Obama’s Puerto Rico Visit Generates Blowback
posted at 12:45 pm on June 19, 2011 by Howard Portnoy
Last Tuesday, Barack Obama became the first sitting president since John F. Kennedy to visit Puerto Rico. He was there on a PR (public relations) mission, but it appears he should have focused more on the plight of PR (Puerto Ricans).
The president’s whirlwind visit lasted all of four hours, during which he spoke in broad and sweeping platitudes, claiming that “the aspirations and struggles of this island mirror those of the United States” and promising “we are going to put people back to work here in Puerto Rico and all across America.”
Obama further attempted to ingratiate himself with the crowd by exhausting his meager inventory of phrasebook Spanish. In so doing he used the same exaggerated Spanish accent he invoked when he famously uttered the nonsense phrase cinco de cuatro in 2009, providing even the usually sympathetic comedian Jon Stewart with ammunition.
But the president’s phony posturing and phonier accent were the least of his problems. The biggest was that his visit was blatantly self-serving—to raise campaign funds—while ignoring altogether the island’s record crime rate and giving no more than lip service to the staggering unemployment faced by residents of the U.S. territory. Last year the island of 4 million people recorded 955 murders, its second worst year ever for homicides. Its unemployment rate, which is at 16%, is higher than any U.S. state.
Leaders of Puerto Rico’s pro-statehood New Progressive Party noticed the stark absence of any concrete offers of help or solutions with these pressing issues—and they were resentful. Local Sen. Melinda Romero, a delegate of the island’s chapter of the Democratic Party, has demanded an apology from Obama and asked that he return the money raised during the brief stopover. She is quoted by The Washington Examiner as having said:
The President did not bring anything to the table. His visit only served to take away dollars, just like they take away our young people to war.
Adding to the resentment of the ruling New Progressives, led by Republican Gov. Luis Fortuno, is the unscheduled lunch that Obama had with opposition gubernatorial candidate Alejandro Garcia, a photo op from which now appears on the White House website.
Not everyone was angered by Obama’s visit. Hector Ferrer, vice president of the Popular Democratic Party, defended the president, saying,
How do they expect that the President in a one-day visit provide them with solutions and solve the disaster that they have created in two years?
A local political analyst, moreover, predicted that the bitterness over the president’s visit would not likely result in his losing any votes of the 4.6 million Puerto Ricans who live on the U.S. mainland votes.
But that’s speculation. What is fact is that Barack Obama at this late date in his first term still harbors the naïve belief that he can get by on his looks and charisma. That as much as any factor could lead to his undoing and increase his chances of becoming a one-term president.
- Obama is “open” to Puerto Rico statehood?
- H.R. 2499 passes, moving Puerto Rico one step closer to statehood
- Is Puerto Rico about to become the 51st state?