In "Santorum on English as the primary language of Puerto Rico", 3/14/2012, I reprinted some of the coverage of Senator Rick Santorum's opinions about the role of English proficiency in Puerto Rico's eligibility for statehood. The lede of the Reuters story:
Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum told Puerto Ricans on Wednesday they would have to make English their primary language if they want to pursue U.S. statehood, a statement at odds with the U.S. Constitution.
After looking further into both his statements and the legal issues, I've concluded that the Reuters story misrepresents what Santorum said. Reuters was apparently inspired by the story in El Vocero, which appears to put a Spanish-language quotation in Santorum's mouth that is not a direct translation of anything that he said in the English-language interview, and in fact partly contradicts things that he did say in the cited interview.
Specifically, he says that "whether business is conducted in English, or family life is in Spanish or English is obviously a decision that the people can individually make"; and he refers approvingly to the 1993 Puerto Rican law that allows both Spanish and English for official business in the island. He does say that "a condition for admission" as a state is "that people would and could speak both languages", and that " there needs to be proficiency in English, not just a knowledge of English but proficiency".
He asserts that English proficiency is "a requirement that we put on other states as a condition for entering the union", which I believe is false. But he never says anything to the effect that Puerto Ricans "would have to make English their primary language if they want to pursue U.S. statehood", as the Reuters story asserts — on the contrary, he says explicitly that people should be free to use whatever language they want at home and in business, as long as they are also proficient in English.
Santorum's general views on English proficiency in Puerto Rico strike me as reasonable (though of course controversial) ones — watch or read the interview and see what you think. (I believe he does get some of the legal and political history wrong, but that's another matter.) The news coverage mangled his quotations and their interpretations in several ways, as so often happens, but I'll put off a detailed critique for another day. This morning, I'm just going to reprint some relevant passages from Nancy Morris, Puerto Rico: Culture, Politics, and Identity, 1995.
In April 1991 the Puerto Rican legislature passed a law that had vast symbolic implications. In order "to abolish an anachronism and reaffirm our historic condition as a Spanish-speaking people," the new law designated Spanish as the official language of Puerto Rico, while retaining English as a mandatory subject in schools (Estado Libre Asociado 1991). This law, which overturned the 1902 statute permitting either English or Spanish to be used in government dealings in the island, did not simply burst into existence as a response to the [Independence vs. Statehood] plebiscite process. It had been making its way through the Puerto Rican legislative process for nearly a year. Statehood supporters claimed that the visibility of the language bill contributed to some U.S. senators' opposition to a Puerto Rican plebiscite. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan has confirmed this view, stating that "Congressional resistance arises largely from the question of whether the island should have the option to choose statehood whilst retaining Spanish as an official language." The possible interplay of symbolic communication is intricate, as the Puerto Rican langauge law and the U.S. plebiscite bill were being considered during the same period by their respective legislative bodies. Whether by accident or design, less than two months after the plebiscite bill died in the U.S. Senate committee, the language bill was signed into law in Puerto Rico.
The law had little impact on the daily lives of most Puerto Ricans. Both socially and officially, Puerto Ricans communicate with one another in Spanish. In the 1990 census 52 percent of Puerto Ricans reported that they spoke just Spanish and could speak no English at all, and another 24 percent reported that they could speak English only with difficulty. Surveys have confirmed that the overwhelming majority of Puerto Ricans — 95 percent in a 1993 poll — prefer the Spanish language. The controversy generated by the Spanish-language law was not about problems in implementation or compliance, although some difficulties did arise, but about allegiances to Puerto Rican political parties and the status options they represent. The bill ahd been proposed and passed by the commenwealth majority in the Puerto Rican legislature, with support o the independence party. Statehood advocates had opposed the language law, favoring the preservation of English as an officially sanctioned language in Puerto Rico. […]
Statehood supporters were not arguing for the adoption of English. Years before, statehood party leader Carlos Romero Barceló had declared, "[O]ur language and our culture are not negotiable" (1978:9). […]
Voter dissatisfaction with the commonwealth party was again evident in the 1992 Puerto Rican gubernatorial election. The statehood party, listing among its priorities social goals such as crime control, as well as overturning the Spanish-language law and holding a status plebiscite, swept the elections. For only the second time since 1948, the statehood party won both the governorship and control of the two houses of the Puerto Rican legislature.
The first bill submitted to the newly elected legislature called for rescinding the 1991 language law and reinstating the 1902 law that had allowed the indiscriminate use of English and Spanish for official business in the island. During legislative and public discussions of the law, each side accused the other of using the law only for political ends. A commonwelath party opponent of the bill said the purpose of the bill was simply to "help pave the rocky road to statehood" by showing the U.S. government that "English is an official language in Puerto Rico". A statehood party leader, in turn, accused the commonwealth party of opposing the law solely out of "political motivations directed at trying to impose barriers to permanent union and the harmonious coexistence of Puerto Rico with the United States". But commonwealth party spokespersons explained their opposition to the bill by linking language, culture, and the school language issue that had dominated Puerto Rican politics for the first half of the [20th] century: "[T]he new law constitutes a threat to Puerto Rican culture, as it woud allow the eventual substitution of English for Spanish as the instrument of instruction in schools". Pedro Rosselló, the newly elected governor, defended the law reinstating English as an official language with the same argument he had used to oppose the Spanish-language law of the previous administration: that the law would not affect daily life. "The language in which people communicate is and will continue to be principally Spanish, regardless of any language laws that may be passed," said Rosselló His reason for supporting the law, he continued, was indeed political: "In submitting this law we are reaffirming our … desire to live permanent union with the United States". The language law was passed in January 1993.
I have not been able to find " the 1902 statute permitting either English or Spanish to be used in government dealings in the island"; this might be a reference to the 1900 Foraker Act, which various internet sites identify as a source of official-language law in Puerto Rico, but I haven't been able to find the text of that law either. Some sites also identify the Jones-Shafroth Act (Pub.L. 64-368, 39 Stat. 951, enacted March 2, 1917) as defining official-language status, but there seems to be nothing on that subject in the printed copy. The English and Spanish texts of the Constitution of Puerto Rico (1952) don't appear to prescribe any official language(s), though there are some things like "No person shall be a member of the Legislative Assembly unless he is able to read and write the Spanish or English language …"
Update — whether because of the actual content of his interview, or because of the spin put on it by El Vocero and Reuters, Santorum's remarks on Puerto Rican language policy seem to have been disastrous for his chances in today's Republican primary there — the result was a lopsided victory for Mitt Romney.
Santorum's campaign is presenting this as a contrast between his "principled core" and Romney's willingness to "do and say anything to get votes":
Rick Santorum has a consistent core – and he showed that when he went to Puerto Rico and took a locally unpopular but principled stance about English being the official language of America. Mitt Romney on the other hand, switched another one of his positions to gain favor in Puerto Rico, by saying that Puerto Ricans shouldn't have to learn English if they want to become a state," said spokesman Hogan Gidley.
We all know Mitt Romney will do and say anything to get votes, and this is just another example of that. I think the 90% of Americans who believe English should be the official language of this country must be wondering why Mitt Romney disagrees with that. Mitt Romney says he supports English as the official language of America while on the mainland, but then says Puerto Ricans don't have to learn English while he's on Puerto Rico. Our nation needs a leader like Rick Santorum who will make the tough choices and level with the American people even when it is not easy.