Obama Making Rare Presidential Visit to Puerto Rico

Posted June 14th, 2011 at 8:55 am (UTC-5)
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U.S. President Barack Obama is visiting the commonwealth of Puerto Rico Tuesday, becoming the first sitting American president to make an official trip to the island in 50 years.

The White House says President Obama will speak briefly at a welcome event when he arrives in San Juan. He then will meet with the island's governor, Luis Fortuno.

During the talks at the governor's mansion, the president is expected to draw attention to the $7 billion in stimulus money Puerto Rico received. 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.

Tuesday's stop will last only five hours, but it fulfills a promise President Obama made when he was running for office in 2008. Visiting Puerto Rico during the campaign, Mr. Obama vowed to return if elected president.

Tuesday's visit also has significance for Mr. Obama's 2012 campaign as he continues to reach out to an increasingly powerful Hispanic voting bloc.

Citizens of Puerto Rico are not able to vote in a U.S. general election, but Puerto Ricans within the United States make up the second-largest group of Hispanics after Mexicans.

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.

Governor Fortuno says Mr. Obama's visit will allow the president to understand the issues that concern Puerto Ricans, particularly the need for job creation, and the impact of a worsening drug-trafficking problem in the Caribbean.

Puerto Rico was ceded to the United States by Spain in 1898 after the Spanish-American war. The island elects its own governor and sends delegates to major U.S. party nominating conventions. It also has a non-voting representative in the U.S. Congress.

Statehood has long been a hot political issue in the territory. 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.