As the GOP candidates head down to Puerto Rico for the island's Republican primary, citizens of the self-governing commonwealth are reminded that their vote counts -- well, kind of.
Puerto Ricans,made U.S. citizens in 1917 under commonwealth status, can serve in the U.S. military and vote in presidential primaries, but remain unable to vote in the election itself. Stuck in a representational limbo, some Puerto Ricans say they feel snubbed by the American political cycle.
In a January GOP debate in Florida, Elizabeth Cuevas-Neunder, a Republican businesswoman from Puerto Rico, addressed the candidates squarely. "We have been treated as second class citizens," she said.
Cuevas-Neunder then posed a question regarding Puerto Rico's statehood. Wolf Blitzer allowed only Santorum to offer a "brief response", sparking controversy in the Puerto Rican community. Santorum said that the issue should be decided by "self-determination"-- an answer which some Puerto Ricans say only scratches the surface. Cuevas-Neunder says the incident was just another example of how U.S. politicians consistently ignore the island.
“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,” she told Fox News Latino.
Last summer, Obama visited the island, making him the first sitting U.S. President to do so since JFK's trip nearly fifty years prior. However, Obama was widely criticized for the trip, which lasted only four hours, and some say was an attempt to court Puerto Rican voters in swing states such as Florida.
As the island navigates the contentious question of becoming a U.S. state, a matter they will vote on come November, the GOP hasn't done much better this week at appealing to Puerto Rican primary voters.
Santorum sparked controversy on Wednesday for saying that if Puerto Rico wanted to become a state, it would first have to make English its "main language" in an interview with El Vocero newspaper.
"Like any other state, there has to be compliance with this and any other federal law," Santorum said. "And that is that English has to be the principal language. There are other states with more than one language such as Hawaii but to be a state of the United States, English has to be the principal language."
However, the U.S. Constitution does not designate an official language, nor is there a requirement that a territory adopt English as its primary language in order to become a state.
Gov. Luis Fortuño, who has endorsed Romney based on his support for Puerto Rico's statehood, disagrees with Santorum, contending that both languages are important to the culture of the island. And Puerto Rico's only member of Congress, Rep. Pedro Pierluisi (D), said this view is, "narrow and limiting view of what America is all about."
Romney, who says he is a proponent of the island's admission to the union, campaigned on the message of making English the U.S.'s official language a few months ago. It remains unclear exactly how Romney will resolve "official language" issue in Puerto Rico, if it seeks to become the 51st state.
In an interview with CNN On Thursday, Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul attempted to clarify the candidate's stance on the issue.
“Puerto Rico currently recognizes both English and Spanish as the official languages of the commonwealth," she said. “Governor Romney believes that English is the language of opportunity and supports efforts to expand English proficiency in Puerto Rico and across America. However, he would not, as a prerequisite for statehood, require that the people of Puerto Rico cease using Spanish.”
The Romney campaign's statement regarding the importance of English comes one day after their release of a new Spanish-language radio ad narrated by the in Spanish by the candidate's son, Craig Romney, who is fluent in Spanish. In the ad, Mitt Romney even tries out a few words of en Español himself.
"Soy Mitt Romney, y apruebo este mensaje. Muchas gracias," he says. (Translation: I am Mitt Romney, and I approve this message. Thank you very much.)
But this isn't the GOP candidates' first encounter with the question of the island's statehood. During the GOP January, Cuevas-Neunder along with four Puerto Rican colleagues, "stormed out of the CNN sponsored Watch Party mid-debate" after they felt snubbed by the moderator and the candidates alike, according to Fox News Latino.
Anthony Suárez, a U.S. veteran and lawyer who left with Cuevas-Neunder told Fox News Latino that the handling of the question of their statehood was "really insulting."
"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," he said to Fox News Latino.
"That question is not even being debated. It’s not even being discussed,” he added.