Monthly Archives: January 2017

8 posts

Puerto Ricans in Congress to Boycott Inauguration

Puerto Ricans in Congress are boycotting Trump’s inauguration, joining scores of mostly Democrats whose seats will be empty. / Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies

Three of four Puerto Ricans – all Democrats – in Congress plan to boycott the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump.

Luis Gutiérrez of Illinois, and Nydia Velázquez and José Serrano of New York have stated publicly they won’t be at the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States. Central Florida’s freshman congressman Darren Soto also added his voice to the growing boycott of the ceremony.

Raúl Labrador, the Republican Congressman from Idaho and a Trump supporter, is likely to attend the event.

“Looking forward to a productive partnership with . We must change business as usual,” Labrador tweeted earlier.

Growing Boycott

Most of the inauguration rejections – numbering about 40 mostly Democrats and still growing, as of this writing – came after Trump insulted veteran civil rights leader and Georgia Congressman John Lewis on Twitter right before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, stating Lewis was all talk, no action.

Gutiérrez, who attended George W. Bush‘s inauguration, made a floor speech which he posted on YouTube explaining that “this is different.”     

He continued, “The reason I’m not going is that I can’t bring myself to justify morally or intellectually justify the immense power we’re placing in that man’s hands.” Instead, Gutiérrez said he plans to march with women in Washington on January 21.

New York Congresswoman Velázquez tweeted, “@repjohnlewis is a national hero and I stand with him! I also am not attending inauguration given the tone of @realDonaldTrump‘s campaign.”

Serrano also tweeted but didn’t mention Trump by name. “I will not attend the  next week- cannot celebrate the inauguration of a man who has no regard for my constituents. .”

Central Florida Representatives

Central Florida’s Soto sent a text to Nancy Alvarez of WFTV-Channel 9, stating  ““I am deeply disappointed with Trump’s attacks against civil rights hero John Lewis and will not be attending the inauguration as a result.”

Soto, who represents Congressional District 9 which includes Osceola and parts of Orange and Polk counties, got some immediate pushback on Facebook from Myrna Benítez de Vivaldi.

“This is what happens when you serve your own agenda and not the people. Mr. Soto, you were elected to SERVE a community, people from both parties voted for you because they thought you were a better option so do your work and stop acting like a brat. #Please #HeIsOURpresident #SuckItUpButtercup.”

Benítez is married to Peter Vivaldi, who once ran for the congressional seat that Soto now occupies.

Demings and Murphy to Attend

Unlike Soto, fellow freshman Congresswomen Val Demings of Congressional District 10 and Stephanie Murphy plan to attend, according to Channel 9. However, neither Demings nor Murphy have made public statements about the inauguration, as of this writing.

Demings and Soto are in fairly safe districts, in which either African-Americans or Latino voters, respectively, predominate. They are likely to be re-elected two years from now without much of a hitch.

Not so, Murphy, who ousted veteran Republican Congressman John Mica from Congressional District 7, which includes Seminole and parts of Orange and Volusia counties. 

Seminole County is mostly Republican and party supporters have already targeted Murphy,  looking to recruit a viable contender to take back the seat. By not attending, Murphy would be providing Republicans strong ammunition against her come re-election time.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Obama Ends Wet-Foot, Dry-Foot for Cubans

Barack Obama eliminated the wet-foot, dry-foot policy that favored Cuban immigration. He arrives in Havana with his family in this March 2016 photo, the first president to visit Cuba in over 50 years. /White House photo

No more wet-foot, dry-foot for Cubans. In a surprise move, President Barack Obama ended the policy that gave favored status to Cuban immigrants, including permanent residence after one year.

The presidential decision, effective immediately and issued just one week before Obama leaves office, orders that Cuban immigrants be treated the same as other immigrants as part of Obama’s effort to continue to normalize relations with Cuba.

Public reaction was mixed.

“Cuba Libre?!?” asked Peter Vivaldi on  Facebook in response to the news that reverberated across Florida this week.

“Los cubanos se quedaron con los pies fríos,” wrote another on Facebook. (Cubans are left with cold feet.)

Wet-Foot, Dry-Foot Decision

Officials from the Department of Homeland Security outlined the decision Thursday in a 40-minute call with reporters.

• Cuban immigrants already in the United States awaiting permanent residency can remain here.

• The United States can return Cuban nationals ordered out of the United States up to four years after arriving here, compared with two years previously.

• The annual immigration lottery that allows 20,000 Cubans to immigrate to the U.S. remains unchanged, as does the Cuban family reunification program that expedites immigration processing.

• The new policy ends the Cuban medical parole program under which the island’s medical professionals could enter the U.S.

The wet-foot, dry-foot policy,  first declared by former President Bill Clinton to address a refugee crisis and as part of long-standing hostilities with Cuba, was a sore point with other immigrants who questioned its fairness.

Unfair and Inhumane

Undocumented Haitians, for instance, were returned to their country whether intercepted at sea or on land, while undocumented Cubans were returned only if intercepted at sea.

“Ya llegaste!” onlookers shouted to Cuban refugees rushing to land on a South Florida beach before the U.S. Coast Guard could stop them a couple of years ago. (You have arrived!)

“The United States will now treat Cuban migrants in a manner consistent with how it treats others,” DHS stated.

Critics charged the policy encouraged Cubans to make the perilous journey across the Florida Strait in rickety rafts in hopes of landing in the Sunshine State, home to the largest population of Cubans – 1.3 million – outside of Cuba.

Many died doing so, including most famously the mother of Elián González, the Cuban boy who miraculously survived a journey after all had perished, creating a custodial tug of war between the United States and Cuba. González ultimately was returned to Cuba, angering many South Florida Cubans.

Although the move came as a surprise, it had been speculated about once the United States and Cuba entered diplomatic talks in 2014. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, for instance, raised the issue during his presidential campaign.

Rubio Questioned Policy

Rubio said he was open to modifying wet-foot, dry-foot, saying it was difficult to justify under normalized relations between the two countries.

“When you have people who are coming and a year and a day later are traveling back to Cuba 15 times a year, 12 times, 10 times, eight times, that doesn’t look like someone who is fleeing oppression,” Rubio told the Associated Press in a story published November 2015.

Cuban immigration spiked in the last two years as anxiety grew about a potential change in policy, many taking an alternate but equally dangerous route through Central America to cross the U.S.- Mexico border.

Spike in Cuban Entries

Over 46,600 Cubans entered the country illegally in fiscal year 2016, compared with nearly 24,300, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. About two-thirds entered through the Laredo, Texas-Mexico border, Pew Hispanic data show.

The elimination of wet-foot, dry-foot is likely to have political and Florida demographic repercussions down the line. It’s unclear whether President-elect Donald Trump will unravel normalization of relations with Cuba, although Trump indicated he might do so while campaigning for president.

Obama’ s move also puts Trump in a pickle. About half of Cuban-Americans voted for Trump – a significantly higher proportion than other Latino voters – helping to award Florida to Trump in last November’s election.

Down the Line

Also, if Cuban immigration slows, population increases among other Latino groups is likely to loom larger, particularly in Florida, where most Cubans take up residence, regardless of point of entry.

Already, Puerto Ricans number over 1 million in Florida, and in the long-term may surpass the state’s Cuban population of 1.3 million.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Soto to Push for Presidential Vote for Puerto Rico

Cong. Darren Soto plans to sponsor a bill proposing that Puerto Rico vote for president. /Facebook

Newly sworn Central Florida Congressman Darren Soto (D) plans to push for the presidential vote for Puerto Rico.

It’s the second Puerto Rico-related measure in as many days, as newly elected Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González today filed a fill to admit Puerto Rico as the 51st state.

There is no doubt that Puerto Rico’s status needs fixing and obtaining the presidential vote for Puerto Rico is a worthy cause. And to be fair, Alan Grayson, Soto’s predecessor, last December called for the presidential vote for Puerto Rico, stating American citizens who reside in Puerto Rico suffer from disenfranchisement.

“The contradictions are painfully clear,” he added, comparing Puerto Rico to Washington, D.C., whose residents vote for president although it’s not a state.

However, González’s bill likely is dead on arrival, as will be Soto’s.

“Siéntate a esperar,”  said a Facebook reader in reaction to the news.

“Dream on sister!” wrote another in response to González’s bill.

Not Realistic

Let’s count the ways in which this will fail. First, the representatives are two newbies in Congress, meaning they have no clout. Second, Puerto Rico is in such a financial mess that no one will touch this. And third, neither of the bills is realistic.

Soto, who has said he would be supportive of Puerto Rico, is not backing Gonzalez’s bill, stating that first he’d like to see a clear referendum. He won’t need to wait long. Puerto Rico Gov. Ricky Rosselló is proposing one.

Long Shot

However,  Soto’s presidential vote for Puerto Rico bill would be far more difficult to achieve, requiring two-thirds approval by the House and Senate – and ratification by three-quarters of the states. It’s an often unsuccessful process.

The last amendment was approved in 1992, stipulating that congressional salary increases cannot take effect until the next class of representatives takes office. That amendment took over 200 years to see fruition.

What could Soto be thinking? He is drinking from the cup of status.

The González-Soto proposals are feel-good measures aimed at winning the hearts and minds of constituent’s back home. Soto is the first Puerto Rican from Florida in Congress. His district is over 40 percent Latino, mostly Puerto Rican.

Cruel Play

But it also plays cruelly with the hearts and minds of constituents back home, because the bills aren’t feasible in today’s political climate. They would be extreme long shots even in a favorable Congress.

This is political manipulation of a pueblo down on its luck and in a precarious emotional state of mind.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Status: The Elixir of Puerto Ricans

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricky Rosselló (right) shakes hands with Cong. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah). Rosselló will push for a political status bill in Congress. / R. Rossello-Facebook

Political status is the elixir of the Puerto Rican people – to paraphrase Karl Marx.

I’ve said this before and it bears repeating, because the newly installed island Gov. Ricky Rosselló and newly sworn Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González expect to file a bill in Congress on Wednesday for Puerto Rico to be admitted to the union as the 51st state.

At the same time, the Puerto Rico Legislature will put forth a bill for yet another plebiscite with only two options – statehood or independence –  thus excluding the present-day commonwealth status.

The move harks to a 2012 non-binding plebiscite – of which there have been several in Puerto Rico – in which statehood buried Commonwealth, garnering 61 percent of the vote. Congress ignored it.

For six decades Commonwealth has been billed as a semi-autonomous option, except that the congressionally imposed fiscal control board that likely will govern Puerto Rico over the next five years has proven that commonwealth is hollow. The island is not, in fact, self governing.

With Puerto Rico in dire financial straits as it tries to manage $72 billion in debt and in need of drastic economic reforms, a plebiscite can serve only as a public distraction from the very difficult decisions that lie ahead.

A distraction from billon-dollar budget deficits. A distraction from thousands of potential layoffs. A distraction from the downsizing and privatization of government. A distraction from badly needed education reform. A distraction from the island’s incredibly shrinking population as migrants continue to flee to places like Central Florida.

In fact, Rosselló’s father, former two-term governor Pedro Rosselló, utilized the very same distraction – twice during the 1990s. To no avail.

To be sure, the island’s political status needs to be seriously addressed and resolved. After all, it has been over 100 years since U.S. troops marched into Puerto Rico and took the island. And Puerto Rico is treated very unfairly in hundreds of federal programs because of its territorial status, as outlined in a recent report by a congressional economic commission on Puerto Rico that included Florida’s Senators Bill Nelson (D) and Marco Rubio (R).

However, Puerto Ricans love, love, love talking about political status. Many will be more than happy to welcome the distraction.

Pour the elixir.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor