KISSIMMEE – In a speech in the the heart of the nation’s Puerto Rican diaspora, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló vowed to sic Puerto Rican voters on political candidates who do not support the island’s hurricane reconstruction efforts after devastating losses inflicted by Hurricanes María and Irma.
Rosselló, who was joined at his first town hall meeting in Central Florida by Sen. Bill Nelson, Cong. Darren Soto, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Kissimmee Mayor José Alvarez, said his appearance before a 400-plus capacity crowd at Kissimmee’s civic center was more than an event.
“It is the start of an organization” to push and unify the stateside Puerto Rican population to register to vote and cast ballots not just in Florida, but also in Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Ohio, among other states.
It was time, Rosselló said, to let elected officials know that “there are consequences” for voting against Puerto Rico’s interests, as Congress recently did in the federal tax reform that will make it costlier for companies to operate in Puerto Rico, dealing an economic blow to the island.
Disappointed in Rubio
Rosselló did not name names but he may have been thinking of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who was not at the event but who voted for the tax reform bill after saying he wouldn’t support it.
“I am very disappointed with the fact the Senator (Marco) Rubio is going to be voting for this tax bill particularly when we had the opportunity to address the potentially devastating effects on Puerto Rico,” Rosselló said at the time, as reported in the Tampa Bay Times.
Political rumors indicate Rubio may run for Florida governor. In fact, Nelson, Soto and Scott are all expected to be on the November ballot, with Scott potentially vying for Nelson’s Senate seat.
Rosselló said “Puerto Rico couldn’t ask for a better friend in Congress than Nelson.” He repeated that Kissimmee Mayor Alvarez has visited Puerto Rico five times, asking what he can do to help. Kissimmee is more than half Hispanic, mostly Puerto Rican. Gov. Scott, who announced $1 million for 12 workforce development boards to help evacuees, left just as the question-and-answer session was about to start. Nelson, Soto and Alvarez stayed to the end.
Rosselló said the island’s lack of influence over the disastrous tax reform bill was an example of the “unfinished business of American democracy, a longstanding battle” in which Puerto Rico has no representation in Congress, underscoring the island’s second-class citizenship.
“We’ve been under this ambiguous state for a whole century,” he remarked.
The governor added he was “offended” by demands to tie disaster assistance to the island making payments on its $70 billion in debt, questioning, “Would that have happened to any other state?”
No Free Speech
The adoring audience ate it up, even jeering when a young woman shouted out reminders of the elderly who are hungry and dying as a result of the hurricanes. After security escorted her out, it fell on Kissimmee Mayor Alvarez to remind the audience of the right to free speech.
If she had not acted out, the young woman would have brought needed attention to Puerto Rico’s own inept response to Hurricane María, one which seriously undercounted María casualties, prompting the governor to order an investigation; and its delayed restoration of electricity, significantly affecting medical care and response. Electricity is not expected to be 100 percent restored until May, the start of the 2018 hurricane season.
All of which has sent Puerto Ricans scurrying to Florida, New York, Texas and other states in search of a sense of normalcy.
The same day of Rosselló’s speech, former opposition party Gov. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, interviewed on Orlando radio, pointed out Rosselló’s delay in accepting help from stateside utilities and his overconfidence in his cabinet’s abilities. “His staff was assembled for a time of peace, not a time of war,” Acevedo Vilá said.
Eventually, the governor asked for resignation letters from all executive-level appointees. Subsequently, the head of the electric utility resigned; most recently, the chief of police resigned amid rising crime.
Acevedo Vilá’s valid criticism, however, may fall on deaf ears, for Rosselló and others have clearly placed the spotlight and onus for the island’s recuperation on federal response which, though critical, obscures the incompetence of Puerto Rico’s own post-hurricane actions.
Central Florida’s strong embrace of Rosselló makes it clear that the Puerto Rico governor has a lot of pala or pull among diaspora voters, who appear more than eager to follow where he may lead, creating a potential political force in the 2018 mid term elections.
˜˜María Padilla, Editor
By the Numbers
The number of Puerto Ricans who have arrived in Florida since the hurricane
The number of Puerto Ricans residing in Florida
The number of Puerto Ricans residing in the 50 states