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

Republican Majority in Congress Off to Rough Start

Standoff over Homeland Security funding exposes philosophical, tactical problems within party More

Pakistan Blocks Baloch Activist from US Trip

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan slams Islamabad officials for stopping people from leaving country to attend human rights conference More

Video Muslims Long Thrived in North Carolina Before Students Killed

Idyll shattered February 10, when three Muslim university students living in Chapel Hill were gunned down by a neighbor 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.
Sierra Leone Ebola Orphans Face Another Crisisi
X
March 06, 2015 12:28 AM
There's growing concern about the future of an orphanage run by a British charity in Sierra Leone, after a staff member and his wife died this week from Ebola. The Saint George Foundation Orphanage in Freetown is now in quarantine, with more than 20 children and seven staff in lock-down. The BBC has agreed to share Ebola-related material with Voice of America because of the difficulties faced by media organizations reporting the crisis. Clive Myrie reports from Sierra Leone.
Video

Video Sierra Leone Ebola Orphans Face Another Crisis

There's growing concern about the future of an orphanage run by a British charity in Sierra Leone, after a staff member and his wife died this week from Ebola. The Saint George Foundation Orphanage in Freetown is now in quarantine, with more than 20 children and seven staff in lock-down. The BBC has agreed to share Ebola-related material with Voice of America because of the difficulties faced by media organizations reporting the crisis. Clive Myrie reports from Sierra Leone.
Video

Video Growing Concerns Over Whether Myanmar’s Next Elections Will Be Fair

Myanmar has scheduled national elections for November that are also expected to include a landmark referendum on the country's constitution. But there are growing concerns over whether the government is taking the necessary steps to prepare for a free and fair vote. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman was recently in Myanmar and files this report from our Southeast Asia bureau in Bangkok.
Video

Video Nigeria’s Ogonis Divided Over Resuming Oil Production

More than two decades ago, Nigeria’s Ogoni people forced Shell oil company to cease drilling on their land, saying it was polluting the environment. Now, some Ogonis say it’s time for the oil to flow once again. Chris Stein reports from Kegbara Dere, Nigeria.
Video

Video Winter Weather Strikes Eastern US...Again!

A new wintry blast has hit more than 20 states in the U.S. Midwest and Mid-Atlantic region, adding more snow to the piles from previous storms. Tired of shoveling snow, breaking the ice and dealing with accidents, flight delays and property damage, most Americans hope this is the last bout of cold for the season. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Students

The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Fuel Shortages in Nigeria Threaten Election Campaigns

Nigeria is suffering a gas shortage as the falling oil price has affected the country’s ability to import and distribute refined fuels. Coming just weeks before scheduled March 28 elections, the shortage could have a big impact on the campaign, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA.
Video

Video Report: Human Rights in Annexed Crimea Deteriorating

A new report by Freedom House and the Atlantic Council of the United States says the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated since the peninsula was annexed by Russia in March of last year. The report says the new authorities in Crimea are discriminating against minorities, suppressing freedom of expression, and forcing residents to assume Russian citizenship or leave. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video 50 Years Later African-Americans See New Voting Rights Battles Ahead

Thousands of people will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of a historic civil rights march on March 7th in Selma, Alabama. In 1965, dozens of people were seriously injured during the event known as “Bloody Sunday,” after police attacked African-American demonstrators demanding voting rights. VOA’s Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights pioneers who are still fighting for voting rights in Alabama more than 50 years later.
Video

Video Craft Brewers Taking Hold in US Beer Market

Since the 1950’s, the U.S. beer industry has been dominated by a handful of huge breweries. But in recent years, the rapid rise of small craft breweries has changed the American market and, arguably, the way people drink beer. VOA’s Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.
Video

Video Myanmar's Traditional Fashion Choices Endure

The sartorial choices of Myanmar’s men and women quickly catch the eye of any visitor to the tropical Southeast Asian country. But at a time when Myanmar’s political and economic opening is bringing affordable western fashions to the masses, will the country’s unique fashion trends endure? VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Yangon explores that question.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

More Americas News

ExxonMobil Set to Begin Drilling Off Guyana

Project could turn up the heat under a long-running territorial row with neighboring Venezuela
More

Peru Indigenous Groups Settle US Court Claims with Occidental

Achuar communities alleged Occidental spilled oil and dumped toxic waste while operating country's biggest oil block, triggering widespread health problems
More

Petrobras Scandal Threatens Brazil's Political, Business Elite

Executives reportedly feeling inclined to cut plea bargains that would result in less jail time in return for disclosing graft scheme details
More

Tests Indicate Argentine Prosecutor Was Slain, Ex-Wife Says

Alberto Nisman, found dead days after accusing president of involvement in cover-up, didn't commit suicide, Sandra Arroyo Salgado says
More

Canadian Pastor Detained in North Korea

Hyeon Soo Lim arrived in North Korea in late January, went to Pyongyang on a humanitarian mission and hasn't been heard from since
More

Colombia Generals Join Rebel Leaders for Peace Talks

Colombia's President Santos long resisted FARC calls for bilateral ceasefire, but since his re-election last year, he has injected urgency into negotiations
More