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Obama Wants Puerto Rico to Decide Statehood or Independence

President Barack Obama said he wants to let Puerto Ricans make their own decision on whether to stay a commonwealth, seek statehood or become independent.

Fulfilling a 2008 campaign promise to return to the island as president, Obama flew today to San Juan and pledged to “include Puerto Rico, not just on my itinerary, but also in my vision of where our country needs to go.”

Obama’s trip, the first official visit by a U.S. president in almost 50 years, is focusing on economic development and the island’s political status, spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Air Force One.

The president has previously said Puerto Ricans should decide whether they want independence, statehood or to remain a U.S. commonwealth.

“I am firmly committed to the principle that the question of political status is a matter of self-determination for the people of Puerto Rico,” Obama wrote in March in a statement about a White House task force report on relations between the federal government and the island.

In remarks from an airport hangar, the president said the report provided a “meaningful way forward” on how to let residents determine their political future. He said investments in education, broadband access, boosting tourism, clean energy and health care that apply to the U.S. mainland also apply to the territory.

Economic Future

“We’re giving Puerto Ricans the tools they need to build their own economic future, and this is how it should be,” Obama said.

The task force proposed a two-stage referendum in which Puerto Ricans would first vote on whether to remain part of the U.S. or become independent. Depending on the outcome, a second vote would be held on whether to stay a commonwealth, seek statehood, or decide on a form on independent status.

The task force recommended that the president, Congress and the governor of Puerto Rico decide the issue “by the end of 2012 or soon thereafter.”

Obama planned a visit with Republican Governor Luis Fortuño and a campaign fundraiser in Puerto Rico before returning to Washington tonight.

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