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Puerto Rico: Disappointment, Frustration, and Laughs Over Obama's Visit

On Tuesday June 14, 2011, United States President Barack Obama visited Puerto Rico, the Caribbean island described either as a commonwealth, a territory, or a colony of the United States since 1898. It was the first official visit of a US president since John F. Kennedy visited Puerto Rico in 1961.

Obama arrived at 11:30 am and left at 3:30 pm, although it had been informed that he would be in San Juan, the capital city, at least an hour and a half longer.

Obama – whose visit was supposed to commemorate the 50th anniversary of JFK's visit – offered a ten minute message, in which he mentioned his support that Puerto Rican's determine their political status, the sacrifices of Puerto Rican soldiers and veterans in US wars, the typical plate “arroz con gandules,” and the victory of basketball player JJ Barea of the Dallas Mavericks, the champion of the National Basketball Association finals, among other topics. Here is the official White House video of his brief address:

Obama payed a short visit to governor Luis Fortuño – a pro-statehood Republican – at La Fortaleza (the governor's colonial palace), ran through one of his fundraising activities (one of them cost about $35,000 per person, and Obama reportedly raised around $1 million), and finally had a “medianoche” (typical sandwich) at Kasalta, a landmark bakery-restaurant-cafe in San Juan, with the pro-commonwealth and Democrat senator and governor candidate for 2012 Alejandro García Padilla (Fortuño's contender). That was it. The implications of his visit, besides the obvious fundraising and political campaigning, are still being debated.

Thousands marched through Old San Juan protesting [es] against his policies and claiming the release of Puerto Rican political prisoner Oscar López Rivera.

Since his visit was announced, Obama and his four hours in Puerto Rico have been the center of public discussion. His flash visit was heavily covered by mainstream media, with minute-by-minute accounts [es], special coverages [es], and livestreaming. The non-profit Centro de Periodismo Investigativo [es] and NotiCel [es] also covered the event. The online conversation developed under the hashtags #obamapr and #obamaenpr, where we can find a lot of humor.

The presenter of the radio music program Frecuencias Alternas [es] and member of the team behind the podcast #EnProfundo, Ezequiel Rodríguez (@eldifusor) tweeted:

Garcia Padilla: “..SI, ¡te traje a Obama eh! eh!” #ObamaEnPR #CaptionThis http://twitpic.com/5bkmiw

Garcia Padilla: “Yes, I brought Obama, eh, eh! #ObamaEnPR #CaptionThis http://twitpic.com/5bkmiw

@detra83 joked about the famous “medianoche”:

Hoy voy a almorzar un #medianoche en honor a #ObamaPR

Today I am going to have a #medianoche for lunch in honor of #ObamaPR

Journalist and editor of El Nuevo Día, Benjamín Torres Gotay (@torresgotay) was quite critical:

@torresgotay: Discurso genérico, Mr. Presidente, where's the beef? #obamaenpr

@torresgotay: Generic message, Mr. President, where's the beef? #obamaenpr

Bloggers have also reflected on Obama's visit, its meaning and implications. Global Voices author, poet and blogger Yarisa Colón Torres aludes to Obama's remark [es] that Puerto Ricans are as American as apple pie and “arroz con gandules”:

La visita del presidente de los Estados Unidos a Puerto Rico detuvo el curso de nuestros hechos, por los menos durante cuatro horas. “De nuevo estamos en el mapa” gritaban unos con orgullo. “Primero JJ Barea, ahora Obama. Qué honor, y todo en menos de una semana…Estamos pegaos…” gritaban otros. Pero a Enero tampoco le interesan los deportes ni los discursos en inglés, salpicados de español (algo así como ahora hacen en el hiphop); ni le sorprenden las comparaciones histéricas entre un apple pie y el arroz con gandules. Ahora resulta que uno y lo otro son igualmente americanos.

The visit of President of the United States to Puerto Rico stopped the course of our actions, at least for four hours. “Again we are in the map,” shouted someone with pride. “First JJ Barea, now Obama. What an honor, all in less than a wee … We are on a roll…,” others shouted. But January [fictional character] is not interested in sports or speeches in English sprinkled with Spanish (like hiphop is done now), nor is surprised by the hysterical comparisons between apple pie and arroz con gandules. It now turns out that both are equally American.
Blogger Ed Morales [es] also wrote about the visit and noted that some issues were not mentioned:

Speaking of brothas in the tropics, how about that classic moment when POTUS [President of the United States] removed his suit jacket in a 90-degree aircraft hangar in San Juan? Then proceeded to butcher the pronunciation of every prominent Puerto Rican politician. Well I guess they deserved it, right, for wanting statehood.

I don’t think I’ve seen one mention of the police brutality at the University of Puerto Rico, Oscar Rivera López, or the Gasoducto in any of the MiamiStreamMedia recaps of the visit so far.

In Palabra Latente [es], Angel Javier demonstrates his disillusion and anger [es]:

[…] ¿Tu padre no te ha visitado? 50 años. Sin pensar. Sin sentir. ¿Escuchó lo que has hablado? No. Hoy regresó. ¿Le reclamaste? No. En cambio, dócil. Sonrisas de suplica. Saliva de mediocres. Abofeteados por el protocolo. Disfrazados de asfalto. De pintura. De voces que callan amarguras. De silencio. De censura. El poder de la injusticia. De historia oscura. Reacciona. ¿Libertad? ¿Democracia? No me condenen la dictadura.  Aquí estamos encarcelados.

[…] Your father has not visited you? 50 years. Without thinking. Without feeling. Did he hear what you have said? No. Today he returned. Did you complain? No. Instead, docile. Smiles of supplication. Mediocre saliva. Humiliated by the protocol. Disguised as asphalt. Of paint. Of voices that dare not speak. Of silence. Censorship. The power of injustice. Of dark history. React. Freedom? Democracy? Don't condemn the dictatorship. Here we are imprisoned.

The online satire publication “El ñame” (The Yam)  had a feast with Obama's visit [es]:

Tras la absolutamente decisiva visita de casi cuatro horas de duración realizada el pasado martes por el presidente Barack Obama, miles de estadistas de la Isla se mostraron sorprendidos esta mañana con el hecho de que el país no se ha convertido aún en estado. Fuentes revelaron que a pesar de la confusión tras este no-resultado, los partidarios de esta fórmula de estatus mantienen la esperanza de que durante la tarde de hoy comience a caer nieve sobre Adjuntas, se hagan rubios los loiceños y que caiga un aguacero de mantengo sobre la nueva isla-estado.

After the absolutely crucial visit of nearly four hours on Tuesday by President Barack Obama, thousands of pro-statehood people [who favor that Puerto Rico becomes a US state] of the island were surprised this morning with the fact that the country has not yet become a state. Sources revealed that despite the confusion behind this non-result, supporters of this status formula remain hopeful that snow will begin to fall during the afternoon in Adjuntas, that loiceños [people from Loíza, a mostly black municipality] will become blonde, and a rain of welfare might fall on the new island-state.

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