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Puerto Rico’s Spanish-First Legislation Is Divide and Conquer Politics

By: Frank Worley-Lopez - Sep 3, 2014, 9:16 am

EspañolThe Popular Democratic Party (PDP) in Puerto Rico is at it again. In what appears to be a concerted effort to dismantle what is left of the commonwealth, the party has once again brought up the “Spanish only” issue. This isn’t the first time the PDP has attempted to use Spanish-first or Spanish-only legislation to divide the people of Puerto Rico and keep its indigent dumb and poor.

According to the Latin American Herald Tribune, Senator Antonio Fas Alzamora proposes “passing a law establishing Spanish as the island’s No. 1 language and making its use obligatory in Executive, Legislative, and Judicial areas, thus overturning Law 1-1993, which made the two languages co-equal in public forums.”

Fas Alzamora argues that by establishing Spanish as the official language, the island will strengthen its cultural identity and “validate the reality that more than 80 percent of Puerto Ricans do not understand or speak English.”

And whose fault is that senator? Which party has held power longer since the establishment of the commonwealth in 1952? Why wouldn’t you make sure that every Puerto Rican school child be fully and functionally fluent in the language of the country of their citizenship? Could there be other motives to keeping English-language proficiency at a minimum?

After years of living on the island and following Puerto Rico news and politics, even while away, one trend is absolutely clear: the higher you look on the socioeconomic ladder, the more English is spoken; the lower you go, the less English is spoken. This new legislation follows the Senate’s passage of a bill that would make it virtually impossible to punish employees for sick leave abuse.

The bipolar nature of the PDP is evident. The party gladly welcomes billions of dollars in federal aid (read US taxpayers money, which by the way is printed in English), but wants to maintain as much separation from the United States as possible. Its “enhanced commonwealth” proposals are mostly independence proposals masked as “free association,” or some other creative term.

I have no problem with independence; in fact, I advocate for it. I do have a problem, however, with intentionally subverting the future of Puerto Rican children. As long as Puerto Rico remains a US territory or commonwealth, English should, at the very least, be equally used and recognized as it is right now.

If and when Puerto Rico becomes an independent nation, it would then make more sense for it to use Spanish or whichever language its people determine. However, while it remains a US territory and continues to receive funding from the US government, we cannot expect US citizens from the 50 states and other territories, who visit Puerto Rico and may be in need of assistance from its government, to be refused services in English while on the island.

This would be no different than a Mexican state voting to make English their official language, while its existence depends on the Spanish-speaking Mexican federal government and their funds. It is a shameful and divisive issue.

Maybe it’s time for the United States to stand up and demand that Puerto Rico become either a state, with full taxation, or an independent nation, with zero federal assistance.

All US states provide Spanish or bilingual education programs, as well as public services and official government forms. Why would Puerto Rico seek to deny that same right to 300 million of its fellow citizens who essentially fund the island?