Campaigning in Puerto Rico yesterday, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum said residents of the U.S. territory would have to make English their official language if they want to pursue statehood. A referendum on whether to pursue statehood or remain a commonwealth of the U.S. is scheduled for November; the island currently recognizes both English and Spanish as official languages.
In an interview with El Vocero newspaper, Santorum said he supported Puerto Ricans’ right to determine the island’s political status, but insisted that English be the primary language. “Like any other state,” he said, “there has to be compliance with this and any other federal law. And that is that English has to be the principal language.” However, no clause in the U.S. Constitution designates an official language or mandates that a territory adopt English as its principal language to acquire statehood.
Santorum traveled to Puerto Rico on Wednesday, hoping to capitalize on the momentum following his wins in the Alabama and Mississippi primaries on Tuesday. Puerto’s Rico’s Republican primary election is scheduled for Sunday, March 18. Though Puerto Ricans cannot participate in the general election in November, they do control 20 delegates to the Republican National Convention. A candidate must accumulate 1,144 delegate votes to win; the latest Associated Press tally showed Mitt Romney with 495, Santorum with 252 and Newt Gingrich with 131.
Santorum met briefly with Governor Luis Fortuño, who has endorsed Romney, before holding a townhall meeting. His insistence on adopting English as the primary language may not sit well with Puerto Rican Republicans, many of whom contend that issues of language and culture should be decided at the state level.