When It Comes to Puerto Rican Statehood, It’s All Lip Service in ‘Español’

In August of last year, I wrote an op-ed in the Orlando Sentinel where I predicted Hispanics playing a key role in the next presidential elections and the possibility of Hispanics running for President or Vice President of the United States. As of today, everything seems to be happening as predicted. Two Hispanics within the Republican Party have officially announced their candidacies for President (Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas) with an additional candidate expected to announce, and who although not Hispanic, speaks fluent Spanish (Jeb Bush). During the final week of April, Bush was actually in the non-voting US territory of Puerto Rico raising money for his campaign, shaking hands and kissing babies like all politicians do, except for one new twist—he was giving speeches in Spanish!

The island territory of Puerto Rico has more American citizens than 21 U.S. States but cannot vote for our Commander in Chief. So you may be left asking yourself, “What the hell is Jeb Bush doing in Puerto Rico campaigning?” For two reasons and two reasons only. First, to woo the Puerto Rican vote in battleground state of Florida (there are 1 million Puerto Ricans living in the Sunshine State, and they continue to flock here in the thousands every year).

The second reason is MONEY. The Bush dynasty has tapped into the fundraising machinery of the pro-statehood movement on the island for decades, and for decades they have verbally supported Puerto Rico becoming a state of the Union, but have never made true movements to actually make it happen. Now, don’t get me wrong, Barack Obama did exactly the same thing in 2011 when he became the first sitting President since John F. Kennedy to visit the island. Did I mention Obama won Florida in 2012?

George H. W. Bush verbally supported statehood for the island during his presidency, even mentioning the idea during one of his State of the Union addresses. Obviously, nothing ever happened. (And it wasn’t just George H.W. Bush. It was also Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan.)

Interestingly, on the flip side, George W. Bush was quite silent on the issue throughout his entire two terms as President. This year, while in Puerto Rico, Jeb Bush announced his unwavering support of statehood if elected President and spoke of a united America. I guess support for statehood skips a generation within the Bush family. My question to Jeb Bush is: Why wait until you are elected President (assuming he’s elected) to tackle the issue?

The Republican Party (his party) is in control of both the U.S. House and Senate. Considering that Congress has absolute authority and jurisdiction regarding the Puerto Rico political status issue in accordance with the U.S. Constitution, why doesn’t Jeb just publicly pressure the GOP majority in Congress to get it done now? After all, the people on the island territory did vote overwhelmingly for statehood in 2012. The answer is simple. He will not do that, because he knows the GOP Tea Party Congress will never accept a Hispanic majority state into the Union and Jeb’s fellow party members in Congress not answering his call will project him as a weak leader within his party and ultimately hurt his presidential campaign.

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Hillary Clinton on the other hand, has never publicly supported statehood, but has supported the presidential vote for Puerto Rico regardless of whether or not it becomes a state—sort of like Washington, D.C. residents who can vote, although the nation’s capital is not a state.

However, Clinton disappointingly ommitted Puerto Rico from her voting rights speech yesterday in Houston.

Both prominent Republicans and Democrats have gone to Puerto Rico, made promises and taken campaign money, yet have done nothing to facilitate the right to vote for 3.5 million U.S. citizens. The Hispanic community in general is tired of the lip service regarding both the Puerto Rico equal rights issue and as well as real comprehensive immigration reform. We will be viligant in 2016 by demanding candidates to take stronger stances regarding the issues that affect us. We are tired of the lip service… even if it is in Spanish.

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Phillip Arroyo is currently a Juris Doctor student at Florida A&M College of Law in Orlando, Florida. Mr. Arroyo was selected as the only Puerto Rican to serve in the 2012 White House Internship, having worked in the office of the Vice President Joe Biden, where he analyzed domestic and economics issues while at the White House. You can follow him on Twitter @PhillipArroyo.

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