Saturday, March 17, 2012

Rick Santorum tries to clarify declaration that English must be Puerto Rico’s official language for statehood

remarks enraged many voters in the predominantly Spanish-speaking commonwealth — and may hurt Santorum in Sunday’s GOP primary

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - MARCH 14:  Presidential candidate and former U.S. Rick Santorum (R-PA) attends a prayer service at the Path of the Cross Evangelical Church on March 14, 2012 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Presidential candidate and former U.S. Rick Santorum (R-PA) two-day campaign on the island is meant to win the 20 of 23 GOP delegates up for grabs on the island commonwealth in his bid for the republican presidential nomination. His religious views are likely to entice the vote of the island's large religious population.  (Photo by Christopher Gregory/Getty Images)


Christopher Gregory/Getty Images

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - MARCH 14: Presidential candidate and former U.S. Rick Santorum (R-PA) attends a prayer service at the Path of the Cross Evangelical Church on March 14, 2012 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Presidential candidate and former U.S. Rick Santorum (R-PA) two-day campaign on the island is meant to win the 20 of 23 GOP delegates up for grabs on the island commonwealth in his bid for the republican presidential nomination. His religious views are likely to entice the vote of the island's large religious population. (Photo by Christopher Gregory/Getty Images)

Rick Santorum has a message to Puerto Rican voters: I’m sorry.

Or, “Lo siento.”

Santorum was trying to clarify his controversial declaration that English would have to be Puerto Rico’s official language if the island wanted to become a state.

Those remarks enraged many voters in the predominantly Spanish-speaking commonwealth — and may hurt Santorum in Sunday’s GOP primary.

“Obviously Spanish would be the language here,” he told reporters late Thursday.

“We understand that you know the people of different cultures speak different languages,” Santorum sputtered, “but we have a common language, and that’s what I was saying yesterday.”

Puerto Ricans are United States citizens who cannot vote in the general election, but do have a voice in the primary process.

Santorum raised eyebrows by traveling to the Caribbean island after his wins in Mississippi and Alabama on Tuesday.

Though Puerto Rico is largely Catholic, a religion Santorum shares, the candidate does not have anything like the campaign structure on the island that rival Mitt Romney has built. Romney also has fared very well in offshore contests in places like Guam and America Samoa.

The controversy ignited after Santorum gave an interview to San Juan newspaper El Vocero about the island’s statehood bid.

“As in any other state, you have to comply with this and any federal law — and that is that English has to be the main language,” the former Pennsylvania senator said.

“There are other states with more than one language, as is the case in Hawaii,” he continued, “but to be a state in the United States, English has to be the main language.”

His comments cost him the support of several previous backers — including that of a former Puerto Rican senator.

In November, voters on the Caribbean island will hold a referendum on whether Puerto Rico should become a state — though the final decision will be made by Congress.

Previous statehood votes have been defeated.

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