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

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age 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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs

More Americas News

Tropical Storm Erika Dissipates; 21 Dead

Storm flags over Cuba, could regain strength over Gulf of Mexico; death toll in Dominica, Haiti is 21
More

Video Cubans Embrace New Internet Connectivity Options

Government has approved use of prepaid cards for web access; some foresee construction of better infrastructure, with towers, fiber-optic cables
More

Brazil's Rousseff Faces Growing Impeachment Threat

President’s woes increasing as she now also faces angry rival who controls the possibility of impeachment proceedings against her
More

Cancer, Transplant Patients Rail at Drug Shortages in Venezuela

Currency controls, slumping production and smuggling have caused acute shortages of medical supplies in the socialist-led nation
More

Guatemalan Prosecutors Urge President to Resign Amid Scandal

Government comptrollers' office also issued a statement saying Perez Molina should resign 'to avoid greater social unrest that could have unpredictable consequences'
More

Bolt Sprints to Double Gold in Beijing

Jamaican's victories take place on track where in 2008 he first made headlines by winning Olympic gold medals in record fashion at Bird's Nest Stadium
More