The divisive issue of Puerto Rican statehood takes center stage this week as the GOP candidates focus their attention on the U.S. territory’s 23 delegate spots that are up for grabs in Sunday’s primary election.
Despite not being able to vote in the presidential elections, Puerto Ricans became U.S. citizens in 1917 and were granted the right to elect their own governor in 1947.
While the island’s official languages are English and Spanish, Spanish is used by most of its citizens and only 15 percent of Puerto Rican residents are fluent in English.
Statehood, along with the controversial topic of English as the official language of the U.S., could play a decisive role in deciding which of the GOP candidates grabs Puerto Rico’s delegates, and even who wins November’s presidential elections.
Fox News Latino has compiled a list of where each of the candidates and President Obama stands on the issue of Puerto Rican statehood.
Last year, Obama became the first U.S. president to make an official state visit to Puerto Rico since John F. Kennedy went to the island in 1961.
The president stated that he supports Puerto Rico’s right to self-determination and would back the island in whatever choice it makes on its status.
The President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status issued a report in March recommending that the island hold two more votes on the issue by the end of 2012.
"I am firmly committed to the principle that the question of political status is a matter of self-determination for the people of Puerto Rico," Obama wrote in March in a statement about the White House task force report, according to Bloomberg.
The White House report recommended that Puerto Rico decide first whether to remain part of the United States or become independent -- then depending on the outcome, a second vote would decide if the island becomes a commonwealth, seeks statehood, or decides on a form of independent status.
"We’re giving Puerto Ricans the tools they need to build their own economic future, and this is how it should be," Obama said.
Of all the GOP candidates, the former Massachusetts governor appears to have the most open view in support of Puerto Rican statehood.
While Romney is a proponent of making English the official language of the United States, and has promised to reduce government spending, he has stated that he supports Puerto Rican statehood without any kind of language or budgetary requirements.
In a recent opinion piece on Fox News Latino, Robert G. de Posada, the former president of The Latino Coalition, argued that the cost of making Puerto Rico at least a bilingual state would cost the United States around $25.67 billion, per year.
"Gov. Romney needs to come clean with Republican voters and be transparent," Posada wrote. "If he truly believes that English should be the official language of the U.S. and that federal spending must be reduced, then he must tell voters before the Republican primary on the island that Puerto Rico should have to adopt significant language policy changes—that is, change from de facto Spanish to de facto English—and achieve, at the very least, substantial economic parity with the poorest state in the Union before Congress and the President should agree to admit it as the 51st State."
Rick Santorum arrived Wednesday in Puerto Rico following victories earlier in the week in the Alabama and Mississippi primaries.
The former Pennsylvania senator is hoping to continue his recent surge on the island as he spoke to the local press and met with Puerto Rican Gov. Luis Fortuño – a Romney supporter.
In an interview with Puerto Rico’s El Vocero newspaper, Santorum stated that he supports the island’s right to self-determination of statehood but that first Puerto Rico would have to do something about its official language.
“Like any other state, there has to be compliance with this and any other federal law," Santorum told the paper, according to NPR. "And that is that English has to be the principal language. There are other states with more than one language such as Hawaii but to be a state of the United States, English has to be the principal language."
On Thursday, however, Santorum backpedaled from the comments he made to El Vocero.
"Obviously Spanish would be the language here," Santorum said, adding that it’s essential that English be taught and spoken "universally" throughout the island.
"That’s something that I think is essential to be an American period, whether you’re going to be a state or not, people should speak English and it should be a common language among all Americans," Santorum said.
The former Speaker of the House has been much more coy than his fellow GOP rivals.
Instead of saying outright that he supports Puerto Rican statehood, Gingrich stated that he would work with the people of Puerto Rico to establish the process of ascension, if that is what they choose.
"I am not dictating the outcome of the referendum because there are several options and the Puerto Rican people have to make that decision," Gingrich said, according to ABC News. "But I think they have every right and I support their right to have a referendum to decide on statehood or not and that is something which I would actively support as their right to have a referendum and then, as every other state has, to negotiate the process of accession if that’s what the people of Puerto Rico want to do."
While he’s a strong supporter of making English the official language of the United States and has co-sponsored bills on the issue, Paul has barely addressed statehood.
When questioned about it, Paul has said that he’s “not taking a position at this time."
The Texas senator also did not vote on the final passage of H.R. 2499, the Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2010.
Photo: SEIU International @ Flickr.