Santorum in yet more controversy

2012-03-16 10:43
Puerto Rico - Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum left a trail of controversy in Puerto Rico on Thursday after reportedly saying English should be the Spanish-speaking island's main language if it wants to be a US state.

With Puerto Rico holding a Republican primary on Sunday, his remarks touched a nerve at a time when every delegate counts in the close race to choose a candidate to run against President Barack Obama in November.

"It's a grave mistake," said Governor Luis Fortuno, a conservative who has endorsed former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney but received Santorum when he arrived on the island Wednesday.

Santorum clarifies statement

Parents in Puerto Rico "want their children to speak their native language and English", Fortuno said.

In an interview published on Thursday by the San Juan newspaper El Vocero, Santorum was quoted as saying that for Puerto Rico to become a state, federal law requires that English be the main language.

On Thursday, Santorum clarified his statement by saying that "English has to be learned as a language and this is a country where English is widely spoken and used".

"Obviously Spanish is going to be spoken here in the island, but this needs to be a bilingual country, not just a Spanish-speaking country," he said.

Spanish and English are both official languages of Puerto Rico.

Fortuno, who supports statehood, has called a referendum on the island's status in November, and Santorum's remarks are likely to play to fears among Puerto Ricans that statehood could lead to a loss of language and culture.

The issue of whether to seek statehood, independence or maintain the island's current status as a self-governing "commonwealth" has long dominated Puerto Rican politics.

Romney ad

In four earlier referenda, Puerto Rico voters chose to maintain the current status - in Spanish dubbed a "Free Associated State".

In Sunday's primary, 20 delegates to the Republican national convention are up for grabs.

Following Santorum to Puerto Rico in search of delegates is Romney, who is due to arrive in the next few days but whose campaign is already at work distributing campaign material - in Spanish.

The Romney campaign ran radio ads with the candidate's son said in fluent Spanish, "I'm Craig Romney.

"America stands for freedom, opportunity, where everything is possible. My father, Mitt Romney, believes in those values because he has lived them."

Read more on:    republicans  |  mitt romney  |  rick santorum  |  us  |  us elections 2012
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