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  HOME | Caribbean

Puerto Rico Senate Declares Spanish over English as First Official Language

SAN JUAN - The Puerto Rican Senate approved a bill Thursday declaring Spanish as the first official language of the country, relegating English to second position.

Bill 1177, introduced in August 2014 by Antonio Fas Alzamora, ex-president of the ruling Popular Democratic Party, or PPD, had fallen into oblivion until June when it was put to a voice vote but was rejected.

However, an agreement was reached on reconsidering the bill, which was finally approved Thursday without any prior discussion, with support from an overwhelming majority of ruling party senators.

However, a reconsideration of it was agreed upon and was finally approved Thursday without any prior discussion with support from the Senate majority of ruling party legislators.

The bill was opposed by eight senators from the main opposition party, Senate president Eduardo Bhatia, Jose Nadal Power (both from the ruling PPD) and legislator Maria de Lourdes Santiago.

"In the 21st century government efforts should focus on 'multiculturalism', including the diversity of languages," Bhatia said in a statement expressing his opposition to the bill.

Pro-independence legislator Santiago, however, expressed her opposition saying Spanish should be the only official language to maintain their Puerto Rican cultural identity.

In 1993, a law was passed recognizing both Spanish and English were recognized as co-official languages for government affairs of the Commonwealth of U.S.A.

Though Spanish is the most widely used language in this former Spanish colony, the annexationist section advocates giving priority to English, whereas the pro-independence section supports the primacy of Spanish.

The ruling PPD advocates maintaining Puerto Rico's current status, which confers U.S. citizenship to Puerto Ricans and enforces federal laws and foreign policy on the island, but concedes autonomy in internal affairs and sovereignty in areas such as sports.

Thursday's bill proposes to establish Spanish as the first official language making its use compulsory in executive, legislative and judicial matters, and thus repeal Law 1-1993 which put both languages on an equal footing.

"By establishing Spanish as the first official language, we will strengthen our cultural identity and validate the reality that more than 80 percent of Puerto Ricans do not understand nor speak English," said Alzamora in an explanatory statement on the bill.
 

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