stronger-than-expected challenge from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

Video Music Brings Generations Together

When musicians over the age of 50 headline a rock concert, you expect to see baby boomer fans in the audience. Boomer rock stars have boomer fans. Millennial rock stars have millennial fans. But this isn’t always the case. Take the Lockn’ Music festival which took place in mid-September in rural Arrington, Virginia. Here, Jacquelyn de Phillips discovered two generations of people who are considered quite different in the outside world, spending 4 days together in music-loving harmony.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video South Carolina Reels Under Worst-ever Flooding

South Carolina is reeling from the worst flooding in recorded history that forced residents from their homes and left thousands without drinking water and electricity. Parts of the state, including the capital, Columbia, received about 60 centimeters of rain in just a couple of days. Authorities warn that the end of rain does not mean the end of danger, as it will take days for the water to recede. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs

More Americas News

Mounting Extortion Plagues Shopkeepers in Violent Venezuela

Extortion has increased in last two years as crime gangs assert more control in South American nation, according to official statistics, interviews with businessmen

Luxury Birthing Clinics Spur Cesarean 'Epidemic' in Brazil

Authorities want to turn the tide on what Health Ministry officials have called an 'epidemic' of cesareans births in the country, with Brazil now the world's No. 2 recipient of C-sections, 2nd only to China

Syrian Refugee in Uruguay Douses Self With Gas in Protest

Last year, South American nation of 3.3 million took in five Syrian families as refugees, but they have complained of high costs of living there, lack of government help

Kerry Meets with Haiti Officials on Election Preparations

US secretary of state, who met with outgoing President Michel Martelly, other officials stressed that legitimate transfer of power can only be achieved through free and fair elections

Guatemala to Investigate Who Is to Blame in Mudslide

Report last November warned of dangerous conditions, urged area residents be moved, but they were allowed to remain; hundreds remain missing after hillside gave way last week

US Arrests Former Senior UN Official for Bribery

John Ashe was Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador to UN from 2004 until his election as president of 68th session of the General Assembly in 2013