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March 16, 2012

Santorum: I never said only English for Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Rick Santorum came to Puerto Rico and promptly waded into the emotional debate over the role English should play in the island's future, sparking a furor that led the former Pennsylvania senator to insist his remarks were misreported.

Santorum was forced to repeatedly clarify remarks he made Wednesday, when he said English would have to be the "main language" for Puerto Rico to become a state.

"I never said only English should be spoken here. Never did I even intimate that," Santorum told local reporters gathered in El Capitolio, the island's Capitol building. "What I said was that English had to be spoken as well as other — obviously Spanish is going to be spoken, this would be a bilingual country."

In an official statement as he left the island, Santorum emphasized his roots as the descendent of Italian immigrants who spoke both Italian and English when they first lived in the U.S.

"As the son of an Italian immigrant myself, I continue to believe that English is the language of opportunity in America, under statehood or the current status," Santorum said in the statement. "What I want is for every child in Puerto Rico to speak English fluently, in addition to Spanish of course."

But that paragraph was left out of the farewell statement Santorum sent to national reporters. A Santorum spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on why the statement was changed.

Santorum told El Nuevo Dia newspaper Wednesday that English is key to developing Puerto Rico's economy. "I have no doubt that one of the requirements that will be put forth to Congress is a requirement that English would be universal here on the island," he said. "That doesn't mean that people can't speak Spanish in their homes, or in their business, or on the street, but that everyone would have a proficiency in English."

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