Puerto Rico

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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

Sanders Opens Puerto Rico Campaign

Franceschini - PR - Sanders
Betsy Franceschini, regional Hispanic outreach director for Bernie Sanders, makes a TV appearance in Puerto Rico. / Franceschini Facebook photo

When Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders stumped for votes in Florida ahead of the March 15 presidential primary, he knew he could not – would not – possibly win the Sunshine State.

Sanders was significantly behind in the polls. But he particularly went after the Puerto Rican vote, a constituency that’s beginning to make a decisive difference at the polls. A week before the primary, Sanders named local community organizer Betsy Franceschini as his regional director for Hispanic outreach. Franceschini, well known among Orlando-area Puerto Rican, at the time was the Florida regional director for the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA) office in Kissimmee.

Why would Sanders make such a mad play for Central Florida’s Puerto Rican vote so late in the game?  He couldn’t catch up to Clinton, ultimately losing 33.3 percent to 64.4 percent in a Clinton landslide.

But Sanders wasn’t making a last-minute appeal to Puerto Rican primary voters here. He was tentatively approaching Puerto Rican voters there – on the island, where the Democratic primary isn’t scheduled until June 5.

Islanders cannot vote in the November presidential election but they do play a key role in the primaries, in which the island’s 67 Democratic delegates, including seven super delegates, are up for grabs – more than in Iowa (44), New Hampshire (24), South Carolina (53), Nevada (35) and Colorado (66), to name a few.  That’s a rich cache for the Democratic underdog.

This week Franceschini is unrolling Sanders media campaign, visiting island TV and radio stations two months in advance of the Puerto Rico vote in an open primary. According to Puerto Rico’s Noticel, about 250 people turned out for a Sanders meeting in Old San Juan.

“There hasn’t been a presidential candidate who has presented such a comprehensive and profound [commitment] to Puerto Rico,” Franceschini is quoted as saying in the story, referring to Sanders’ opposition to a proposed financial control board as part of a congressional debt relief package. Franceschini called for volunteers to create Sanders’ committees in every island precinct.

Puerto Rico is facing an economic crisis, on the hook for $72 billion in debt.

Clinton, meanwhile, is popular among island Democrats. In the 2008 Democratic primary, Clinton won 68 percent to Barack Obama’s 32 percent. She’s substantially ahead in the delegate count with a total of 1,712 (including super delegates), compared with Sanders’ 1,011.

In Puerto Rico, Clinton has earned soft pledges from three of seven super delegates, according to the political website Greenpapers.com

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor