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Posted at 10:02 PM ET, 03/15/2012

Puerto Ricans slam Santorum for saying the territory should adopt English if it wants statehood

Several prominent Puerto Ricans blasted Rick Santorum on Thursday over his remarks that if the U.S. territory wants to become the 51st state, it must adopt English as its main language.

The GOP presidential candidate’s comments, made Wednesday in English-language interviews with several local news outlets, prompted one of his supporters, Oreste Ramos, to request that his name be removed from Sunday’s ballot as a Santorum delegate in the territory’s Republican caucuses. Several other officials on the island reacted angrily to Santorum’s remarks.

Santorum’s camp has responded by claiming that the former senator was misquoted, although in his interviews with the several news outlets, Santorum repeatedly made clear his position that English serve as a “main language.”

In a phone interview Wednesday with El Vocero, a San Juan-based, Spanish-language newspaper, Santorum was asked whether he would support the admission of a state in which Spanish is spoken as the main language.

According to a Spanish translation of the interview posted on El Vocero’s Web site, Santorum said that “as in any other state, (Puerto Rico) should comply with this and every other federal law -- and that is that English must be the main language.”

It was unclear to which law Santorum was referring. No federal law stipulates a linguistic requirement as a condition for statehood.

“There are other states with more than one language, as is the case with Hawaii, but in order to be a state in the United States, English must be the main language,” Santorum told the newspaper.

A video of a subsequent interview with El Vocero shows Santorum explaining at length his position that Puerto Rico must make English its “main language” if it wants to achieve statehood.

On Thursday, as the comments were vilified both in Puerto Rico and on the U.S. mainland, Santorum sought to clarify his remarks.

“What I said is English has to be learned as a language and this has to be a country where English is widely spoken and used, yes,” Santorum told reporters in San Juan, according to multiple reports.

He again argued that the adoption of English as a primary language should be a “condition” of Puerto Rican statehood, although he repeatedly referred to Puerto Rico as a “country” and not a territory.

“I think English and Spanish – obviously Spanish is going to be spoken here on the island – but this needs to be a bilingual country, not just a Spanish-speaking country, and right now it is overwhelmingly just Spanish-speaking,” he told reporters. “But it needs to have – in order to fully integrate into American society, English has to be a language that is spoken here also and spoken universally.”

A representative of the Santorum campaign, J. Hogan Gidley, said late Thursday that “Rick is an advocate of making English our official language — just like 90% of Americans. He knows there’s no current federal law in place — but what he was talking about — is that once English is made the official language — obviously all states would need to comply.

“In Puerto Rico, Rick would encourage people to speak English in addition to Spanish because English is the language of opportunity in America,” he added.

The political implications of Santorum’s remarks remain unclear.

Given the strong backlash to his comments among Puerto Rican politicos, the imbroglio isn’t likely to help Santorum ahead of the territory’s Sunday caucuses, at which 23 Republican National Convention delegates are at stake.

And some outside observers have speculated that the comments could come back to haunt Santorum in the general election, should he win the GOP nomination:

But the remarks could give Santorum something of a boost among GOP primary voters in the rest of the U.S., particularly among tea-party supporters who are strongly against illegal immigration and want the adoption of English as a national language.

By  |  10:02 PM ET, 03/15/2012

 
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