Obamu Puerto Rico sagaida ar lozungiem “Yankee go home”

Posted on June 17, 2011

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Though he was only here for less than four hours, many came prepared to ask President Barack Obama to leave Puerto Rico, even before he arrived.

On Tuesday, President Obama became the second U.S. president to visit Puerto Rico, 50 years after John F. Kennedy.

Puerto Rico, a territory of the United States since the Spanish-American War ended in 1898, had mixed feelings about Obama’s arrival.

The Republican, pro-statehood governor, Luis Fortuño, and his wife prepared to serve the president lemonade and give him a tour of the executive mansion — the oldest in the western hemisphere.

Hundreds of billboards that welcomed the president and others that read “We are proud to be part of history” lined the streets between the airport where Air Force One landed and the historic city of Old San Juan, where Obama would attend a fundraiser and meet with the governor.

But in Old San Juan, more than welcome signs were waiting to greet the president.

Thousands of Pro-Independence protesters gathered with signs that read everything from “Obama Go Home” to “Obama, Imperialist.”

The protesters demanded independence for Puerto Rico, which has been a colony for more than 500 years, since it became a Spanish possession after it was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493.

“The result we are looking for it to be known that there are people here who oppose the United State’s colonial politics,” said Franciso López, President of the Puerto Rico Nationalist Party. “And demands Independence for Puerto Rico and the excarceration of all its political prisoners.”

The most popular political prisoner, and the oldest in the world, is Oscar López. López was imprisoned under charges of sedition for being pro-independence and sentenced to 70 years of prison despite never having been linked to violent activity.

Many of the protesters expressed that they were disappointed that Obama’s main reason for visiting Puerto Rico was for fundraising.

As a country that has been colonized for so long, politics are a national pastime in the 100-by-35-mile island. The 3.9 million residents are bitterly divided among pro-independence, pro-commonwealth and pro-statehood.

But the United States ultimately has the last say and has been adamant about addressing the issue.

Giving Puerto Rico its independence would mean American companies would lose $20 billion worth of purchases a year due to trade restrictions that force Puerto Rico to transport all goods on American ships, according to Ramon Luis Nieves’s “The ELA We Want“.

This is a good payoff, considering the U.S. government only pays Puerto Rico $10 billion a year, around $8 billion of which are entitlements, such as Social Security and veterans payments, which Puerto Ricans have paid into.

Making Puerto Rico a state would cost the U.S. a lot of money in welfare payments, considering 60 percent of the population would not have to pay federal taxes, according to William Preston Giusti’s “Boricua Statehood: a Plausible Dream, Fantasy or Nightmare?”. The move would also give the country immense political power because its population would entitle it to seven representatives.

During his campaign for the Democratic nomination, Obama visited the island to win over voters who were allowed by the Democratic Party to vote in the primaries despite their inability to vote in presidential elections. Hillary Clinton ultimately won, but not before Obama pledged to come back to the island as president.

This visit was similar. In a little over four hours, President Obama made almost a million dollars in fundraising. This made many angry as they felt Obama’s visit should address the issue of Puerto Rico’s political status and not simply use Puerto Ricans to get publicity and win over Puerto Rican voters living in the United States.

Obama had his eye set intently on the 857,000 Florida Puerto Ricans, which he hoped would sympathize with him if he showed an interest in their home country and help counteract the Cuban voters who tend to be Republican.

The president, who invited the island’s representative to Congress, Pedro Pierluisi, to ride Air Force One, made promises to address the issue of status once Puerto Rico had decided what it wanted.

But Obama mostly kept it light by pledging to return to the island to play basketball with Puerto Rican NBA champion J.J. Barea of the Dallas Mavericks.

Meanwhile, protesters in Old San Juan waited.

They burnt several American flags, one man recited patriotic poetry, a group of women chained themselves together and the coalition of pro-independence groups marched through the streets of Old San Juan with Puerto Rican flags and anti-Obama signs in tow.

But the pro-statehood sector was also present. A group of around 70 pro-statehood sympathizers stood across the street from the pro-independence protesters, greeting the cars that entered the city wearing “Flag Day” T-Shirts and holding American flags.

“We are situated here to welcome everybody who is arriving in San Juan,” said Gustavo Mesa, who led a group of Pro-Statehood San Juan residents. “So they see that the president of the United States, Barack Obama, is supported by the good people of Puerto Rico.”

Another pro-statehood group had camped out in front of the legislative building, while a group of pro-independence young adults spent the night illegally in the city’s historical fort, El Morro.

Famous activist Tito Kayak, who hung a Puerto Rican flag on the Statue of Liberty in Nov. 2000, climbed a light pole and waved a flag that called for López’s liberation.

But it was the impromptu stop Obama made and its implications for local politics that received the most buzz in local news channels.

After spending only about 10 minutes in the executive mansion with Governor Fortuño, Obama added a surprise stop to his agenda and went to eat lunch at a bakery with Democrat and candidate for governor for the opposition party, Alejandro García Padilla.

This was a bold move on the part of the president, but one that was to be expected, since Fortuño has been known to campaign against Obama.

The meeting was arranged by fellow party member Eduardo Bhatia. It is said to be a blow to the current governor, who has been heavily criticized for breaking campaign promises andfiring more than 30,000 government workers.

At the end of the trip, only one thing is clear: President Obama’s four-hour visit sent waves throughout the island.

Viviana Bonilla López

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