Marco Rubio

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FEMA, Housing and the Loss of Wealth

A FEMA worker approaches a heavily damaged home after Hurricanes Irma and María. The loss of valuable assets and, hence, wealth will have a long-term impact on the Puerto Rican community. / FEMA Facebook

Puerto Rico hurricane evacuees in the Orlando area will begin fleeing FEMA-sponsored short-term housing as soon as next week, with others to follow in March 20.

Calls began months ago to pressure the Federal Emergency Management Agency to extend the deadline for the dozens of people who are still grappling with the sudden homelessness brought on by two back-to-back hurricanes.

FEMA states the program was temporary, which is true, and this week published a press release with the condescending title, “How to Create Permanent Housing Plans,” as if the agency were addressing ignorant people. Item No. 3: “Achieve long-term housing goals in a reasonable time frame.”

If only it were that easy.

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Organizations Keen to Register Puerto Rican Voters

Never have so many organizations been so keen to register Puerto Rican voters.

For partisan voices eager to tilt registration rolls in the critical swing state of Florida, there is gold in them there newly arrived Puerto Ricans. For the partisans who fear they may lose out, there is a race to convince Puerto Rican voters of the kinship between the two.

Florida “estimates that nearly 300,000 U.S. citizens from Puerto Rico fed to Florida after Hurricane María. Some will stay, register and vote. … If Florida turns as reliably blue as California and New York, Republicans, starting with Donald Trump, may never win another presidential election,” wrote Daniel Henninger in the Wall Street Journal  last week.

All this is happening before many Puerto Ricans have settled into permanent residences. Before many have solicited permanent, not temporary, Florida identifications needed to register to vote, by the way. But most important, before the trauma of fleeing a hurricane-wracked Puerto Rico empty-handed is digested or properly dealt with.

Activists and organizations who really want to help Puerto Ricans should start with basic necessities. It may surprise people to learn that voting is not a basic need. In fact, there is no election until the August primaries, seven months away. Voting participation is a lot like concern for the environment: Once fundamental needs are addressed you can turn your gaze elsewhere. The Puerto Rican evacuees are far from reaching this goal. Plus, they are very much concerned about family back home.

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Gov. Rosselló: We’re Coming After You

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló addresses the capacity crowd at a town hall in Kissimmee to kick off mobilization of Puerto Rican voters. /Maria Padilla

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.

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Venezuela Gets Attention in Trump Tweet

The presidential tweet and photo op in support of imprisoned Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López. / Trump Twitter feed

Venezuela got some attention this week from President Donald Trump, who earlier publicly supported Venezuela opposition leader Leopoldo López in a tweet

Trump may have been encouraged by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R), who was photographed with Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and López’s wife Lilian Tintori in the White House, perhaps also signaling that all is forgiven between Rubio – whom Trump mocked as “Lil Marco” throughout the presidential campaign – and the President.

Rubio and his wife later were scheduled to have dinner with Trump in the White House.

“Venezuela should allow Leopoldo Lopez, a political prisoner & husband of (just met w/ ) out of prison immediately,” Trump tweeted.

Foreign Policy magazine asked, “Could it be that the Venezuelan president is one strongman Trump doesn’t like?”

Venezuela does deserve U.S. attention. It is without a doubt a rogue nation. The once oil-rich country has plummeted into poverty, its people are starving, its constitutional guarantees under attack. Venezuela accused opposition leader López, an economist trained in the U.S.,  of inciting violence and anti-government protests. He was imprisoned about three years ago.

Obama Executive Order

Before leaving office, Barack Obama renewed an executive order designating Venezuela as an “unusual and extraordinary threat” to national security. Obama explained that Venezuela’s situation had not improved since the original executive order dated March 2015.

Obama argued against the Venezuelan government’s alleged “erosion of human rights guarantees, persecution of political opponents, curtailment of press freedoms, use of violence and human rights violations and abuses in response to anti-government protests, and arbitrary arrest and detention of anti-government protestors, as well as the exacerbating presence of significant government corruption.”

Venezuela Shuts Down CNN en Español

Venezuela this week took CNN en Español off the air over its report about fraudulent Venezuelan passports, including passports to people alleged to have terrorism ties. It was one of Venezuela’s few remaining foreign news gathering operations.

CNN en Español  “instigates religious, racial and political hatred,” justified Venezuela’s Telecommunications Commission Director Andrés Eloy Méndez, who also accused the network of distorting the truth, generating a climate of intolerance and being an “imperialistic media organization.”

CNN en Español responded that it would put its live feed on YouTube and make it available in Venezuela.

Sanctions Venezuela Vice President

Prior to the Venezuelan government pulling the plug on CNN en Español the Trump administration hit Venezuela Vice President Tareck El Aissami with sanctions, stating he’s an international drug trafficker. The U.S. Treasury Department’s sanctions freezes El Aissami’s assets in the U.S. and prohibits Americans from doing business with him.

CNN en Español and CNN conducted a year-long investigation into El Aissami, linking him to the passport scandal as well.

Protest at Lake Eola

On Saturday the Orlando area’s Venezuelan community was scheduled to march in Lake Eola against the Venezuelan government’s latest move. “No+ Dictatura en Venezuela” read poster for the event, to place at the bust of Simón Bolívar, the Venezuelan who “liberated the Americas” in the 19th century.

The protest was to take place in conjunction with worldwide protests in 18-plus cities around the world, also including Miami, New York, Houston, Charlotte (NC) and Washington, D.C.

Orlando’s Venezuelan community tends to be fiercely against President Nicolás Maduro, who succeeded Hugo Chávez. Some people posted the CNN live feed link on their Facebook pages.

“Hasta cuando Venezuela, cada día nos cierran más las pocas ventanas de liberated de expresión, reaccionemos,” stated the Facebook post of Pedro Elías Carrasco García, who lives in Venezuela. (Until when, Venezuela. Each day they close the few windows of freedom of expression. We should react.”