Obama Makes Rare Presidential Visit to Puerto Rico

Posted June 13th, 2011 at 7:15 pm (UTC-5)
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U.S. President Barack Obama travels to the Caribbean Island of Puerto Rico Tuesday, becoming the first American leader in 50 years to visit the U.S. territory.

The president is expected to draw attention to the $7 billion in stimulus money provided Puerto Rico when he confers with the island's governor, Luis Fortuno. Governor Fortuno says the stimulus has led to net gains in employment, although it has taken a long time for the spending to have an effect. Puerto Rico has an unemployment rate of 16%.

Mr. Obama is the fifth U.S. president to travel to the island and the first since former President John Kennedy went there in 1961.

The visit has political significance since Puerto Ricans are the second largest Hispanic group in the United States after Mexicans. Hispanics are becoming an increasingly powerful voting bloc.

Statehood has long been an issue in Puerto Rico. Although the matter is not likely to come up during the president's five-hour visit, Mr. Obama supports a referendum to be held before the end of next year that would allow the island's residents to choose among statehood, independence or the current semi-autonomous commonwealth status.