by: John Rodriguez
After yesterday’s festivities in New York City regarding the Puerto Rican Day parade, the country itself will be visited this Tuesday by none other than President Barack Obama. However, the nearly 4 million U.S citizens who live on the island are not the President’s main reason for going. In fact, his visit to the island is a way to stir voters in the United States for re-election in 2012. Campaign desires aside, the visit is said to have been prompted by organizers of his camp as a way of Obama being the first U.S President to visit the U.S Caribbean Island in decades.
According to member of the Democratic Central Committee, Andres W. Lopez, Obama’s visit to the mainland could not only generate a good standing on the island but in the states to with the fast-growing Hispanic population, particularly Florida, since the “past decade has witnessed a staggering growth in the Puerto Rican community,” and they have, “become the quintessential background community in the nation’s battleground state.”
In recent years, the Puerto Rican community within the United States has nearly risen to numbers where there are almost a million more Puerto Ricans here on the mainland outnumbering those living on the island itself. Usually settling in the Northeast region of the states, the 2010 census shows that Florida has now become the second inhabited place where Puerto Ricans have settled with about 841,000 settling in Orlando, Florida. The census shows that the settlers in Florida tend to be more educated and younger unlike the counterparts who settle in areas like New York City.
In the past decade, Puerto Ricans living within the United States has grown by 36% from citizens leaving the island to the declining economy. The number of Puerto Ricans has risen to nearly 4.6 million making them the second largest within the Hispanic group living in the United States after Mexicans, according to the 2010 census. It is because of this census that Democrats now view the growing Puerto Rican community as a way to tip the battleground state in their favor due to another Hispanic community populating the area. With the growing Puerto Rican population within the Florida state, Democrats see a balance evening out against the larger and traditionally Republican Cuban-American community in the state.
While the Americans living on Puerto Rico cannot vote in the upcoming 2012 elections, the island’s nonvoting representative in Congress, Pedro Pierluisi does not think it will matter because he is sure “they will be happy about this,” and that the visit and purpose is generate attention to “lots of Puerto Ricans in central Florida and I know they keep close eyes on Puerto Rico.”
However, the intention to pull voters in by visiting the island itself may not work for some. George Colon, a Puerto Rican native who left the island after losing his job managing memberships at a country club in Puerto Rico, said he will not be persuaded by Obama’s visit and is undecided on the presidential election. When asked about Obama’s trip, Colon responded, “If he’s not interested in resolving Puerto Rico’s status (a bid for the country to claim independence), than it doesn’t mean much.
In regards to Colon comments, Obama has remained neutral on the status issue of the island. The President supports a plebiscite, where all Puerto Ricans would get to vote on the Island’s status and the opinion to choose between independence, its current semiautonomous commonwealth status or a free association where the island would be a sovereign nation and would be able to define its future relationship with the U.S. through the process of treaties. The issue has been stalled for decades due to a conflicting attitude between the inhabitants on the island.
Obama’s stay in Puerto Rico will only last for a few hours where he is expected to commemorate the island’s last presidential visit when John F. Kennedy visited back in December of 1961. While on the island, President Obama plans to meet with pro-statehood Republican Governor Luis Fortuno who said in an interview regarding the President’s visit that he didn’t expect the president to weigh in on the island’s status but sees the trip as simply being normal since, “Any smart political leader in America nowadays understands the importance of courting the Hispanic vote, regardless of whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat.”
Political intentions aside, the President’s trip is a big deal for the island. 33-year=old, Belmaris Santos, a marketing executive from Guaynabo a suburb in San Juan suburb, sees the President’s visit as “historic,” and monumental since, “a sitting U.S. president decides to come is a show of the importance that our island is generating in the American political system.” Even the government has started a series of road and public projects, along with the Legislature who have modelled a statue of Obama they are planning to erect in the Capitol to go along with the other five presidents who visited the island.