March 8, 2010

Gov. Luis Fortuño Advocates for Puerto Rican Representation

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Luis Fortuño, governor of the commonwealth of Puerto Rico, spoke in Bailey Hall yesterday about the possibility of Puerto Rico becoming the 51st star on the United States flag.

“I see a bright star on the horizon,” he said. “I see a bright star in the constellation that is ‘Old Glory,” Fortuño said in a prepared speech.

“There’s a lot of work to be done,” he said. “It should get through the House. The Senate should be harder, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.”

Puerto Ricans have not had a Congressionally approved referendum since Puerto Rico was ceded to the United States 112 years ago, according to Fortuño.

Fortuño said that if Puerto Rico wins Congressional approval, the country’s citizens will need to vote in a referendum to decide the country’s status. If they vote to remain a commonwealth, referendums will be held again every ten years.

“The people will decide,” Fortuño said, “it’s up to them.”

He added, however, that he looked forward to the day when his country’s citizens received voting rights as well as legitimate representation in Congress.

“I have a vision of Puerto Rico where citizens of the island are not separated from those on the mainland by our wall of anachronistic territorial status,” he said.

The event’s organizers said they were generally pleased with the lecture.

“We’re trying to make Cornell conscious of the inequality that exists in Puerto Rico,” Julio Cabral ’13, one of the event’s chief organizers said.

Yet others, including members of the governor’s main opposition party in Puerto Rico, have criticized Fortuño, saying that the trip to Cornell did nothing to help the Puerto Rican cause.

“Why does the governor hold a publicity tour seeking support for statehood in foreign universities, but doesn’t do the same at Puerto Rico’s universities?” the youth of the Popular Democratic party, which favors maintaining commonwealth status, said in a statement. “What are they afraid of?”

Along with the Popular Democratic party and Fortuño’s own New Progressive Party, there is a third major party in Puerto Rican politics that has taken its own stance on the issue, calling for complete independence from the United States.

Cornell students that attended the lecture were equally divided on the issue.

“I think that for someone who wanted to learn more about Puerto Rican politics, it was a good experience as long as they take what he said with a grain of salt. This was just one side of the argument,” Krystal Crespo ’11 said. Crespo is president of the Puerto Rican Student Association, which cosponsored the event.

“I’m actually for independence,” Vanessa Rivera ’11 said, “But I recognize that Puerto Rico is not economically stable enough to be it’s own entity right now.”

Some argued that Puerto Rico would not fit as an American state due to cultural and language differences.

“The issue of culture is important in the discussion of political status as well as our identity as Puerto Ricans and as Americans,” Paula Latortue ’10 said, “A lot of Puerto Ricans don’t see themselves as Americans.”

But Fortuño responded to this critique, pointing out that being an American and a Puerto Rican are not mutually exclusive.

“I’m proud to be a Puerto Rican and an American citizen,” Fortuño said.

Fortuño also took time to respond to criticisms about his domestic policies, which have come under fire since he was inaugurated governor just over a year ago. Fortuño has enacted massive budget cuts, which have resulted in widespread layoffs of government employees. Fortuño, however, claimed that these cuts were necessary to reduce the $3.2 billion deficit he inherited.

“I wish there were no layoffs,” the governor explained in the question-answer session. “We had no money to meet our payroll so we were forced to make cuts.”

The governor’s visit to Cornell was also a personal one. Fortuño’s son spent the weekend visiting the University and meeting with the dean of the School of Industrial and Labor Relations to which he was recently accepted.

“We are very excited. It’s his decision, but I’m secretly rooting for Cornell,” Fortuño said.

Original Author: Anna-Lisa Castle