Puerto Rico: The GOP Primary, Latino Vote and Statehood

Written by Ralph E. Stone. Posted in Opinion, Politics

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Published on March 28, 2012 with 7 Comments

By Ralph E. Stone

March 28, 2012

My wife and I just returned from a visit to Puerto Rico. The temperatures were in the high 80s with very little humidity and no rain. We spent most of our time in old San Juan, but did take a 2-hour road trip across the island to Ponce, named after Juan Ponce de León y Loayza, the great-grandson of Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León.

During our visit, GOP hopefuls Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum personally campaigned for Puerto Rico’s 20 delegates. Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich did not personally campaign there. The vote was held on Sunday — with no alcohol sales during voting — and as has been reported, Romney won all 20 delegates to the national convention at stake.

Why would Romney and Santorum spend so much time for 20 delegates when the Illinois primary with 69 delegates at stake was just a few days away? Probably because to win the White House, the GOP candidate will have to win about 45 percent of the Latino vote. Obama won about 67 percent of the Latino vote in 2008.

There are about 21.5 million Latino voters now eligible to vote in the November 2012 presidential election, with about 60 percent registered to vote compared to 70 percent Black and 74 percent White. If registration drives are successful between now and the election, the number of eligible Latino voters will increase. Latino voters have a chance to influence the outcome for president in at least 24 states.

Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens but are not eligible to vote in the presidential election. However, Puerto Ricans are the second largest Latino group in the U.S., including those who migrated from Puerto Rico and those born outside of Puerto Rico. That’s why both Romney and Santorum felt it necessary to make appearances in the Puerto Rican primary to court the Latino vote for the general election.

Statehood is a hot issue for Puerto Ricans. Puerto Rico is a bilingual island, although Spanish is really the main language spoken with English a second language. When asked, Romney said he would support statehood for Puerto Rico as a bilingual state.

Santorum on the other hand raised the ire of local voters by stating he would favor statehood only if English was universally spoken. Later he backtracked a bit saying he advocates English as a “language of opportunity,” a position held by the Pro English, U.S. English, and Tea Party movements.

At this point, a very brief look at Puerto Rican history is useful to clarify the Puerto Rican statehood issue. On November 19, 1493, Christopher Columbus landed on what is now called Puerto Rico. The first settlement, Caparra, was founded on August 8, 1508 by Juan Ponce de León, a lieutenant under Columbus, who later became the first governor of the island. Spain fortified Puerto Rico because it was the first major island with water, shelter, and supplies that sailing ships came to en route to the Americas from Europe via Africa’s west coast. Spain built a massive, complex system of fortifications to protect ships carrying gold, silver, gems, spices, and furs from Mexico and Central and South America. Castillo San Felipe del Morro (“El Morro”), built in 1539, was the major fortification. Spain built nine other fortifications in the Caribbean to provide safe harbors and protection for its ships. El Morro is now part of the National Park Service and well worth a visit.

Inside El Morro. Photo by Judi Iranyi.

In 1898, the Spanish-American war commenced. A U.S. squadron of 12 ships under the command of Rear Admiral William T. Sampson took control of Puerto Rico. One of the U.S.’ principal objectives was to take control of the Spanish possessions of Puerto Rico, Cuba, Philippines and Guam. On December 10, 1898, the Treaty of Paris was signed in which Spain renounced all claims to Cuba, ceded Guam and Puerto Rico to the U.S., and transferred sovereignty over the Philippines to the U.S. for $20 million.

On July 4, 1950, President Harry S. Truman signed Public Act 600, establishing the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, allowing Puerto Ricans to draft their own constitution. The residents of Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens and they are represented in Congress by a Resident Commissioner with a voice but no vote. Residents of Puerto Rico generally do not pay federal income taxes but do pay Social Security, Medicare and Unemployment taxes, and use the U.S. dollar as their currency..

There have been plebiscites on the issue of statehood in 1967, 1993, and 1998, all favoring keeping Puerto Rico a Commonwealth. Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuño — a Republican and Romney supporter — favors statehood for Puerto Rico.

A two-part status referendum will be held on November 6, 2012. The first referendum will ask voters whether they want to maintain the current commonwealth status under the territorial clause of the U.S. Constitution or whether they prefer a nonterritorial option. If more voters check the nonterritorial option, a second vote would be held giving people three status options: statehood, independence or free association. (Under international law, a freely associated state is a sovereign nation in a joint governing arrangement with another nation that either nation can unilaterally end.)

Even with Governor Fortuño’s support, it is uncertain whether Puerto Ricans will vote this time for statehood. No matter what the voters decide, statehood would still have to be approved by Congress. Last year, President Barack Obama said he believes the island will remain a U.S. Commonwealth unless there is a “solid indication” of support for statehood. That probably means a simple majority would not be enough.

Puerto Rico is known as the Land of Enchantment, which we can certainly attest to. But underneath, the elements of the U.S.-Puerto Rico relationship have been, and continue to be, matters of debate.

Ralph E. Stone

I was born in Massachusetts; graduated from Middlebury College and Suffolk Law School; served as an officer in the Vietnam war; retired from the Federal Trade Commission (consumer and antitrust law); travel extensively with my wife Judi; and since retirement involved in domestic violence prevention and consumer issues.

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Comments for Puerto Rico: The GOP Primary, Latino Vote and Statehood are now closed.

  1. Speaking of history, the U.S. was a group of colonies. The 13 colonies were all part of the British Empire. The English citizens decided that they wanted to be free of British rule starting a revolt. With the support of the French and Spanish empires they were successful. Thousands of Puerto Ricans have fought and given up their lives and livelihood for the same thing. If the English colonist deserved their independence, why not Puerto Ricans? The UN has stated again and again that colonialism is illegal and that all anti-colonial activist have all the right to struggle for freedom. Do the right thing US and set PR free!

  2. Ok. For your information. We no longer speak Taino. We speak Spanglish. Just as the US language is changing, SO will happen to our own.

  3. Justin, Bern, are you two serious…. No really, are you connected to reality/ and or do you just not follow business what soever? For the sake of brevity, and because I don’t feel like educating you at the moment on what the honest positives are on becoming a state, I will just state the obvious.
    1) our “abuelos and abuelas” LEFT PUERTO RICO in the 50s. Honey, that was the biggest migration to the U.S mainland, of Puerto Ricans, in history. They moved to the US to have the opportunities they so longed for, when commonwealth status was re-solidified.

    2) Statehood is the natural evolution for Puerto Rico, and a beautiful step for both the island and the mainland.

    3) The young, educated, forward thinking Puerto Rican generation now living on the island- who are world traveled, social media ept, college graduates absolutely want statehood. For the improvement it will bring to the poverty on the island, the enrichment of the ever- growing multicultural/multiracial community here on the island, and the opportunities it will bring to fruition for the graduates.

    4) We absolutely will have statehood. I find solace that our young peoples are majority educated in world views now and are level headed in our movement towards statehood.

    Unfortunately it is the uneducated/older gen masses that want “independence”…i mean the complete absurdity of that statement has me riling with laughter. -you obviously have no CLUE what that opinion entails…

    To remain a commonwealth does not move us forward into the 21 century. It has served the island beautifully, and now as the world and human race evolves, so will we.
    DO YOU RESEARCH, cite specific documented evidence and maybe you wont sounds so “narrow” minded in your blatantly ignorant opinions. 🙂


  4. Wow… Really Independence???!!! Ask the Cubans and Dominicans how’s that working for them. As for the claim that Puerto Ricans on the mainland are not better off than our counterparts still living there is preposterous. And yes Dan, Luisito Fortuno would be a great VP pick but I think the smart money would be on Rubio.

  5. Luis Fortuno is by far the best Republican Vice Presidential Nominee & Romney knows it.

  6. Im Puerto rican, i and i personally dislike the entire issue of how Puerto ricans are in favor of voting for statehood. Puerto rico cannot become a state of the united states, and it will never ever happen. Its a shame how these Puerto ricans who are fake as well as “American Wanna bes” just want to sell our island just because they all have idealistic views of living in riley, and as a rich state” Its seriously sad, pathetic, disgusting, and discraceful. I personally support the Independence movement. I only wish for Puerto rico to become a independent country. Its time U.S let us go and let us run our own government.

  7. Statehood will never be the answer for Puerto Rico ills. The loss of Culture for the past 500 years is too great to lose.

    Its time to be Self-Determined. Let us not forget our ABUELOS & ABUELAS – they made what PUERTO RICO is today.

    Statehood is not going to make the future of the Island any greater. Big government will be destructive. Look at the big city’s in the US – Puerto Ricans that live there are not better off then the people on the island. The United State’s is not the answer, but the down fall.