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

IS Militants Release 49 Turkish Hostages

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency reports that no ransom was paid and no conditions accepted for the hostages' release; few details of the release are known More

Photogallery IS Attacks Send Thousands of Syrian Kurds Fleeing to Turkey

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 300 Kurdish fighters crossed into Syria from Turkey to defend a Kurdish area from attack by the Islamic militants More

Video Sierra Leone's Ebola Lockdown Continues

Thousands of health workers are going door to door in the West African country of 6 million, informing people of how to avoid Ebola, handing out soap More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
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.
Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’i
X
Jeff Seldin
September 20, 2014 10:28 PM
Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid

More Americas News

Former El Salvador President to Await Graft Trial in Jail, Not at Home

Francisco Flores, who had been on the run until early Sept. before turning himself in, accused of misappropriating $15M in 2001 earthquake relief donations
More

US Won't Impede Venezuela's UN Security Council Bid

Washington is clearly unhappy, however, with idea of country joining the Council, which has the task of overseeing international peace and security
More

Video Dehydration Is Top Killer of Southern Arizona's Migrants

US Border Patrol's search and rescue unit launches 'blue blinking light of life program' - a series of poles strategically placed throughout desert that emit high-intensity blue light
More

US Steps Up Pressure on Guatemala Over Labor Rights

Trade representative says Obama administration will push ahead with legal action under free trade agreement to make country meet international standards
More

Video US Attempts Crackdown on Trafficking Along Southern Border

Nogales, Arizona, notoriously known as 'tunnel city,' used by traffickers to smuggle humans, narcotics into US and Border Patrol responds with new technologies
More

Video Arizona Non-Profit Helps Keep Dehydrated Migrants Alive

The Sonoran Desert, a common crossing point for illegal immigrants, is one of North America's hottest places
More