Critics sniff that President Barack Obama’s whirlwind visit to Puerto Rico today is shameless pandering to Puerto Ricans and other Latino voters for the 2012 elections.
Pander away, say New York’s Borinquenos.
“This really shows he cares,” said Janice Pineda, 33, of the first official presidential visit since John F. Kennedy’s stop on the island in 1961. “It’s important for the Puerto Rican people to see someone and this shows we’re not being dismissed,” said the administrative assistant from Park Slope.
The trip “is a direct reflection of how important the Latino vote will be in the next election,” observed Julissa Gutierrez, northeast director of civic engagement for the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.
While Puerto Ricans based on the island cannot vote in presidential elections, the gesture is intended to woo the increasing populations of U.S. Puerto Ricans in swing states such as Florida and Illinois, said Gutierrez, noting that the 4.1 million Puerto Ricans on the mainland now outnumber the 3.9 million in the commonwealth.
Of course, the issue of the island nation’s status will be prominent during his brief visit. Puerto Ricans on the island are divided on whether to remain a commonwealth or become the 51st state. (Some want a total split with the U.S.) It’s unlikely the visit will resolve the issue, but it will underscore tensions.
Puerto Ricans want the “social services that America has, like Medicaid,” said Irene Flores-Jimenez, 43, of West Harlem.
It’s likely that the president received requests for financial aide during his time on La Isla Del Encanto, predicted Hector Gesualdo, executive director of ASPIRA in New York City.
The stop, which will include meetings with statehood-supporting Gov. Luis Fortuño, followed the March delivery of presidential task force report on Puerto Rico which made recommendations on economic development, job creation, education, health care and clean energy. Poverty and unemployment rates on the island exceed those on the mainland.
While many Latinos are disappointed that the president has failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform, Puerto Ricans were overjoyed by Obama’s appointment of Justice Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court and gratified to see that the president kept his election promise to visit the island if elected, noted Gutierrez.
The visit helps “to move the relationship between the territory and the 50 states in a positive direction,” chorused Rep. Jose’ E. Serrano.
(with Gabrielle Bruney)