As Puerto Rico enters another plebiscite question this November to check in on the island’s pulse regarding its 114-year-old colonial relationship with the United States, last night’s GOP Florida Debate on CNN included a question from Elizabeth Cuevas-Neunder, the Republican president and CEO of the Puerto Rican Chamber of Florida, about the candidates’ position on statehood for Puerto Rico. (SIDENOTE: The fact that Cuevas-Neunder called Puerto Rican Republican Governor Luis Fortuño a “great governor” can be the subject of another post, but we won’t go there today.)
For a brief second, we got excited about the question. YES! CNN has FINALLY gotten it. Florida’s Puerto Rican vote is a growing bloc and the issue of the island’s political status is a critical topic, especially since it would have been huge for ALL the GOP candidates to weigh in on the issue and more importantly, express public support for the upcoming plebiscite to become a BINDING resolution and respect the will of Puerto Ricans, who in essence are American citizens but have lived a second-class life. (On that point, we agree with Fortuñista Cuevas-Neunder, who made this point on CNN.)
But, in the end, CNN failed. Horribly. They glossed over an issue that matters for Puerto Rican voters, and never had all the candidates weigh in on it. Instead, it was Rick Santorum who answered the question and he was rather non-committal. After talking about supporting Puerto Ricans’ right to self-determination, he was quick to give a shout out to Fortuño, whose is a friend of Santorum’s and whose family went to the same church as Santorum’s in the DC area, when Fortuño was the island’s Resident Commissioner.
Santorum also went on to say that he LOVES Puerto Rico and has visited the island several times (probably when he was earning lobbying money from pharmaceutical companies who do business there), and blah blah blah. It was obvious to us that CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer had no clue about the issue of Puerto Rican status, and just goes to show how out of touch the mainstream American media is when it comes to the island.
But don’t take our word for it. A report today from Fox News Latino (yes, Fox News Latino) asked other Puerto Ricans about CNN’s fail and we are glad they did.
Puerto Ricans, the second largest voter group among Hispanics in the US, are “outraged” and “insulted” at CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and the Republican candidates for their “disrespectful” handling of a question centered around the longstanding issue of Puerto Rico’s statehood and independence.
During the live broadcast of the Jacksonville debate, audience members attending the Hispanic Leadership Network Conference, a center right advocacy organization, in Miami were given a chance to ask questions to the candidates. That’s when Elizabeth Cuevas-Neunder, the Republican president and CEO of the Puerto Rican Chamber of Florida, asked the GOP candidates where they stood on the issue of the island’s statehood.
The answer, or lack thereof, she received on national television sent her and a group of about five Puerto Ricans packing early as they stormed out of the CNN sponsored Watch Party mid-debate.
Here is what some Puerto Rican voters told FNL:
“It turns us off. The whole issue of Puerto Rico was just really insulting. They just blew it off. And of course no one takes a position,” Anthony Suárez, a veteran and lawyer, told Fox News Latino as he stormed off.
“You have got to understand not only is this an issue that is important to the four million American Puerto Ricans here -but there are four million Americans on that island who do not vote for president, who fight in wars, but have not had an opportunity to participate and that question is not even being debated – it’s not even being discussed.”
Colonel Dennis Freytes, USA Army Ret. Veteran and Chairman of the Hispanic Achievers Grant Council, was red mad specifically at Blitzer who moderated the event.
“I cannot understand the concept of Wolf Blitzer and CNN not even giving it the decency of having that question being asked of the other three candidates. It’s pretty disgusting,” he said.
Cuevas-Neunder, who had pinned the Puerto Rican flag on her outfit, was enraged after asking her question on national television.
“I felt as a second class citizen. As if we are not worth anything. Four million Puerto Rican voters, consumers, who have given more men and women to the United States armed forces then any other state in the union,” she said. “I am outraged. I think they need a little bit of education. I want to instruct them on who the Puerto Rican community is – they don’t know.”
José Fuentes, the former Puerto Rico Attorney General from 1997-1999, believes the flubbed debate moment which he called “shocking” will reverberate throughout the Puerto Rican community and will be felt as early as primary day on Tuesday in Florida.
“The impact is that there is going to be lower turnout of the I-4 corridor of the Puerto Rican community,” Fuentes told Fox News Latino specifically about this primary election.
Others reaffirmed the same belief that while CNN is at fault, it ultimately was a lose-lose for the Republican party.
“Even though it was an error on CNN they [the candidates] should have seized the moment. The other candidates should have said wait a second let me talk about Puerto Rican statehood. They spent more time talking about lunar statehood then Puerto Rican statehood,” said Alfonso Aguilar, of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles.
“Puerto Ricans are the decisive vote within the Latino electorate in Florida. This is a problem that CNN had. It was a big mistake. But to allow only Rick Santorum to answer the question was insulting.”