Santorum played the clown in Puerto Rico

puertorico

Last week, two GOP presidential candidates, Santorum and Romney, went to Puerto Rico to bid for the island's delegates to the Republican National Convention, to be chosen in a primary election on Sunday March 18. Gingrich and Paul stayed away.

While they can vote in the primary, Puerto Ricans living in Puerto Rico can't vote in November in the general U.S. presidential elections. They have no representation in the U.S. Senate, and only a non-voting delegate in the U.S. House of Representatives. Puerto Rico's governor and legislature are restricted in what they can do because major decisions have to be ratified by the U.S. Congress.

Right-wing Puerto Rican leaders, including the governor, Luis Fortuño  of the right wing  New People's Party, were eager to get quality time with the Republican candidates, among other things to promote a controversial plebiscite on the status of Puerto Rico which will be on the Nov. 6 ballot.

The PPN, mostly linked to the Republican Party in the United States, is in favor of Puerto Rico becoming the 51st U.S. state. This position is hotly opposed by other sectors of the Puerto Rican body politic, some of whom want complete independence (a Republic of Puerto Rico) and others of whom prefer that the present status of the island, as a "Free Associated State" or Commonwealth, be continued but with increased levels of local autonomy.

But the minute Santorum opened his mouth, he managed to infuse an unusual degree of unity in the Puerto Rican political scene, around the following concept: Santorum is an ass.

According to CNN, when asked by a reporter of the San Juan daily "El Vocero" if he would support statehood for Puerto Rico, Santorum injected an issue that he had not been asked about, to whit:

"Like any other state, there needs to be compliance with this and any other federal law," Santorum said. "And that is that English needs to be the principal language. There are other states with more than one language, like Hawaii, but to be a state of the United States, English must be the principal language."

Santorum is a silly ass because he should have known, if he aspires to the presidency, that there is no federal law or constitutional article that requires that English be spoken by anybody at all, let alone be a requirement for statehood. A number of states, it is true, have passed their own laws giving English official status, and some of these have attempted to restrict the use of languages other than English in the transaction of state business. These laws are of dubious constitutionality, but at any rate, are, in no way whatsoever, binding on the federal government.

Further, not just in Hawaii, but in all 50 states, there are at least some people who use languages other than English. There are still at least 140 Native American languages still spoken by at least a few people, some spoken by thousands. In New Mexico, since it was taken over by the United States from Mexico in the 1840s, Spanish has legal recognition, alongside English.

This is yet additional evidence of Santorum's problems with the U.S. Constitution. Earlier we heard from his own lips the interesting information that the separation of church and state makes him barf. But the separation of church and state is right there in the Constitution also: Not only in the First Amendment but also in the original Constitution, in Article Article VI, Paragraph 3, which prohibits religious tests for any job or position in the federal government.

Though plenty of people in Puerto Rico speak English as a second language, which also has official status, Spanish is the first language of 98 percent of the population, and has been since the Spanish conquistadores took over in the 16th century. So for Santorum to hint or suggest that the people of Puerto Rico should start to become mostly English speaking if they want statehood, in fact is tantamount to presenting them with a major obstacle to achieving it.

It suggests at the least ambivalence on Santorum's part as to whether he wants statehood for Puerto Rico at all, as well as his mind-boggling ignorance of both Puerto Rico and of the U.S. Constitution.

Whatever the views of the People of Puerto Rico on statehood, independence, and commonwealth, they are not about to drop their Spanish language and Latino heritage. And opponents of statehood have frequently warned, in the past, that if Puerto Rico were to become a state, it would be under terrific pressure to do just that. So Santorum's inane jabbering gave a black eye to the pro-statehood cause.

Statehood is opposed in Puerto Rico by those who want complete independence (a Republic of Puerto Rico). This includes the social democratic Puerto Rican Independence Party, the Communist Party of Puerto Rico, and the Hostian Movement for Independence, among many.

It is also opposed by the Popular Democratic Party, which supports a continuation of the current "commonwealth" status with enhanced autonomy. In recent elections, the majority vote has bounced back and forth between the New People's Party and the Popular Democratic Party, with the PIP and other pro-independence forces getting far fewer votes. However, "independentistas" have a high profile and respected activist presence in the many labor, community and student struggles in the island, in spite of past and present repression.

Puerto Rico's economic situation is bad. Per Capita Gross National Product (Purchasing Power Parity) is about $16,000 per year and falling rapidly, compared to more than $46,000 for the United States. Unemployment is over 15 percent, much higher among youth, and food prices are rising. This has led to an increased exodus from Puerto Rico to the United States, especially of college educated youth, as discussed in a recent article in USA Today.

There is also a sharply increasing rise in violent crime, partly related to unemployment, but also due to movement of drugs from South America through Puerto Rico.

Fortuño's government has emphasized austerity as a solution for the island's problems, which has led to massive demonstrations of students and workers protesting cuts in higher education and other government programs. These have been met with some acts of brutal repression. It remains to be seen what impact these struggles will have on the November 6 elections for governor and legislators, and on the plebiscite.

Meanwhile, Romney got 83 percent of the Republican primary vote on Sunday, and all 20 convention delegates.

Photo: Members of the Puerto Rican Independence Party march in opposition to Puerto Rico becoming a U.S. state.   Ricardo Figueroa/AP

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