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Friday
Mar162012

Santorum Parades in Puerto Rico Amid Questions on English, Statehood

T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images(SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico) -- With a jazz bland blaring island music and a narrator touting Rick Santorum’s conservative credentials in Spanish, the Santorum family led a pop-up parade in their honor down a main thoroughfare in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, Thursday afternoon.

While Santorum, his wife Karen and five of their seven children made their way down the cobblestone streets, supporters chanted, ”Rick Santorum, Rick Santorum!”

The family stopped to take photos and sign autographs both for those who can vote for him in the Republican primary in Puerto Rico on Sunday, and for Americans who seemed surprised when they ran into a presidential candidate while vacationing.

Carlos Rodriguez, Santorum’s deputy state director, was the designated narrator, and as the family made their way down the winding streets of Old San Juan, he told the crowd, “Vote for Rick Santorum.”

“Puerto Rico, the first Republican candidate is here today,” he said.  “San Juan, vote for Rick Santorum, he’s the conservative candidate.”

When the family reached the ocean side, Santorum was asked again about some controversial comments he made while campaigning in the island earlier this week.

English, he told a local newspaper on Wednesday, should become the “principal language” of the territory if Puerto Rico wants to be the nation’s 51st state.

On Thursday, he told reporters, “English should be taught here and everyone should speak English here.”

“It’s something that I think is essential to be an American period,” Santorum said.  ”Whether you’re going to be a state or not, people should speak English.  And English should be a common language among all Americans.  Period.  And the idea that somehow or another it should be the only language -- it’s not the only language in California, it’s not the only language in Arizona, it’s not the only language in New Orleans -- we understand that people of different cultures speak different languages, but we have a common language, and that’s what I was saying yesterday.  To suggest that maliciously, I would add, (that) someone would maliciously write that I said that, was really unfortunate.”

He told reporters before leaving the island that the original story was “crap.”

Statehood is a crucial issue on the island -- one that has divided the people there -- and during the two days Santorum spent campaigning for the territory’s 23 delegates, he was frequently asked about the issue.

Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory in 1898 and most Republicans on the island are supportive of statehood.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Mar152012

After Delegate Defection, Santorum Defends Call for Puerto Rico to Adopt English

Hemera/Thinkstock(SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico) -- Rick Santorum on Wednesday became the first Republican presidential hopeful in this election to visit Puerto Rico before the island commonwealth’s Sunday primary, taking a controversial stand on statehood that he was forced to defend this morning after losing a key supporter.

The trip has ignited a firestorm with Santorum’s comment that English would have to be “the main language” in order for Puerto Rico to become a U.S. state.

“Like in every other state, it [must comply] with this and every other federal law- and that is that English should be the main language,” Santorum said in an interview with the El Vocero newspaper Wednesday. “There are other states with more than one language, as is the case with Hawaii, but to be a state of the U.S., English should be the main language.”

The question of statehood is a huge issue in Puerto Rico, which is set to vote on the matter in November. The island’s voters will have a referendum on whether to become a state, something some Puerto Ricans favor and others oppose, whether they be in favor of remaining a commonwealth or becoming independent.

Santorum’s comments left one of his supporters, Oreste Ramos, so upset that the former Puerto Rican senator rescinded his endorsement.

“Although such a requirement would be unconstitutional, and also would clash with our sociological and linguistic reality, as a question of principle I cannot back a person who holds that position,” Oreste said, according to El Vocero. “As a Puerto Rican and Spanish-speaking U.S. citizen, I consider the position of Mr. Santorum offensive.”

Santorum’s deputy chairman in Puerto Rico tried to explain away Ramos’ defection by claiming that his gripes have more to do with Santorum’s stance on statehood than specifically with the English-language issue, and that it is too late for Ramos to remove his name as a delegate for Santorum.

Santorum on Thursday defended his English-language comments as he was exiting a special-needs school in San Juan with his wife, Karen, and five of their seven children.

“What I said is English has to be learned as a language and this has to be a country where English is widely spoken and used, yes,” Santorum told reporters, stating that the use of English should be a “condition” if Puerto Rico is to become a state. The island, he said, “needs to be a bilingual country, not just a Spanish speaking country.”

“I think English and Spanish – obviously Spanish is going to be spoken here on the island – but this needs to be a bilingual country, not just a Spanish-speaking country, and right now it is overwhelmingly just Spanish speaking. But it needs to have, in order to fully integrate into American society, English has to be a language that is spoken here also and spoken universally,” Santorum explained.

“I think that would be a condition. I think it’s important. And I think if you talk to most parents, they want their children to learn English. It is essential for children in America to be able to speak English to fully integrate and have full opportunities,” he added. “I don’t think we’re doing any more than, you know, people who come to America on the mainland. We’re not doing them any favors by not teaching them English.

Puerto Rico considers English and Spanish its official languages, but Spanish is more frequently used. With the island’s primary only three days away, Santorum – already the underdog there – cannot afford to alienate supporters. Republican front-runner Mitt Romney is the favorite in the commonwealth, and the former Massachusetts governor enjoys the backing of Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuno. If Romney, or any other candidate, wins more than 50 percent of the vote Sunday, then he will take 20 of the island’s 23 delegates. That leaves three super delegates, and two have already endorsed Romney.

Santorum met with Fortuno in San Juan Wednesday, explaining away the governor’s support for Romney by noting that “the establishment across America lined up behind Gov. Romney very early on and I certainly respect that.”

At the same time, Santorum tried to emphasize his ties to the island, noting that he was once referred to as “Senador Puertorriqueno.”

“I was referred to by many in my state as Senador Puertorriqueno,” he told reporters. “They used to make fun of me: ‘Why are you representing Puerto Rico?’

“Well, someone has to because they don’t have a voice. I felt a responsibility to the island.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio