U.S. President Barack Obama speaks inside hanger at Luis Munoz Marin International Airport in Puerto Rico
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at a welcoming event after arriving at Luis Munoz Marin International Airport in Puerto Rico, June 14, 2011. REUTERS

In the first official visit of a sitting American president to the Caribbean commonwealth since John F. Kennedy in 1961, President Barack Obama landed in Puerto Rico Tuesday, saying he's committed to the success and self-determination of the U.S. island territory.

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 island and the federal government.

Fulfilling a 2008 campaign promise to return to the island as president, Obama flew 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.

We're giving Puerto Ricans the tools they need to build their own economic futures and this is how it should be, because every day Boricuas help write the American story, Obama said.

Obama's trip is focusing on economic development and the island's political status, White House Spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Air Force One. The president previously said Puerto Ricans should decide whether they want independence, statehood, or to remain a U.S. commonwealth.

Many say the president's trip is a way to appeal to Puerto Rican voters on the mainland, in view of changing demographics likely to play a key role in the next presidential election. Obama won considerable support from Hispanic voters in 2008; according to the 2010 Census, Puerto Ricans are the second largest Hispanic group in the U.S.

The president planned to spend about five hours on the island. After making a few brief remarks, he toured Floraleza, the historic governor's mansion, and then was scheduled for local interviews with El Nuevo Día and Univision of Puerto Rico.