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HomeAbout NBHRNPuerto Rico Rebuilds!Obama visit to Puerto Rico (various) June 14, 2011

Obama visit to Puerto Rico (various) June 14, 2011

Obama in Old San Juan
Published: June 14, 2011

San Juan, P.R.
A MONTH of steady rain has brightened the cobblestones of Old San Juan. Now they are as blue as the crabs hawked alongside the coastal roads of this Caribbean territory of the United States. Public employees must have been relieved that nature cooperated, after weeks spent sprucing up the city for Barack Obama’s arrival here on Tuesday morning.

His visit aggravated the city’s already grim traffic jams, called tapones, prompting some cynical reactions. A taxi driver named Reina Blanco waved her arm at the highway and told me: “Once again I’m going to be hearing tourists say they’ll never come back here because of the traffic.”

Nevertheless, most people consider the traffic a worthwhile inconvenience for the rare occasion of an official presidential visit, the first since John F. Kennedy came here 50 years ago. Welcome banners throughout the city picture the two presidents side by side with the words: “We are proud to be part of history, Kennedy 1961, Obama 2011.”

But how much do we have to celebrate?

A referendum on the future of Puerto Rico — independence, statehood or the status quo — will be held sometime in the next year or so, and Puerto Ricans are divided.

Hundreds of pro independence protesters rallied Tuesday morning at the Plaza de Colón, named for Christopher Columbus, and El Morro fortress. One sign portrayed George Washington and read: “We too demand our independence.” At the same time, our pro statehood governor, Luis Fortuño, celebrated Flag Day at the Capitol under the stars and stripes. (Mr. Obama didn’t attend.)

Earlier in the morning, with the streets closed off and quiet as a tomb, police officers at every corner, I spoke briefly to a slight woman who was passing through and was not a part of either extreme. “I was born under the two flags,” she said. “I was born in 1935, and every day in school we saluted the two flags.”

The daily newspapers have been full of ads from all sides of the debate and a litany of grievances. Official unemployment is over 16 percent, nearly half the commonwealth lives in poverty, and the murder rate is at a record high. Police abuses and civil rights violations, particularly against students, have intensified under the Fortuño administration, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. The country’s premier university, where I teach, had a quarter of its budget slashed this year. A controversial natural gas pipeline has been planned to nearly span the island from south to north. (The government calls it Via Verde; its opponents, Via de la Muerte.) And early this year, Puerto Rico’s most famous political prisoner, Oscar Lopez Rivera, was denied parole after nearly 30 years of imprisonment in the United States.

But Mr. Obama may not know much about what the residents of this island — who can’t vote for him in a general election anyway — care about. Banners along the expressway criticizing the government’s policies were removed before he arrived. And he mingled mainly with the bigwigs who paid between $10,000 and $35,800 to attend a Democratic fund raiser at the Caribe Hilton (though to his credit, he also met with an opposition leader).

In any case, his visit is mostly aimed at winning votes stateside — where there are some 4.6 million Puerto Ricans, compared with 3.7 million on the island — particularly in swing states like Florida that have large Puerto Rican communities.

At one of the many kiosks where vendors sold hand crafted jewelry and bacalaítos, or cod fritters, I ran into a young man named Joel Casanova from Tampa, who said he had made the trip with his family expressly for Mr. Obama’s visit. His parents had voted for him, but he wasn’t sure if he would. (He was clear, however, about his support for the Miami Heat, which lost in the N.B.A. finals last weekend to the Dallas Mavericks and its Puerto Rican point guard, J. J. Barea.)

Even if the president’s visit changes little about life in Puerto Rico, it may, at least, endear him more to those who live here. Millions sensed themselves a part of history in the symbolic power of President Obama’s candidacy. I first remember feeling that during his speech in Selma, Ala., in March 2007, when he poignantly recalled his grandfather living under British colonial rule in Kenya.

I can’t help but wonder what Mr. Obama’s grandfather would have thought about the still colonial status of the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam and Puerto Rico.

Maritza Stanchich is an associate professor of English at the Río Piedras campus of the University of Puerto Rico.
In Visit to Puerto Rico, Obama Offers (and Seeks Out) Support
Published: June 14, 2011

SAN JUAN, P.R. — President Obama came to this United States commonwealth on Tuesday and promised to stand by Puerto Rico no matter what residents decide about its future — statehood, independence or a continuation of the status quo.

In what White House officials billed as the first official visit of a sitting American president since John F. Kennedy, Air Force One landed just before noon and Mr. Obama bounded over to a crowd of about 1,000 people waiting for him at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport.

Mr. Obama began his four hour trip with a quick speech in which he rolled his R’s, tried out a little Spanish (Puerto Ricans’ willingness to serve in the armed forces is as American, he said, as “arroz con gandules”), professed his love and admiration for all things Puerto Rican and promised to support “a clear decision” by the people of Puerto Rico on statehood, whatever it may be.

It was not, by any measure, a groundbreaking speech, but then, Mr. Obama’s visit here is as much about wooing Hispanic voters in the swing state of Florida as it is about reassuring Puerto Ricans that the United States has not forgotten its island commonwealth in the Caribbean.

“The aspirations and the struggles on this island mirror those across America,” Mr. Obama assured the people in the airport hangar, which included Marc Antony, the Latino crooner who is married to Jennifer Lopez.

Much was made of Kennedy’s visit here in 1961 — not least by Mr. Obama himself, who quipped that he was 4 months old at the time and so could not remember too many details. As a senator, Mr. Obama also visited Puerto Rico during the Democratic campaign in 2008, and promised to return as president.

The president’s schedule included the speech at the hangar, a visit to La Fortaleza, the longest serving governor’s mansion in the Western Hemisphere (the White House says), a tour of the Kennedy Suite, where Kennedy stayed in 1961, and a concert by a youth orchestra. Mr. Obama also stopped unannounced for lunch at a local restaurant.

Perhaps more important were the interviews Mr. Obama scheduled with El Nuevo Día newspaper and Univision of Puerto Rico, and a fund raising event Tuesday afternoon meant to plump Democratic National Committee coffers.

Puerto Ricans hold American citizenship and can serve in the military, but the commonwealth has no voting representative in Congress. And while Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico can vote in presidential primaries, they cannot vote in presidential elections. Puerto Ricans in the United States can.

The President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status issued a report in March recommending that the island hold two more votes on the issue by the end of 2012.

While acknowledging Mr. Obama’s campaign event here, his spokesman, Jay Carney, said the trip went beyond politics. “The president is making the first official visit since 1961,” Mr. Carney said, “and he takes the issue of resolving the status as very important. Dealing with economic hardships on the island is very important.”

For the record, about that first official visit designation by the White House. President Gerald R. Ford came to Puerto Rico in 1976, but it was for a Group of Seven economic summit, so that apparently does not count as official, since it was not for official Puerto Rico business (although choosing Puerto Rico to host the G 7 undoubtedly brought a lot of dollars to the island). Ditto for President Lyndon B. Johnson — he came in 1968, to visit a military base, so that trip was also not being considered official.

Obama Visits Puerto Rico With Eye On 2012 Election
Barack Obama visited Puerto Rico as a candidate for president. Here, he waves during a rally in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Saturday, May 24, 2008. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson) JIM KUHNHENN 06/14/11 09:18 PM ET puerto rico 2012 election hispanic vote_n_876496.html?icid=main%7Chtmlws main n%7Cdl1%7Csec1_lnk1%7C216016

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Wooing Hispanic voters back home, President Barack Obama kept his campaign pledge to become the first president since John F. Kennedy to make an official visit to this recession battered U.S. territory. “The aspirations and the struggles on this island mirror those across America,” Obama declared Tuesday.

On a sweltering day, thousands crowded the main roads and waved flags as Obama’s motorcade roared by. A huge banner filled eight stories of a building, featuring the images of Kennedy and Obama. “We are proud to be part of history,” it said.

Puerto Ricans are an important component of the larger, fast growing Hispanic population in the U.S. – now totaling 50 million – that Obama wants to mobilize for his re election. Even though he spent mere hours in Puerto Rico, at one point savoring a local sandwich specialty, the visit was designed to lift the president’s visibility and create goodwill far beyond this island, its grand colonial fortresses and it azure waters.

“Every day, Boricuas help write the American story,” Obama said, using the term Puerto Ricans use to describe themselves.

Residents of Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens but cannot vote in presidential general elections, only in primaries, one of many factors that give rise to a sense of second class citizenship among some here. But they can vote in the mainland, and Florida, a key presidential battleground, has the second largest Puerto Rican population in the U.S., behind New York. Pennsylvania, another competitive state, ranks fourth in Puerto Rican population.

Hispanics accounted for more than half the U.S. population increase over the past decade. National exit polls showed that 67 percent of Latinos voted for Obama in 2008, compared with 31 percent for the Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain, but some Hispanics have become disillusioned with Obama because of his failure to deliver on promises to overhaul immigration policy.

Obama, who visited as a candidate in May 2008, sought to assure his Puerto Rican listeners they were not forgotten by his administration.

In remarks at an arrival event at the airport in San Juan, Obama quickly turned to the decades old debate about the island’s status, which has some pushing for statehood or even independence. The president reaffirmed his support for a referendum in which island voters would resolve the matter for themselves, eliciting cheers when he said: “When the people of Puerto Rico make a clear decision, my administration will stand by you.”

The words could resonate not just here but with the millions of Puerto Rican voters on the mainland, including more than 800,000 in politically important Florida, where Obama stayed overnight Monday before flying here Tuesday morning. Democrats see the Puerto Ricans in Florida as a potential counterbalance to the larger, traditionally Republican Cuban American community in a state Obama needs to win a second term.

4.6 million Puerto Ricans live on the mainland.

Obama talked about his commitment to including Puerto Rico in his administration’s initiatives, such as the health care bill, and praised Puerto Ricans’ cultural achievements and contributions to American society and the military. The president singled out Dallas Mavericks player J.J. Barea, a celebrity here as a Puerto Rican athlete on a championship team.

The president spoke in front of American and Puerto Rican flags lined side by side. Then his motorcade took him through sunny streets lined with palm trees as he headed from the airport to a visit with the island’s Republican governor, Luis Fortuno.

At the governor’s mansion, La Fortaleza, Fortuno told Obama: “On behalf of the people of Puerto Rico we want to welcome you. I guess you saw a taste of it driving over here. We are proud to welcome you and we thank you for the visit.”

“I cannot be more honored to be here,” said the president, who also joked that he just wished he could jump in the inviting ocean.

Two other presidents, Lyndon B. Johnson and Gerald Ford, set foot in Puerto Rico after Kennedy’s visit, but not as part of an official visit to interact with the island’s elected officials. Johnson visited a military base in 1968 and Ford participated in an international economic summit on the island in 1976.

As Obama’s motorcade approached, protesters with megaphones could be heard in the distance calling for “independencia para Puerto Rico” – independence for Puerto Rico.

While administration officials touted the visit as giving Obama a chance to interact with Puerto Ricans, he spent less than five hours on the island. Part of that time he was in a closed Democratic National Committee fundraiser, but he also sat for interviews with Puerto Rican journalists sure to give his visit a big splash in island media despite its brevity.

And, the president made time to mix informally with residents and drape himself with some potent elements of Puerto Rican culture, traveling with pop singer Marc Anthony and stopping for a sandwich at the Kasalta bakery, a popular lunch spot a couple blocks from the beach.

As customers snapped pictures with their cell phones, the president, in shirt sleeves, ordered the house specialty, a Medianoche sandwich – ham, pork and swiss with pickles and mustard on a sweet bread.

Some, however, never got a glimpsed of Obama. Alma Villafanez, a 41 year old teacher, traveled several hours from the town of Orocovis in an unsuccessful effort to see the president at La Fortaleza. The police blocked access to the mansion’s gate.

“Nevertheless, he should have asked for time to greet us, his primary voters,” Villafanez said.

Still, Rhadames Urrutia, a 50 year old teacher in a prison and union local president, said Obama already enjoys widespread popularity among Puerto Ricans.

“The enthusiasm wouldn’t be the same if it was a different president,” Urrutia said. “Obama is different for people here. He knows what it’s like to work, he knows what it’s like to be poor. We see him as one of us.”

But even here Obama didn’t escape the economic concerns that are his political sore spot heading into the 2012 elections. The recession hit Puerto Rico harder than the states, with unemployment rising to nearly 17 percent. It declined to 16.2 percent in April.

“In these challenging times, people on this island don’t quit,” Obama said in his speech. “We don’t turn back. People in America don’t quit. We don’t turn back. We place our bets on entrepreneurs and on workers and on our families. We understand that there is strength in our diversity. We renew the American dream. We have done it before. We will do it again.”

Fortuno said in an interview with The Associated Press that the economy is the biggest issue among islanders. Because they are U.S. citizens, immigration is not as potent a political subject as it is with other Hispanic groups.

The governor said he welcomed the attention his island is getting. “There is a heightened level of awareness about the importance of the Latino vote that hadn’t existed for a while,” Fortuno said.
Associated Press writer Ben Fox contributed to this report.
Obama makes first presidential visit to Puerto Rico in 50 years
June 14, 2011
PBS News Hour june11/puertorico1_06 14.html

JUDY WOODRUFF: President Obama traveled to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico today.

Ray Suarez begins our coverage.



RAY SUAREZ: The president’s brief visit, just a few hours long, is the first official trip to Puerto Rico by a sitting president since John F. Kennedy’s in 1961. Mr. Obama was keeping a promise he made when he visited the island in 2008 as a candidate.

BARACK OBAMA: when I ran for president, I promised to include Puerto Rico, not just on my itinerary, but also in my vision of where our country needs to go. And I am proud to say that we’ve kept that promise, too.

Obama Visits Recession Battered Puerto Rico

RAY SUAREZ: Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, but pay commonwealth taxes to run their own government. And while they don’t pay U.S. federal taxes, residents do serve in high numbers in the military and participate in some federal programs, including food stamps and welfare. Those programs have been important in recent years, as the territory has been particularly hard hit by the recession, with unemployment at nearly 17 percent.

The president has promised help.

BARACK OBAMA: We’ve been trying to make sure that every family on the island can find work and make a living and provide for their children. That’s why our economic plan and our health care reform included help for Puerto Rico.


RAY SUAREZ: While in the capital, San Juan, the president is meeting with Republican Gov. Luis Fortuno, who strongly favors the transition to statehood for the island’s four million residents.

GOV. LUIS FORTUNO, R Puerto Rico: Decisions are being made in Washington, and we are not sitting at the table. So, if we are citizens and we are proud of that and we serve in greater numbers oftentimes than other states, why not participate in the decision making process?

RAY SUAREZ: The president today reaffirmed his support for a referendum on the matter, which would allow island voters to decide for themselves.

BARACK OBAMA: And when the people of Puerto Rico make a clear decision, my administration will stand by you.


RAY SUAREZ: And while the commonwealth residents may soon be addressing that issue at the ballot box, they are not eligible to vote in the upcoming U.S. presidential election.

Nevertheless, many see Mr. Obama’s visit as an indirect bid for support in 2012 from the almost five million Puerto Ricans living in the United States.

The president’s previous stop, Florida, is home to nearly one million of them. They now make up 5 percent of voters in that battleground state, where Mr. Obama will likely need every vote he can get.

RAY SUAREZ: For more on the president’s visit, we are joined by Luis Fortuno, the governor of Puerto Rico.

Governor, welcome.

What did you and the president have to talk about?

GOV. LUIS FORTUNO, Puerto Rico: Well, certainly job creation. That’s item number one, lowering the cost of energy here.

We are 70 percent dependent on foreign oil. And we want to move away from that towards using natural gas and renewable energy public safety issues, because after the clamping down on the southwestern border, some of that illegal drug trafficking has moved and shifted towards the Caribbean. And, certainly, we must work together, the federal government and state government, to address that as well.

And that’s in addition to the status question, of course.

Puerto Rico Gov. on Obama Visit, Statehood Debate

RAY SUAREZ: Well, as you mention the status question, it’s one of the dominant features of island politics, and has been for a long time. What did the president have to say to you on that subject?

GOV. LUIS FORTUNO: Well, I am trying to forge a consensus among the different political parties, so that we can consult the voters on this before December 2012, and with a mandate that I hopefully will get one way or the other, then go back to Washington and demand that Congress and the White House address this according to that mandate.

But, certainly, we first need to reach some sort of consensus on the process, take it to the voters, and have the voters decide.

RAY SUAREZ: The president mentioned he would stand with Puerto Rican voters, whatever they chose on status. But, of course, that’s only half the equation.

Do you have any assurances from either party in Congress that they would welcome a Puerto Rican statehood bid if it came?

GOV. LUIS FORTUNO: Well, I certainly since there is no request for either statehood or staying as we are or becoming an independent republic at this moment, it will be very difficult to understand where will each member of Congress and the Senate be.

But, certainly, we are American citizens. We have been American citizens since 1917, and fought in every single war since then in greater numbers than most states. And I believe we deserve a chance to decide this.

RAY SUAREZ: You have been recently in conflict with the public employees unions. You have trimmed the public payroll, moved Puerto Rico away from being a high tax, high public employment kind of place.

Does the debate inside Puerto Rico mirror that that is happening in various American states right now?

GOV. LUIS FORTUNO: Well, certainly, it does, in the sense that, when I came in just two years ago, I was facing the worst state budget deficit in the country. It was 44 percent of revenues.

We have been able, in two years, to close that gap significantly, actually to less than 11 percent. Actually, just two years ago, our budget deficit, proportionally speaking, made us the last dead last amongst all states and territories.

Today, we’re 20th. That means there are 31 states that are worse off. And our credit rating has improved. That means also that we have been able to lower taxes for individuals and corporations as well. And that is actually, we’re starting to reap the benefits of that. Just two years ago, the unemployment was above 17 percent. Today, it’s around 16 percent. And, actually, in the month of May, I believe we will be below 16 percent.

RAY SUAREZ: Sixteen percent, though, would put you the highest among all the American states. Has it led to social problems? Has it led to real suffering in Puerto Rico, to have an unemployment rate that high?

GOV. LUIS FORTUNO: Well, actually, suffering that actually we were going through, in the sense that the government didn’t have enough money to meet its first payroll when I was sworn in.

We have to take a loan to meet that payroll. Now, we didn’t have enough money to pay those actually that we had procured services and goods from. That we owed rent, power and water for nine months, that was real suffering. And, actually, after actually making those decisions that actually have saved our credit, we are now able to address major issues not just by lowering taxes on everyone, especially middle the middle class, but on top of that, we are now being able to address needs in our public schools, our roads and other infrastructure needs.

RAY SUAREZ: As was mentioned earlier, Puerto Ricans can’t vote in national federal elections in the United States, but they do vote in primaries.

Do you think the island, with the presidential visit, with the issues that you’re mentioning, will get more attention in the 2012 cycle? Is that part of what you’re aiming for here?

GOV. LUIS FORTUNO: I have no doubts that that will happen. And, actually, the fact that even though we have been part of this great nation since 1898 and citizens since 1917, it has been 50 years since the last sitting president paid an official visit to Puerto Rico.

So, hopefully, after today’s visit, regardless of whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, or none of the above, it will allow us to actually showcase us and actually allow us to bring into the public discourse issues pertaining to the American citizens residing in the territory of Puerto Rico.

RAY SUAREZ: People who write and comment on immigration debates in the United States often set Puerto Ricans aside, both on the mainland and the island, and say it’s not really an issue for them.

But when the United States does comprehensive immigration reform, if it does, Puerto Rico is implicated in the immigration debate, isn’t it?

GOV. LUIS FORTUNO: Well, it is true that we are not directly implicated by it, because we are American citizens by birth.

Having said that, we all have our own opinions on that. And I’m sure that the fact that there’s intermarriage with Cubans, Colombians and others, not just here…

RAY SUAREZ: We seem to have lost the governor, unfortunately, from San Juan.

Sorry for that technical problem.
Today is what counts
June 14, 2011

Whoosh, he was gone. The much awaited visit by President Obama was over before it began, and understandably, he left some people wanting more, if not outright disappointed. However, it will be a while before the historic visit from the president is forgotten, and the spinoff could be helpful for Puerto Rico, especially if Obama becomes a two term president.

Obama knows he needs the Hispanic vote to win that goal, and he hopes that Puerto Ricans in the states — particularly in Florida — will be impressed by his lightning like trip to their home island.

Hispanics were pivotal during the last election in New Mexico, where there are relatively few Puerto Ricans. In Florida, Hispanics — mostly Puerto Ricans — accounted for more than two thirds of Obama’s winning plurality. Nevada was also decisive with almost two thirds. With Hispanics accounting for one in every six United States citizens, the visit to Puerto Rico could have positive fallout for Obama, in addition to the $1 million he took home in his pocket. Of the some 850,000 Puerto Ricans living in Florida the vote falls heavily in the Democrats’ column. Puerto Ricans between Orlando and Tampa are unlike conservative Republican Cuban American voters and could be very helpful to Obama.

Yesterday is now a memory, of a charismatic head of state who said a few nice things about Boricuas and Puerto Rican war heroes, compared arroz y gandules to apple pie, fantasized over shooting baskets with J.J. Barea, and licked his fingers over a medianoche, or was it a cubano? He spoke out for health care, jobs and broadband Internet access, tourism development and clean air. He pronounced Puerto Rico with a flair, but stumbled on Ballajá, but of course, all that was style, not substance.

Meanwhile, meeting today at the Hotel La Concha, the President’s Task on Puerto Rico will tackle security, tourism, education and health care, “putting people back to work, here and all across America,” as Obama said. Those will be the tangible subjects to be looked at, up close and personal, and should help Puerto Rico more than just a turnaround visit. But Obama’s visit can do no harm. His words, while not those of an orator, were at least reassuring.

His words — “we’re not there yet, but anyone willing to work hard can earn a decent wage to provide for a family” — were predictable, uplifting and a bit hollow. But what is more important is the future. He has already shown that he knows Puerto Rico is here and needs his help, regardless of his motives. He has already sent more funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — ARRA — funds to Puerto Rico than to many states, and he has appointed the first Puerto Rican, Sonia Sotomayor, to a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court. If he wins a second term, he should be even more grateful to Puerto Rico and even more knowledgeable on the subject. Whether or not the island ever has the vote, the U.S. has recognized its commitment to the island. Status, for many is the sine qua non for development. We can only hope President Obama will be able to bring about some progress in that long stagnated process.

On a few other subjects, he seems to be open to unfamiliar demands, such as the release of prisoner Oscar López Rivera, as he said in a later interview, and the repeal of the Jones Act.

Eyeing Latino vote, Obama makes historic visit to Puerto Rico
By Michael A. Memoli and Peter Nicholas
June 14, 2011, 11:51 a.m. pn obama puerto rico 20110614,0,4119624.story?track=rss

Reporting from Washington and San Juan— President Obama on Tuesday became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Puerto Rico in a half century, lauding the contributions residents have made in writing “the American story.”

The visit fulfilled a campaign pledge made in 2008, when the island territory’s votes were contested in the Democratic primaries, and signals the importance of the Latino vote to the president’s reelection strategy for 2012.

“When I ran for president, I promised to include Puerto Rico not just on my itinerary, but also in my vision of where our country needs to go. And I am proud to say that we’ve kept that promise,” he said.

More than 4.6 million Puerto Ricans live on the mainland, an increase of 35.7% in the last decade, according to new census data.

Obama flew to San Juan from Florida, which boasts the second highest number of Puerto Ricans outside the island: more than 847,000. Another battleground state, Pennsylvania, ranks fourth with about 366,000.

Obama referred in his remarks to a report from his task force on Puerto Rico’s status, which he said “provided a meaningful way forward” that would allow residents to determine its relationship with the United States government.

“When the people of Puerto Rico make a clear decision, my administration will stand by you,” he said.

After speaking at the airport, Obama traveled through streets lined with banners that featured John F. Kennedy the last president to visit and Obama, along with the slogan, “We are proud to be part of history.” He visited with Gov. Luis Fortuno at La Fortaleza, the governor’s mansion, joking that he wished he could take a dip in the ocean.

He also stopped for a sandwich at a local restaurant in Old San Juan, where a patron said Obama should have spent more time with the people of the island.

“People feel this is not an important visit. It is important for him to get some money but he is not talking with the people,” Lydia Gonzalez said.

Obama will also attend a fundraiser for his reelection campaign here. But the White House downplayed the political nature of the trip.

“The president is making the first official visit since 1961 of a United States President to the island. He thinks the issue of resolving its status is very important, of dealing with the economic hardships on the island are very important, and he’s very excited about being here,” press secretary Jay Carney said.
Obama vows to support Puerto Ricans on statehood decision
By Helene Cooper
Published: 9:58 p.m. Tuesday, June 14, 2011 vows to support puerto ricans on statehood 1540261.html

President Barack Obama came to this U.S. commonwealth Tuesday and promised to stand by Puerto Rico no matter what residents decide about its future statehood, independence or a continuation of the status quo.

In what White House officials billed as the first official visit of a sitting U.S. president since John F. Kennedy, Obama began his four hour trip with a quick speech in which he rolled his R’s, tried out a little Spanish (Puerto Ricans’ willingness to serve in the armed forces is as American, he said, as “arroz con gandules”), professed his love and admiration for all things Puerto Rican and promised to support “a clear decision” by the people of Puerto Rico on statehood, whatever it may be.

Obama’s visit is as much about wooing voters stateside as it is about reassuring Puerto Ricans that the United States has not forgotten its Caribbean commonwealth.

“The aspirations and the struggles on this island mirror those across America,” Obama told a crowd of about 1,000 who greeted him at the airport.

An estimated 4.6 million people of Puerto Rican descent live in the United States and are concentrated in a few key states, including one of the biggest prizes of the 2012 election: Florida. Puerto Ricans are an important component of the larger, fast growing Hispanic population in the U.S. — now totaling 50 million — that Obama wants to mobilize for his re election.

Puerto Ricans hold U.S. citizenship and can serve in the military, but the commonwealth has no voting representative in Congress. And while Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico can vote in presidential primaries, they cannot vote in presidential elections. Puerto Ricans in the United States can.

Obama addressed the decades old debate about the island’s status, which has some pushing for statehood or even independence. The president reaffirmed his support for a referendum in which island voters would resolve the matter for themselves, eliciting cheers when he said, “When the people of Puerto Rico make a clear decision, my administration will stand by you.”

The president’s schedule included the speech at the hangar; a visit with Gov. Luis Fortuno; a tour of the Kennedy Suite, where Kennedy stayed in 1961; and a concert by a youth orchestra. Obama also stopped unannounced for lunch at a local restaurant.

He also gave a few interviews to local news media and attended a Democratic National Committee fundraising event.

President Gerald R. Ford came to Puerto Rico in 1976, but it was for a Group of Seven economic summit, not official Puerto Rico business. Ditto for President Lyndon B. Johnson — he came in 1968 to visit a military base, so that trip was also not being considered official by the White House.

Additional material from other wire services.
****************************************************************************** obama gets mixed reactions from puerto rico visit
Obama Shares Puerto Rico’s Economic Plight, Reaches out for Support
By Mike Emanuel
Published June 14, 2011
| Fox News Latino shares puerto ricos economic plight reaches out for support/

“Buenas tardes! It is good to be back in Puerto Rico,” President Obama said to a group of about a thousand people at the San Juan airport.

The president made a five hour visit to Puerto Rico Tuesday, recognizing the political impact of Puerto Ricans on the mainland – including some 841,000 in the key battleground state of Florida.

“This is all about Florida where the Puerto Rican vote is not nearly as Democratic as it is in the Northeast. It’s turned into a swing vote,” University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato told Fox News.

“Puerto Ricans living in Florida… could very easily tip that state one way or the other in 2012, that’s what this trip is really about.”

Puerto Ricans are just one aspect of the growing Latino vote in the United States, which is expected to be a major force in the next general election. The 2010 census reports the overall Hispanic population has grown 43 percent in the last 10 years.

Major Otto Padrón: Iraq war hero is marrying Angelica Vale, star of the Mexican version of Ugly Betty.

“I know that today a lot of folks are asking some of the same questions here on the island as they’re asking in Indiana or California or in Texas,” Obama told the group at a welcome event.

“How do I make sure my kids get the kind of education that they need? How can I put away a little money for retirement? How can I fill up my gas tank? How can I pay the bills?”

Unlike those in Indiana, California and Texas, though, folks on the island cannot vote in the general election – only in party primaries. But most of the roughly 4.6 million Puerto Ricans living inside the U.S. are certainly capable of participating.

“Muchas gracias. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you, Puerto Rico,” said the president.

The comment was probably directed as much as the Latino community on the mainland as the Puerto Ricans actually in attendance, because President Obama’s re election campaign is hoping to shore up the voting bloc well in advance of November 2012.

While Presidents Gerald Ford and Lyndon Johnson visited Puerto Rico, Obama is the first American president to officially address the island’s people since John F. Kennedy almost 50 years ago in 1961.

Mike Emanuel is the White House Correspondent for Fox News Channel
About 20 pro independence protesters keep all night vigil in Puerto Rico ahead of Obama visit
By Associated Press, Updated: Tuesday, June 14, 6:55 AM 20 pro independence protesters keep all night vigil in puerto rico ahead of obama visit/2011/06/14/AGAGFPUH_story.html

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — About 20 pro independence demonstrators have kept an all night vigil at a colonial fort in Puerto Rico to protest during President Barack Obama’s visit to the island.

Demonstrators are on the grounds of the San Cristobal Fort on the edge of Old San Juan. The fort is part of the U.S. National Park system. Obama is expected to pass the area on his way to a meeting with the governor.

Protesters are calling for the release of three Puerto Rican nationalists imprisoned in the U.S.

Police said Tuesday that protest is peaceful and there have been no arrests.

A small but vocal minority in Puerto Rico favors independence. Island residents have voted consistently to maintain ties to the U.S.
Puerto Rico trip won’t woo Latinos
6/14/11 5:32 PM EDT

President Barack Obama’s visit to Puerto Rico today is the first official visit by a president in 50 years. Many observers have rightfully surmised that this trip is more about the Puerto Ricans in the mainland than on the island — particularly the fast growing Puerto Rican population in Florida.

You see, Obama has a Latino problem. To win reelection, he needs the Latino vote. But Latinos have become increasingly frustrated with the president’s inaction on immigration.

Obama must now view Puerto Ricans as his way to win some of the Latino vote without having to address his dismal deportation record and his muted response to states’ attacks on immigrants. But what the president apparently fails to grasp is that the unsolved immigration crisis affects all Latinos — regardless of their legal status.

Puerto Ricans are in the same situation as the other 32 million U.S. Latino citizens who confront the growing anti Latino attitudes that have become part of our immigration discourse.

In a country with a dysfunctional immigration system, the fight over immigration reform has real world consequences. Radio talk show hosts and local politicians paint Latino immigrants as criminals. Hate crimes against Latinos are up 45 percent since 2003, according to the FBI. It could be that these hate crimes are underreported — Latinos are often hesitant to interact with law enforcement these days — and that the actual statistics are likely much higher.

There are many good reasons for immigration reform, including protecting the millions of children who grew up in the United States, know no other country and through no fault of their own lack residency documents. While our immigration system clearly affects immigrants and their families, it is also directly hurting millions of U.S. citizens who happen to be Latino, including Puerto Ricans.

Yet, in the past few years, immigration reform has stalled, and rhetoric against immigrants has become more toxic. States like Arizona and Alabama have passed tough deportation laws. Thousands of U.S. citizens have been detained, according to a study by Jacqueline Stevens, a political science professor at Northwestern University, and in some cases, even deported.

Some stunning cases involve non Latinos. Consider Mark Lyttle, a North Carolinian with a history of mental illness, who was detained, processed and forced to walk across the Texas border to Hidalgo, Mexico.
Robert Schlesinger
Why President Obama Is In Puerto Rico
By Robert Schlesinger
Posted: June 14, 2011 schlesinger/2011/06/14/why president obama is in puerto rico

Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, but the island itself has no (voting) member of Congress and no vote in presidential elections. So what is Barack Obama doing in San Juan today rallying the locals in front of a giant Puerto Rican flag? The answer lies in demographics.

As my colleague Danielle Kurtzleben reported last week:

According to the 2010 Census, the population identifying itself as Hispanic or Latino grew by 43.0 percent from 2000 to 2010, an astounding figure compared to 9.7 percent overall growth in the population. Though 2012 redistricting maps are not yet drawn, the Latino presence already looks formidable. According to 2010 census data, there are 118 existing congressional districts in which more than one fifth of the population is Hispanic. That is up from just 28, according to 2000 census data, as applied to 110th Congress districts. Furthermore, 93 of those districts are in California, Texas, Florida, and New York, the four states with the most 2012 electoral votes. And Florida is a crucial swing state, alongside Colorado and Nevada, which have seen 41.2 percent and 81.9 percent growth in the Hispanic population, respectively, since 2000.

“Every smart politician is going to have a very dominant outreach if they want to win [in 2012],” says Lionel Sosa, a media consultant who worked with John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign and George W. Bush’s 2000 and 2004 campaigns.

Of course Hispanics are not a monolithic block; appeals to Puerto Rican pride will cut little ice with Cubans or Mexicans, for example. There are some issues, though, that do get traction generally among Hispanics. The peculiar and nativist subset of the GOP that dominates Republican discussion of immigration, for example, does not help its party. [Check out political cartoons about the 2012 GOP field.]

But there are also good political reasons to campaign in San Juan specifically. According to the Census Bureau’s 2005 2009 American Community Survey, the five states with the most Puerto Ricans are:

New York (1,092,171)
Florida (726,637)
New Jersey (400,750)
Pennsylvania (316,548)
Massachusetts (238,346)

Florida remains one of the critical swing states in 2012. And Pennsylvania is crucial, err, keystone to any Democrat’s path to the White House, but one in which Obama seems somewhat weaker than one would expect.
Obama’s Puerto Rico trip breaks 50 year record
By Frances Robles
The Miami Herald
June 14, 2011 puerto rico trip breaks.html

President Barack Obama will break a 50 year record Tuesday, when he becomes the first president since John F. Kennedy to come to San Juan and meet with Puerto Ricans.

But experts say the whirlwind visit to an island crippled by a soaring murder rate, mass exodus and 16.2 percent unemployment has less to do with the island’s overwhelming problems and much more to do with Florida’s I 4 corridor. The state’s Puerto Rican population shot up 75 percent in the past decade, and Obama is eager to curry favor with first time voters who have largely settled in central Florida, supporters and critics agree.

“If there’s a political motivation to this visit, it’s legitimate: There are 3.8 million Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico, and another 4 million in the United States,” said Pedro Pierluisi, a Democrat who is the island’s non voting representative in Congress. “If it’s political, I like it. I welcome it. I’m going to campaign for him in Florida and other states where there are Hispanic voters.”

Puerto Rico is the final leg of a trip that will take Obama to Durham, N.C., on Monday to attend a meeting of the Jobs and Competiveness Council before flying on to Miami for fundraisers and an overnight stay.

The recession that rocked the United States started even earlier in Puerto Rico, sending an estimated 365,000 middle class professionals to Florida. While most descended on Orlando, Broward County also saw a 36 percent surge in the Puerto Rican population over the decade, according to the 2010 census.

Decidedly different than the flow of blue collar islanders who came to the mainland in the 1940s and ’50s, these newcomers often have college degrees — and are more interested in Puerto Rico’s status than in traditional Republican Democratic party politics, experts say.

“There’s a lot riding on this trip,’’ said former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferré, who was born in Puerto Rico and follows both Florida and island politics closely. “It’s all about Florida. It has nothing to do with Puerto Rico or anything else.”
President Obama reaches out to Puerto Rico
June 14, 2011 obama arrives in puerto.html

During a historic four hour visit to Puerto Rico on Tuesday, President Barack Obama vowed to “stand by” Puerto Ricans should they make a “clear decision” about whether to remain part of the United States.

He sprinkled his speech with palabras en español, went to a Spanish bakery and had a medianoche sandwich for lunch, and spent more than an hour at the historic governor’s mansion. Then he tapped deep pocketed supporters who paid $35,800 each to raise nearly $1 million for his campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

With his whirlwind trip, Obama became the first president since John F. Kennedy to make an “official” visit to Puerto Rico. Because Lyndon B. Johnson and Gerald Ford didn’t meet with local officials during stops here, Obama’s trip was considered significant and underscored the growing importance that Puerto Ricans have in the upcoming elections.

The last presidential visit was from Ford in 1976 — well before current trends showing 35,000 Puerto Ricans a year moving to Florida.

“The most important thing about President Obama’s visit is that it changes the paradigm – after five decades, he gave respect and attention,” said San Juan attorney Andres Lopez, a Democratic National Committee member who organized the trip. “There is a lot of pride in Puerto Rico today, and justifiably so. The new census numbers show the Puerto Ricans in Orlando are the battleground constituency in the battleground state, and this White House took notice.”

Even Republican Gov. Luis Fortuño agreed: “Whoever shows up in person has 50 percent of the game on his side.”

Accompanied by Rep. Pedro Pierluisi, D Puerto Rico, Obama was greeted at a National Guard base by several hundred dignitaries who waited hours in the sweltering sun to see him and a roaring crowd who responded enthusiastically to Obama’s pep speech honoring Puerto Rican veterans and Dallas Mavericks star JJ Barea.


“Puerto Ricans … have put themselves in harm’s way for a simple reason: They want to protect the country that they love,” Obama said. “Their willingness to serve, their willingness to sacrifice, is as American as apple pie — or as arroz con gandules [a rice and peas dish].”

About 200,000 Puerto Ricans have served in the U.S. armed forces in every conflict since World War I. “Every day, Boricuas help write the American story,” Obama said.

“When I ran for President, I promised to include Puerto Rico not just on my itinerary, but also in my vision of where our country needs to go,” he said. “… In that same spirit, we’ve been trying to make sure that every family on the island can find work and make a living and provide for their children.”

Obama also vowed to support any “clear” decision Puerto Ricans arrive at regarding the island’s political status.

Fortuño said Puerto Ricans would hold a plebiscite on the island’s status within 18 months. The issue is already controversial, and he and the opposing party argue over the referendum questions.

And while the pro statehood governor positioned Obama’s visit as a nod for the statehood movement, the president made a point to have a surprise guest while eating at the Kasalta bakery in Ocean Park: Alejandro Garcia Padilla, a senator who is the opposing party’s top gubernatorial candidate.

“I thought his speech was a bit insufficient: He didn’t seem to recognize that thousands and thousands of Puerto Ricans have lost their jobs here,” said Jose M. Rodriguez Baez, president of the Puerto Rico Federation of Labor.

“We have to get out of colonization that has held our people back.”

A White House Task Force on Puerto Rico, which accompanied Obama, will remain behind Wednesday to discuss the unemployment situation.


Rep. Pichy Torres Zamora, a Republican who attended the welcome event, liked Obama’s message.

“He had a message of inclusion,” Torres said. “Puerto Rico is part of the United States and has struggled by its side to defend democracy. We also have a lot of economic problems, and for not being a state, for having an ambiguous status, we don’t have equality in federal funding.”

In a call with reporters afterward, the governor said he hit three topics with the president: job creation, clean energy and security. Puerto Rico struggles with all three. Unemployment has passed 16 percent, sending many jobless professionals to the United States for work. Electric bills are astronomical, and the governor is fighting to build a natural gas pipeline to generate alternative energy.

Fortuño said Obama promised to create a permanent Department of Justice working group regarding security in the region.

Reaction to the president’s trip was largely positive, although a group of independence activists protested his presence and urged him to free Oscar Lopez Rivera, the last imprisoned Puerto Rican independence activist who participated in a violent wave of attacks three decades ago.

Lydia Gonzalez, 60, a resident of Loiza who also stopped by the bakery where Obama had lunch, pointed out that it drew a Cuban clientele.

“He was a little light in his commentaries today, since we have many important problems and important things to talk about with a president,” she said. “People feel this is not an important visit. It is important for him to get some money, but he is not talking with the people.”
Western Massachusetts Puerto Ricans encouraged by President Obama’s visit to their native land
Published: Tuesday, June 14, 2011, 9:15 PM
By Elizabeth Roman, The Republican The Republican

Puerto Ricans living in Western Massachusetts said Tuesday they hope President Barack Obama’s visit to their native land will shed some light on the economic problems and opportunities on the island.

Obama’s visit marks the first time in 50 years that a president of the United States has visited the island. The last visit was by John F. Kennedy in 1961.

“This is a historic moment for sure,” said Heriberto Flores, president of New England Farmworkers Council and a local businessman.

The president, who came to the island for a political fund raiser at the Caribe Hilton in San Juan, made a brief statement to the Puerto Rican people around 11 a.m. Tuesday.

“In these challenging times, people on this island don’t quit,” Obama said. “People in America don’t quit. We don’t turn back. We place our bets on entrepreneurs and on workers and on our families. We understand that there is strength in our diversity. We renew the American dream. We have done it before. We will do it again.”

Gov. Luis Fortuño said he was happy with the president’s visit.

“We had an opportunity to discuss job creation, energy policy and more during his visit,” Fortuño said. “I am convinced that he understands the importance of job creation for people on the island as well as in the rest of the country.”

Carlos Gonzalez, the president of the Latino Chamber of Commerce, said he hopes Obama’s visit will put an emphasis on the many economic opportunities available in Puerto Rico.

“Puerto Rico is a very large purchasing power, with 80 percent of products being purchased from the U.S.,” he said. “There is an opportunity to do business in Puerto Rico and create jobs.”

The president was greeted warmly by Puerto Rican dignitaries and even well known Puerto Rican singer Marc Anthony. However, there were also protesters proclaiming independence for the island and also denouncing the treatment of Oscar López Rivera, who has spent more than 30 years in prison after being convicted of seditious conspiracy for his alleged ties to the Boricua Popular Army, a group responsible for bombings and other attacks on U.S. armed forces. Fortuño said the protesters were few.

“Voicing our opinions and expressing out thoughts is the American way and we are fortunate to live in a democracy where our rights are protected by the U.S. constitution,” he said.

Flores said that while Puerto Ricans on the island cannot vote in general elections, the hundreds of thousands who live in the United States will vote.

“I worked on the president’s campaign during the last election and he received a large portion of the Latino vote in places like New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Florida and Illinois. I think this visit was a smart political move on his part,” he said.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.
Protesters seek to send message to Obama
June 14, 2011
by Inter News Wire Service seek to send message to Obama

A group of young activists conducted acts of civil disobedience Monday afternoon by occupying the premises of the historic El Morro Fort in Old San Juan.
Daily Sun/Humberto Trías by Inter News Service

Two separate protests took place on Monday in anticipation of President Obama’s visit to the island.

A group of young activists conducted acts of civil disobedience Monday afternoon by occupying the premises of the historic El Morro Fort in Old San Juan. In a press release, the youth group said that “our peaceful demonstration is in solidarity with the Puerto Rican political prisoners Oscar López Rivera, Avelino González Claudio, and Norberto González Claudio, currently in U.S. prisons for fighting for the independence of Puerto Rico.”

The act of civil disobedience included the unfolding of two giant banners on the walls of El Morro that read: “Freedom for the Political Prisoners of War” and “Oscar, Avelino, Norberto.”

“This act is also to summon the President of United States, Barack Obama, to sign the pardon of Oscar López Rivera, who, with 30 years of imprisonment, has become the oldest political prisoner in the western hemisphere,” reads the statement.

The document adds that if the president signed the pardon, “he would be respecting the wishes of tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans from all ideologies who have signed the petition for the release of Oscar.”

In the press release, the group urged the public to support the acts of nonviolent civil disobedience.

President Obama will arrive on the island at noon Tuesday and stay for about five hours.

Subhead: “Tito Kayak” arrested on light pole at Baldorioty de Castro

Activist Alberto de Jesús, better known as “Tito Kayak,” was one of six persons arrested Monday morning after climbing a light pole on Baldorioty de Castro Avenue to place a banner calling for the release of political prisoner Oscar López Rivera, incarcerated in the U.S. for more than 30 years.

Police said four men, two of them identified as Jorge Rivera Ramos, 28, a resident of Toa Baja, and José A. Díaz Figueroa, a resident of Carolina, were arrested after climbing several light poles and placing banners on them.

De Jesús and Alejandro Román Hernández, 29, a resident of Lares, were later arrested at the intersection of Baldorioty de Castro Avenue and De Diego Avenue after remaining on a high light pole with a flag that read “30 years is too much. Free Oscar López. “

Agents are evaluating the possibility of filing charges.
Obama’s Visit to Puerto Rico
14 Jun 2011 03:56 PM EST
by Jasmine Enberg, Staff Writer

As Barack Obama made the first presidential visit to Puerto Rico since 1961, anti colonial protesters gathered to demand independence and the release of Puerto Rican nationalists imprisoned in the US.

According to the Associated Press, a group of 20 demonstrators held a vigil last night at the San Cristobal Fort on the outskirts of the island’s capital, San Juan. They called for the release of three Puerto Rican prisoners being held for their pro independence political beliefs.

Others took to the streets and climbed up telephone poles to display messages calling for Independence and the release of political prisoners, TeleSUR reported.

Puerto Rico has been a US territory since 1898 when the island was invaded and taken from Spain, and its status has been met with harsh criticism from a small group of Puerto Ricans since then. Nevertheless, a majority of Puerto Ricans has consistently voted in favor of the island’s strong connection to the US.

And, according to The New York Times, Obama had a warm welcome from about 1,000 Puerto Rican politicians and residents when he landed on the island just before noon on Tuesday.

Although reports of arrests during the demonstrations have conflicted, Prensa Latina reported that one activist was arrested for demanding that the US government free a political prisoner, Oscar Lopez Rivera, who has been held for 30 years in jail.

Local police also told the newspaper that five others were arrested for hanging pro independence signs on the island, but The Associated Press reported on Tuesday morning that there had been no arrests made in conjunction with the protests.

The purpose of Obama’s visit to the island is to garner the support of Hispanic voters and to show Puerto Ricans that the US has not forgotten about the island.

Obama plans to meet with the governor and the Democratic party in an effort to raise money for his campaign.

John F. Kennedy was the last president to visit Puerto Rico 50 years ago.

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