Congressional Gold Medal

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Marco Rubio Courts Puerto Rican Voters

Republican Senator Marco Rubio meets with Puerto Rico Governor Alejandro García Padilla in Rubio’s Capitol Hill office. /Marco Rubio Facebook

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio is paying a lot of attention to Puerto Ricans in Central Florida for his re-election campaign.

During the August 30 primaries, he held his campaign victory party in Osceola, which is the heart of Central Florida’s significant Puerto Rican community. Rubio has been out front on the Zika virus issue, which is affecting not only Florida but also Puerto Rico, home to the most Zika cases – over 16,000 and counting. (His fellow Republicans sabotaged an initial bill by zeroing out a family planning clinic in Puerto Rico). The Republican senator also was appointed to an economic task force to make recommendations to boost Puerto Rico’s economy, which may be a blessing or a curse. Sen. Bill Nelson also is on the task force.

And no doubt he will be at next month’s Orlando ceremony honoring Puerto Rico’s Borinqueneer Army regiment, one of the most decorated of the Korean War.

Shoring Up Puerto Rican Vote

Rubio, a Cuban-American whose home district is Miami-Dade, may shielded in part from  a potential Donald Trump down-ballot draft. Still, Trump is anathema to Hispanic voters. Rubio knows he has to shore up the Puerto Rican vote in Central Florida, who are important to his re-election chances for several reasons.

First, the Puerto Rican population in Florida now numbers 1 million – nearly even with  the Cuban population, Rubio’s natural base.

Second, Puerto Ricans lean Democrat and provide a counterweight to the South Florida Cuban-Republican vote. During the August primaries, Trump trounced Rubio whose map of support went dark; only Miami-Dade provided a ray of light.

Third, many Puerto Ricans are new to Florida.

Murphy Missing in Action

The good news for Rubio is that Democratic rival Patrick Murphy is missing in action. Murphy was a no-show for two primary debates with Democratic rival Alan Grayson, whose sharp tongue surely would have been lethal.

However, a Rubio-Murphy debate is scheduled for October, and no doubt Murphy can’t escape this one. (Full disclosure: I am a political analyst for WFTV-Channel 9,  a debate sponsor.)

Rubio is a good debater, but his talking points have become stale and he is in need of new ones. But sizing up Murphy is difficult because he hasn’t been around much.

Frankly, many people, including Democrats, are comparing Murphy to former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who was a Republican, then an independent and now is a Democrat. Crist has been shopping for elected office for a while; he is now running for Congress from St. Petersburg, his home district. The comparison is not a good one for Murphy.

For Rubio, but more so for Murphy, the path to the U.S. Senate is through Central Florida.

Puerto Ricans Are Miffed

But Puerto Ricans are miffed at Rubio for supporting bankruptcy protection for the island, which is in the throes of a financial crisis, and then changing his mind under hedge-fund pressure. And people still remember that Rubio, then in the throes of his Senate race, voiced opposition to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, implying she is a “judicial activist.” Sotomayor is revered in the Puerto Rican community.

His support of the Borinqueneers is genuine – during the Congressional
Gold Medal ceremony in the nation’s capital he lamented it took so long to recognize the bravery of the Puerto Rican soldiers, who are now in their 80s and 90s.

Support of the Borinqueneers, however, has taken on a partisan flair, as if Republicans owned the veterans. I have attended several Borinqueneer events where the Democrats in attendance were few. Is that deliberate or do Democrats not care?

Rubio Doesn’t Know Puerto Ricans

But the main reason Rubio must beef up his presence among Puerto Ricans is that they don’t know him. Rubio has been running for president for most of his first term as U.S. senator.

More important, Rubio doesn’t know Puerto Ricans. Since 2000, the Puerto Rican population in Florida has soared nearly 100 percent. About 60,000 Puerto Ricans migrate from the island each year due to a financial crisis. Most settle in Florida.

Rubio certainly has his homework cut out for him. Central Florida is a good place to start.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Packed House for Borinqueneers Ceremony

Manuel Siverio
Ret. Col. Manuel Siverio (r) receives the Congressional Gold Medal from House Speaker Paul Ryan on behalf of all living Borinqueneers. /All photos are screen shots taken from C-Span

Puerto Rico’s Borinqueneer veterans received the Congressional Gold Medal in a moving ceremony this week on Capitol Hill, placing the soldiers in the legendary company of the all black Tuskegee Airmen and the Navajo Code Talkers, among others.

“Today we are setting the record straight,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan at the beginning of the hour-long ceremony attended by hundreds about the unit considered the last segregated one in the U.S. Armed Forces.

“Lord, forgive us for segregating our Puerto Rican and Latino soldiers and for being slow to recognize them,” said Senate Chaplain Barry Black.

“I wish we could have honored you with this medal sooner,” commented Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who along with Puerto Rico delegate Pedro Pierliusi and Florida Cong. Bill Posey (R-Titusville), was one of many co-sponsors of the bill that recognized the nation’s surviving 1,000 Borinqueneers, many of whom now live in Florida.

“It’s easy to lose spirit as the good name our home is tarnished,” remarked Pierluisi, alluding to Puerto Rico’s fiscal crisis. “The Borinqueneers remind me … why we’re so proud to be Puerto Rican at a time when our sense of pride has been shaken but never, never shattered. Puerto Rico has always had this nation’s back at times of crisis.”

The Borinqueneers, an Army unit created shortly after the United States took over Puerto Rico in 1898, received 250 Silver Stars, over 600 Bronze medals and more than 2,700 Purple Hearts – just in the Korean War, to which the unit added this week’s Congressional Gold Medal.

“It was the bloodiest war for Puerto Rico,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.

Ret. Col. and Borinqueneer Manuel Siverio received the Congressional Gold Medal on behalf of the military unit. “I accept this medal in the name of all living Borinqueneers,” Siverio said, noting that over 100 Borinqueneers remain missing in action and their remains have never been recovered.

You can watch the ceremony on C-Span by clicking: Congressional Gold Medal

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor


Borinqueneers Set to Get Congressional Gold Medal

Veterans of the 65th Infantry Regiment known as Borinqueneers living in Florida (PRNewsFoto/Borinqueneers Congressional...)
Veterans of the 65th Infantry Regiment known as Borinqueneers who live in Florida. / PRNewsFoto/Borinqueneers

Puerto Rico’s Borinqueneers finally will get their due April 13, when Congress will honor the soldiers with the Congressional Gold Medal for their “valor, determination and bravery” during the Korean War in a ceremony on Capitol Hill.

The Congressional Gold Medal is Congress’ highest honor. The Borinqueneers, named for the soldiers of the 65th Army Infantry based in Puerto Rico whose native people called Boriken, fought in every major conflict of the 20th century. The regiment earned a total of nine Distinguished Service Crosses,  250 Silver Stars, 600 Bronze Stars, more than 2,700 Purple Hearts, and 15 Unit Citations for its extraordinary service –  just during the Korean War.

The veterans, now in their 80s and 90s, number more than 1,000 and many live in Florida, where there have been various ceremonies for the Borinqueneers in Central Florida. About 230 are expected to attend the ceremony in Washington, D.C.

They are the first-ever living Hispanics to receive this award. The only other Hispanic to receive the Congressional Gold Medal is the late baseball great Roberto Clemente, who also was Puerto Rican.

The 65th Infantry formed in 1899, shortly after the United States took over Puerto Rico at the end of Spanish-Cuban-American War. It was a racially and ethnically segregated unit, as was the unfortunate custom at the time. Ironically, the award ceremony will take place in the Capitol’s Emancipation Hall.

The Korean War nearly proved to be the regiment’s undoing – as soldiers endured freezing temperatures and near suicidal missions at the Korean-Chinese border.

In addition, Borinqueneers were ordered to shave their mustaches “until such a time as they gave proof of their manhood”; obligated to use separate shower facilities from non-Hispanic soldiers and were prohibited from speaking Spanish under penalty of court-martial, among other indignities, according to the official Borinqueneers site.

The regiment and its veterans are well known in Puerto Rico, but not so much outside the island. In the early 2000s efforts began to tell the Borinqueneers‘ stories. Over 10 years later, in 2013,  Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL), Puerto Rico’s nonvoting delegate Pedro Pierluisi (D) and and later Sen. Richard  Blumenthal (D-CT), among others, pushed the bill that officially awarded the surviving Borinqueneer veterans the Congressional Gold Medal.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor