Yearly Archives: 2016

93 posts

2016 Comes to an End with a Bang

The year 2016 is coming to an end with a bang on many fronts. Let’s turn to a few less obvious but newsy items that merit attention for their importance.

Pulse

From the first news of the Pulse nightclub shooting on June 12, a tug of war erupted between the LGBTQ and Latino communities over who would take the lead in speaking for the 49 victims, most of whom were Hispanic, many of them Puerto Rican.

The LGBTQ community won the struggle, as evidenced by the six-month anniversary of the shooting at the Orange County History Center, where the Hispanic component of the shooting was nearly absent.

As reported in Orlando Latino, the ceremony host  “forgot” to acknowledge the Pulse victims. Not one of the survivors or family members was called to the podium. Not one. The host mentioned only in passing that the history center opened a display of the tributes to Pulse collected from around town.

Government and others have now also buried the grass roots efforts that took place in the Latino community to help survivors and families, where groups such as Somos Orlando offered – and continues to offer – mental health counseling to the affected community.

But the Hispanic community has not been totally forgotten. In an Orlando Sentinel poll conducted before the six-month anniversary, 21 percent said Pulse was an attack of terrorism, an attack against gays and Hispanics (italics mine). That was up from 13 percent in June.

Full disclosure: I was named to the board of Somos Orlando but have resigned this month.

Latinos Elected

Newly elected Cong. Darren Soto

Central Florida has about 11 Latino elected officials as a result of the 2016 elections, including Darren Soto, the first Florida Puerto Rican in Congress. About five are a net gain, meaning a Hispanic did not previously hold the seat.

Here are the winners:  Víctor Torres, former state representative to state senator, District 15; Bob Cortés, re-elected to House District 30; John Cortés, re-elected to House District 43; René Plasencia, re-elected to the State House but representing a new area: District 50; Amy Mercado elected to House District 48 previously occupied by her father Víctor Torres; Carlos Guillermo Smith elected to District 49; Emily Bonilla elected to the Orange County Commission, District 5; Armando Ramirez, re-elected as Clerk of the Court of Osceola County; José Alvarez elected the first Hispanic mayor of Kissimmee; and Olga González, elected to Kissimmee City Commission Seat 1.

Early Voting

An important lesson about early voting in the presidential election:  About 70 percent of all Florida votes were cast before election day but the latest analyses indicate there is no correlation between early voting and higher voter turnout.

Early voting simply changed the way people voted, which is important for organizers to keep in mind for future elections.

Undocumented Immigrants

President Barack Obama will have deported more than 2.75 million undocumented immigrants by the time he leaves office in several weeks, the highest number of any president – and some presidents combined, earning Obama the moniker of “Deporter in Chief.”

Of those deported, 84 percent had criminal records. That leaves over 820,000 of the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants with criminal convictions. If Trump delivers on his promise, there won’t be as many undocumented immigrants with criminal records to deport.

Obamacare

One of every five people or 20 percent enrolled in Obamacare lives in Florida, the highest percentage of any state. That’s over 1.3 million people, which is going to make it difficult for Washington to undo the Affordable Care Act without causing massive healthcare headaches for millions of people without other health care recourses.

There would be up to 800,000 more Obamacare customers in Florida if the state had expanded Medicaid, a key component of the health care act.

As of December 19, the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services reports about, 6.4 million people had signed up for Obamacare for 2017, or about 2 million more than the year before, indicating that Obamacare has become more – not less – relevant.

Puerto Rico Financial Crisis

At year end, the new fiscal control board that’s poised to take over Puerto Rico in 2017 projected the island’s financial predicament is worse than had been reported, which was already pretty bad.

Puerto Rico Gov.-elect Ricky Rosselló.

As reported in Orlando Latino, Puerto Rico’s projected 10-year deficit is $67 billion, or $10 billion higher than originally stated and nearly as much as the island and its public agencies owe bondholders.

Gov.-elect Ricky Rosselló must present a balanced budget, which would be a first in decades, requiring significant government cutbacks as well as deep reforms to keep the island economy from toppling completely.

Bottom line for Florida: The pain is likely to send more economic migrants to the Sunshine State, continuing a dramatic shift in the state’s Latino population. Puerto Ricans number over 1 million in Florida, compared with about 1.3 million Cubans, the state’s largest Latino group.

Zika

The final Zika numbers for Puerto Rico fell short of earlier predictions but are still alarming. The Puerto Rico Health Department reports nearly 36,000 islanders contracted mosquito-borne Zika, accounting for the lion’s share of locally transmitted cases under the U.S. flag.

Only 216 local cases were reported in the 50 states, with Florida making up 210 of those.

Zika can cause birth defects such as microcephaly in pregnant women. About 2,500 island women were infected in 2016, which is significantly below the 43,000 cases per year that were projected for Puerto Rico, as reported earlier in Orlando Latino.

Of those 2,500 cases only seven (7 ) resulted in infants with birth defects. The island has projected 1,000 fewer births this year due to Zika.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Will Oscar López Rivera Go Home?

Poster that is part of the campaign to free Puerto Rican nationalist and prisoner Oscar López Rivera. At left, the wild-haired look of 1980 and the kindly grandfather look of today.

Will President Barack Obama grant clemency to Oscar López Rivera?

That is the question on the minds of many Puerto Ricans as the clock runs out on the Obama presidency.

López Rivera, soon to turn 74, has spent 35 years in jail after a conviction on charges of seditious conspiracy in connection with the Puerto Rican pro-independence group Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional or FALN, of which he was a leader.

Presidential Prerogative

Presidents have the power to pardon, grant clemencies, commute sentences or rescind a fine. These often happen during the last days or hours of a presidency.  President Jimmy Carter granted clemency to Puerto Rican nationalists Lolita LebrónRafael Cancel Miranda and Irving Flores Rodríguez for their assault on Congress. He commuted the sentence of Oscar Collazo, also a part of this group, to time served, after Harry Truman, who Collazo tried to assassinate, commuted his death sentence to a life sentence.

The Puerto Rican community and leaders have every right to push for López Rivera’s release but not on the specious grounds that he is innocent. He is not, nor does a presidential pardon or clemency require him to be innocent.

Oscar López Rivera

Bombs were the MO of the FALN and Oscar López Rivera is a skilled bomb maker. His hands may not have been covered with dynamite powder on the day he was apprehended – after being on the lam for several years – but that doesn’t mean he’s not guilty. Claiming he is innocent is an invitation to relitigate the case for which he was soundly convicted. There is no “win” in that.

The better argument is that he ought to be released for having served 35 years, which is more than most people who have been similarly charged.

But he is not entitled to it.

Convicted Twice

López Rivera was convicted twice, once in 1981 for “seditious conspiracy,” which sounds harmless but involved “use of force to commit robbery, interstate transportation of firearms and ammunition to aid in the commission of a felony, and interstate transportation of stolen vehicles.” What’s more, the FALN has been connected to over 100 bombings that claimed six lives and left many others injured.

He was convicted a second time in 1988 for conspiracy to escape prison, for which he was given an additional 15-year sentence.

Big Obstacle

He faces an even bigger obstacle: In 1999 López Rivera refused a conditional clemency offered by President Bill Clinton. That is why he sits in jail today, though many of his FALN counterparts were released long ago.

He wanted to play martyr.

Each president uses up political capital when granting pardons and clemencies. That’s why the controversial candidates come at the end. Clinton expended some capital on behalf of López Rivera and was refused, a rare occurrence.

Is it likely the same prisoner will be offered clemency twice? Will Obama take that risk?

Post 9-11 World

López Rivera was offered a get-out-of-jail-free card in a pre 9-11 world. We now live in a post 9-11 world, in which terrorism and fear of terrorism is all too real. Why would a second president help Oscar López Rivera?

As of this writing, Obama has commuted or pardoned the sentences of over 1,300 people, mostly for minor drug-related offenses – nothing related to seditious conspiracy, much less terrorism.

But from time to time Obama goes rogue. That’s why Oscar López Rivera has a 50-50 chance of going home.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Bad Economic Tidings from Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico Gov.-elect Ricky Rosselló faces an exceptionally bleak economic panorama after he takes office in January. /RRosselló

Puerto Rico is back in the spotlight again with bad economic tidings and little holiday cheer.

The island is expected to run out of money for its government payroll possibly in February, meaning Puerto Rico is broke for all intents and purposes.

The annual budget deficit is expected to be more than $67 billion over a 10-year period, or $10 billion higher than originally stated and nearly as much as the island and its public agencies owe bondholders.

Money for pension payments to teachers and other retirees is expected to hit bottom out in six months. No money in the till.

The 10-year long economic recession is projected to continue in fiscal 2017, during which the economy is expected to contract another 2.3 percent – more than in any fiscal year since 2011.

As if that weren’t enough, Puerto Rico’s latest population estimate is just over 3.4 million, a loss of over 300,000 people since 2010. Plus, the numbers continue to decline, mostly due to migration.

No Way Out

There is no way to paint a pretty picture. Not even the latest beauty queen Miss World Stephanie Del Valle is going to fix what ails Puerto Rico. There is no way out except for a strong dose of economic chemotherapy.

The much dire financial outlook is likely to have a continuing impact on Central Florida, as migrants seek  economic opportunities elsewhere. The Orlando area is the No. 1 destination for Puerto Ricans fleeing the island.

Because outgoing Gov. Alejandro García Padilla didn’t act more aggressively in containing the financial hemorrhaging, the crisis became more acute and the response is going inflict even more pain. But he couldn’t bring himself to do it.

In the last budget he presented, the governor cut expenses for fiscal year 2017 by only $700 million. In fiscal 2016 the government cut only 3,400 jobs.  Fewer than 900,000 people officially work on the island, according to the Puerto Rico Planning Board.

Work To Be Done

The work to be done now falls to Gov.-elect Ricky Rosselló and the fiscal control board that was appointed to make all economic decisions on the island.

• Government layoffs – not just the central government but also municipalities (Puerto Rico has 78 of them!). The incoming new administration of the town of Toa Baja, just outside of San Juan, disclosed that the municipality is carrying $100 million in debt.

• Privatizing or selling of assets – ports, infrastructure, you name it.

• More cuts – in education and an already bankrupt health care system.

• Tax, labor and energy reforms – to help stimulate the economy.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Puerto Rico Wins Miss World 2016 Pageant

miss-world
Official photos of Miss World 2016 Stephanie Del Valle of Puerto Rico. /Miss World

Puerto Rico won the Miss World 2016 beauty title. Stephanie Del Valle, 19, was crowned Miss World 2016 at the show pageant held this week in Washington, D.C.

Del Valle is a student at Pace University in New York City, pursuing a degree in communications and law.

For an island that has reported mostly bad news in 2016 due to an ongoing financial crisis and a significant loss of population, the new Miss World is a great pick-me-up for Puerto Rico, which like all Latin American countries is a huge believer and follower of beauty pageants as a “show” of international accomplishment.

This is the second Miss World title for Puerto Rico. Wilnelia Merced Cruz won the crown in 1975 in a pageant that took place in London.

Here’s the official video of Stephanie Del Valle.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor