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August was supposed to be a great month for Puerto Rican Governor and pro-statehood Republican Luis Fortuño.

He was supposed to claim victory for changes to Puerto Rico’s constitution. He did not, essentially setting himself up for an unsuccessful re-election bid in November against an opponent who quite frankly is not the strongest of candidates.

Puerto Rican Republican Governor Luis Fortuño

He was supposed to start proclaiming success in his push to turn the Puerto Rican economy, but he can’t. Even after close to four years in office, Fortuño and policies have basically moved the island’s unemployment rate from 13.8 in January, 2009 to 13.7 in July, 2012, after it was as high as 16.6% in May, 2010. During his four years as governor, the Fortuño administration has seen the following happen to the island:

January, 2009: Puerto Rico had a labor force of 1,349,246 people. 1,163,674 people were employed. 185,572 people were unemployed. That would be a 13.8% unemployment rate.

July, 2012: Puerto Rico now has a labor force of 1,267,154 people. 1,093,903 people are employed. 173,251 people are unemployed. The overall unemployment rate is now at 13.7%.

Therefore, since Fortuño took office in 2009, Puerto Rico has seen a 7% decrease in its labor force (loss of about 82,000  people) and a 6% decrease in the number of employed people (a total loss of 80,000 jobs). Where are these people going? Very likely to places like Florida. In fact, they are going to Florida in growing numbers, as the latest US Census can confirm:

And that is where the Mitt Romney campaign comes in.

Unless you are totally shut off from the national election, to paraphrase the late Tim Russert: FLORIDA, FLORIDA, FLORIDA. Romney 2012 knows fully well that its candidate must make inroads into the Puerto Rican vote in Florida if it even thinks it has a chance of winning. So, being the out-of-touch campaign strategists that they are when it comes to the Latino vote, why not promote Fortuño?

Here is the problem with that. Think about it. The Puerto Rican population is migrating from the island to Florida because there are no jobs in Puerto Rico. Who has been at the helm of the worst economic crisis in Puerto Rico since the Great Depression? Luis Fortuño. There is no question that Fortuño has become a polarizing figure in Puerto Rican politics, and to think that his presence would help Romney’s efforts along the Interstate 4 corridor is unrealistic. Yay, the governor who forced me to leave the island is now telling me to vote Republican!

What is so ironic about this is that Fortuño has become a lot like President Obama, in the fact that both of them have to answer to stagnant economies and no true net changes in employment. Fortuño is quick to blame the previous administration of the opposing party, just like President Obama. But while Romney 2012 has no problem criticizing the President’s policies, it has always perplexed me why he would even roll out Fortuño. Hey, everyone, let’s celebrate the leader who has not created jobs for his own people and has seen people leave for better opportunities in the United States! Let’s hear for the guy who put a lot into pushing for changes to the Puerto Rican constitution, only to lose because people in Puerto Rico know how to Facebook and Twitter with the best of them! Right now, Luis Fortuño is damaged political goods, and his presence in Tampa will do nothing to move the needle with I-4 Puerto Ricans.

But I guess this is all about a deal. Fortuño has already assured anyone and everyone that Romney has promised the governor that if Puerto Rico were to vote for statehood in its upcoming November plebiscite (and that is one BIG IF), Fortuño were to win his re-election (another BIG IF) and if Romney were to become President Romney (a tossup IF), Romney would formally recognize the island’s desire to become the 51st state of the Union. That is the deal, and the unknowing US online media who has no clue about the complexities of Puerto Rico’s status (for example, does it even know that Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi—the Fortuño administration’s Resident Commissioner in Washington and the governor’s Number 2 guy on the ticket—is a pro-statehood Democrat who has distanced himself from both Romney and Fortuño?) eats up this whole public relations charade.

So instead of actually exploring Fortuño’s record and his growing unpopularity on the island, we get comments of how much fun Puerto Ricans love to party from Ann Romney and how Fortuño represents the new Latino Conservative (the same Latino Conservative who got billions in federal stimulus money to actually improve the situation on the island somewhat). Instead of stories that speak of a Puerto Rico that continues to see a rise in crime and a rise in income inequality, we get the shouts of “¡Buenas noches, Puerto Rico!” in Tampa. Forget the issues and the direction Puerto Rico is heading. This is all about getting the holy grail of statehood and it is also about what Fortuño will do and where he will go AFTER he loses in November.

From his speech in Tampa this week, we get a different view of a Puerto Rico from Fortuño. Cut taxes! Keep government small! Double-digit unemployment! People leaving the island I lead! Oh, wait…

In the end, all the Puerto Rican pride in the world could not hide the fact that the Romney campaign is trying to pander to Puerto Rican voters in Florida and the US every time it rolls out Fortuño as an example of success (and yes, we know, pandering to Latinos has become a tactic of both the GOP and the Democrats). As for Fortuño? It is clear that this is all about political opportunism and partisan loyalty. By not being truthful about what is really going in Puerto Rico and becoming “proof” that the GOP has new Latino stars, he is once again disrespecting and ignoring the people he serves. We thought he learned that lesson two weeks ago when he suffered a stunning defeat in the polls.

You would think he would be more humble about it. Guess not, since in a few months Luis Fortuño will be out looking for a new job.

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Good to see Florida Senator Marco Rubio commenting about the upcoming November plebiscite question in Puerto Rico. Sure, Rubio, who is of Cuban American descent, represents the state of Florida, which has seen an increase in voters of Puerto Rican descent the last few years, so it makes sense that he would weigh on the island’s non-binding vote to determine its political identity (statehood, independence or enhanced commonwealth). However, Rubio’s opinion reflects what most of the US Congress and President Obama is saying: the final decision by Puerto Ricans on the island has to be a clear majority, whatever that means. Just for reference, the 1958 statehood vote by Alaska won by a 6 to 1 margin, although only about 46,000 voted in Alaska. In 1959, Hawaii gained a 94% voted for statehood. Ironically, the one person who is pushing for a binding resolution of the status question is GOP front-runner Mitt Romney.

This is what a report from Caribbean Business chronicled about Rubio’s comments:

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a rising star in the Republican Party and potential vice presidential pick, has broken ranks with GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney over the issue off Puerto Rico statehood.

Rubio said in an interview that 50 percent plus one vote in a status plebiscite isn’t enough to put Puerto Rico on the path to become the 51st state.

“It doesn’t have to be 100 percent, nor 90 percent, but it cannot be, to say a figure, 51 percent of the votes,” Rubio reportedly told a local newspaper.

That puts the Cuban-American lawmaker, often mentioned as a vice presidential running mate for Romney, at odds with the former Massachusetts governor on statehood.

Romney has pledged to support statehood for the island if that option wins the Nov. 6 referendum on Puerto Rico’s political status, saying a simple majority at the polls should be enough.

The position taken by Rubio, a Tea Party favorite, actually puts him on the same page as Democratic President Barack Obama when it comes to statehood for Puerto Rico.

Right now, polls on the island show a virtual dead heat between enhanced commonwealth and statehood. It is highly doubtful that either option enters Hawaii or Alaska numbers, and in the end, the US Congress will still have final say. So, after 114 years of a complex (and colonial) relationship with the United States, Puerto Rico looks like it will still be stuck in the status quo.

One thing all Puerto Ricans, both on the island and the mainland, should agree on is that the upcoming plebiscite needs to be BINDING.

If you agree, let your elected officials know by visiting their official Congressional pages.

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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.”

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