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FACT CHECK: Gingrich gives an awkward defense of a speech that was seen as attacking Spanish
WASHINGTON (AP) ' Matt Romney accuses Newt Gingrich of calling Spanish a "ghetto language." Close, but not quite.
Gingrich denies doing so and said he merely promoted the use of English, "period." That's even more of a stretch.
The last Republican presidential debate before the GOP Florida primary Tuesday brought viewers a blitz of charges and countercharges over immigration, the financial lives of the candidates and more. Here are how some of the claims compare with the facts:
GINGRICH: "It's taken totally out of context.... I did not say it about Spanish. I said in general about all languages. We are better for children to learn English in general, period."
THE FACTS: At issue is Romney's Spanish-language radio ad running in Florida that says Gingrich branded Spanish a ghetto language in a 2007 speech. In the contentious remarks in question, much more came after Gingrich's "period."
In his speech to the National Federation of Republican Women, Gingrich advocated making English the official language, a position he still holds, and added: "We should replace bilingual education with immersion in English so people learn the common language of the country and they learn the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto."
He did not explicitly call Spanish a ghetto language. But at the time, the remark was widely taken to mean Spanish, overwhelmingly the main foreign language spoken in the United States and the primary language of many immigrants.
Gingrich recognized as much when, in response to a Hispanic backlash against his remark, he made an online video days after the speech in which he more or less apologized for his choice of words and for producing "a bad feeling within the Latino community."
ROMNEY on the same topic: "I doubt that's my ad, but we'll take a look and find out."
THE FACTS: It's his ad.
RICK SANTORUM: "You had a president of the United States that held (up) a Colombian free trade agreement. Colombia, who's out there on the front lines working with us against the narco-terrorists, standing up to Chavez in South America ' and what did we do? ... The president of the United States sided with organized labor and the environmental groups and held Colombia hanging out to dry for three years."
THE FACTS: When Obama took office, he actually tried to revive a free-trade deal with Colombia that had been negotiated by his Republican predecessor but left to languish without congressional approval, just as he tried to make similar progress with South Korean and Panamanian free-trade pacts. He bucked considerable opposition from organized labor and fellow Democrats in doing so.
Obama did hold off on submitting the three deals to Congress as his administration tried to negotiate more palatable terms to Democrats. He finally submitted them in 2011 and Congress approved them in the fall ' with substantial GOP support and a fair amount of Democratic opposition.
SANTORUM: Criticized the Obama administration for its "abysmal treatment" of allies in Latin America, and said Obama has a "consistent policy of siding with the leftists, siding with the Marxists, siding with those who don't support democracy."
THE FACTS: Obama has not sided with the leading leftists, such as those ruling Cuba and Venezuela, and instead has roundly criticized them.
It's true that Latin America has been on the back burner for much of Obama's tenure, as he concentrated on other parts of the world, including the Middle East. But Obama visited three countries in Latin America last year, and the Panamanian and Colombian trade agreements were part of the biggest round of trade liberalization since the North American Free Trade Agreement and other pacts of that era.
Associated Press writers Tom Raum, Lolita C. Baldor and Jim Drinkard contributed to this report.