Presidential Candidates Begin Appealing to Puerto Ricans


Slowly but surely presidential candidates are appealing to Puerto Rican voters via the Orlando Sentinel, with Michael Bloomberg being the latest.

I’ll analyze Bloomberg’s campaign appeal later, but first here’s my commentary on Joe Biden, which the Sentinel published in December. Or you can click here to read.

˜˜María T. Padilla, Editor

It’s too soon for Puerto Ricans to commit to Joe Biden

Joe Biden wants Puerto Ricans to back his bid for the presidency, writing an op-ed piece defending Puerto Rico that was published on the island and in a number of stateside papers, especially where Puerto Ricans reside, including the Orlando Sentinel (“Biden: Puerto Rico deserves more respect than it’s given,” Dec. 5).

On the same day the commentary appeared, about 25 island politicos, including a former governor, endorsed Biden, signing up for his Puerto Rico campaign. Puerto Rico doesn’t vote for president but it does conduct a presidential primary that awards 59 delegates to the winner(s). That’s is more than about half the states — and some states combined.

“Although the island’s 3.1 million Puerto Ricans cannot vote for president, the 5 million living in the states — including 1 million in Florida — certainly can. It’s not an exaggeration to state that the road to the White House runs in part through Puerto Rico. 

“So Biden is shoring up his support among Puerto Ricans ahead of the island’s primary, which is scheduled for March. All good. Super smart of him. But is he promising Puerto Rico anything concrete? The answer is, no. Which is why it would be smart for the Puerto Rican diaspora not to commit to Biden at this juncture, before campaigning in Florida gets underway, before we hear from the other viable Democratic candidates.

The former vice president hit a lot of good notes in his op-ed by, first, acknowledging Puerto Ricans, that we are American citizens deserving of the same government support as all Americans. He reminded us how Donald Trump bungled the Hurricane María recovery effort, which the president’s administration surely did and continues to do.

Biden’s answer to the government’s lack of response is to form a study group to determine Puerto Rico’s needs. Sounds smart, except that “studying” the matter often means “I’ve got no plan.”

Biden wants to boost the island minimum wage to $15 an hour, which is unlikely to happen. But if Congress boosts the current $7.25 federal minimum to $15, Puerto Rico’s would automatically rise, because the island pays the federal minimum wage. 

The Democratic candidate would like to preserve Puerto Rico’s public pensions, some of which were slashed 8 percent under the fiscal control board, a board that went into effect while he was vice president. President Barack Obama signed the law creating the board that some call unconstitutional, and the U.S. Supreme Court will decide a case on this matter later this year. 

But if Biden really wants to help Puerto Rico’s pensioners, he has to take a look at the island’s long-term debt burden, because pensions have been cut in order to service the debt. While the fiscal board has successfully reduced the debt by billions, Puerto Rico’s debt load may still be too high.

On health care, Biden would like to expand health care funding to Puerto Rico, except that the reason the island’s health care system has collapsed is because Puerto Rico is treated different from the states under Medicaid. Addressing Puerto Rico’s inequitable health care funding is inextricably tied to addressing the island’s inequitable treatment as a territory over which Congress has sole control. Biden didn’t say anything specific about that.

He wants to engage Puerto Ricans in what thus far has been a fruitless and frustrating process of self-determination. Puerto Rico cannot address its political status because Congress won’t, and it holds all the cards. Is Biden promising yet another pointless, nonbinding beauty contest of which there have been several in Puerto Rico? No thanks. 

As for corporate investment in Puerto Rico, Biden forgets that Puerto Rico is a giant tax haven for many large multinationals. The story of Puerto Rico’s economic development over the past 70 years is one tax scheme after another, with development of the island’s home-grown entrepreneurial talent an afterthought. 

Do not forget that Puerto Rico has been under the U.S. flag and control for 121 years, time enough to get its economy right.

However, I can’t blame Biden for courting Puerto Rico’s primary electorate, as well as the millions of Puerto Rican voters here in Florida and other states. His commentary sounds refreshing compared with Trump’s tweets. 

But he didn’t say anything new. And there is very large field of Democratic opponents we need to hear from. The Puerto Rican diaspora needs to hold its powder and not commit. It’s about time presidential candidates meaningfully compete for the Puerto Rican vote.

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