Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum said on Wednesday that he would support Puerto Rico for statehood if only it makes English its main language.
Santorum was campaigning in San Juan ahead of Sunday's GOP presidential primary and met with Governor Luis Fortuno. CBS News reports that Santorum was asked repeatedly about his position on the island U.S. territory becoming the 51st state of the U.S. He said: "I would support the people of Puerto Rico if they make the decisive decision to move forward with that, I would support it. But that's a decision the people of Puerto Rico have to make and so far they've chosen not to make it. And so talk to your friends, and see if you can work that out."
Reuters reports Santorum indicated he would not support a state in which the English language was not the primary language. Santorum said: “As in any other state, you have to comply with this and any federal law. And that is that English has to be the main language. There are other states with more than one language as is the case in Hawaii, but to be a state in the United States, English has to be the main language.”
The Washington Post notes, however, that there is no federal law that says English is the official language in the United States, but some states and local governments in the U.S. have adopted "English only" laws. Puerto Ricans generally speak English and Spanish and CBS News reports Puerto Rico recognizes both Spanish and English as official language.
Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens and the island is a U.S. commonwealth. Puerto Rico has a population of about 4 million that can vote at the primaries but not at the presidential elections. They do not have a voting representative in Congress. The Washington Post reports Puerto Rico will hold a referendum on November 6 to decide on the island's political status. Puerto Ricans will be faced with three options at the referendum: statehood, independence and no change in present status.
CBS News reports Puerto Rico has been a U.S. territory since 1898 and that a plebiscite in 1998 had 47 percent of Puerto Ricans supporting statehood with 50.3 percent majority rejecting the options of statehood, independence or continuation of commonwealth status.
One of the major issues for Puerto Ricans is the question of official language. Most Puerto Ricans identify with their Spanish cultural identity and language and wish to preserve it. The Washington Post reports that according to a report by the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status, Puerto Ricans are concerned that Congress could “require Puerto Rico to adopt English as the only official language of the island." The task force recommended, however, that the president and Congress ensure that “Puerto Rico controls its own cultural and linguistic identity.”
According to Reuters, Governor Fortuno is supporting Santorum's opponent in the Republican primaries Mitt Romney. Romney, according to The Washington Post , said he supports Puerto Rico becoming a state. Santorum, in contrast to Romney, has expressed reservations, saying on Wednesday that a simple majority at the referendum would still leave questions about whether Puerto Ricans really want their island to become the 51st state of the U.S.
CBS News reports that although Santorum did not say specifically the percentage rate of approval that, in his view, would be sufficient to qualify the island for statehood, he indicated he thought that a high percentage was needed. He said: "It can't be 50 percent plus one. It has to be a strong voice."
Reuters reports that many Puerto Rican Republicans disagree with Santorum and hold that issues of language and culture should be left to state governments. According to Reuters, Santorum's position could alienate 4.2 million Puerto Ricans, including about 1 million in Florida.