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2016 Comes to an End with a Bang

The year 2016 is coming to an end with a bang on many fronts. Let’s turn to a few less obvious but newsy items that merit attention for their importance.


From the first news of the Pulse nightclub shooting on June 12, a tug of war erupted between the LGBTQ and Latino communities over who would take the lead in speaking for the 49 victims, most of whom were Hispanic, many of them Puerto Rican.

The LGBTQ community won the struggle, as evidenced by the six-month anniversary of the shooting at the Orange County History Center, where the Hispanic component of the shooting was nearly absent.

As reported in Orlando Latino, the ceremony host  “forgot” to acknowledge the Pulse victims. Not one of the survivors or family members was called to the podium. Not one. The host mentioned only in passing that the history center opened a display of the tributes to Pulse collected from around town.

Government and others have now also buried the grass roots efforts that took place in the Latino community to help survivors and families, where groups such as Somos Orlando offered – and continues to offer – mental health counseling to the affected community.

But the Hispanic community has not been totally forgotten. In an Orlando Sentinel poll conducted before the six-month anniversary, 21 percent said Pulse was an attack of terrorism, an attack against gays and Hispanics (italics mine). That was up from 13 percent in June.

Full disclosure: I was named to the board of Somos Orlando but have resigned this month.

Latinos Elected

Newly elected Cong. Darren Soto

Central Florida has about 11 Latino elected officials as a result of the 2016 elections, including Darren Soto, the first Florida Puerto Rican in Congress. About five are a net gain, meaning a Hispanic did not previously hold the seat.

Here are the winners:  Víctor Torres, former state representative to state senator, District 15; Bob Cortés, re-elected to House District 30; John Cortés, re-elected to House District 43; René Plasencia, re-elected to the State House but representing a new area: District 50; Amy Mercado elected to House District 48 previously occupied by her father Víctor Torres; Carlos Guillermo Smith elected to District 49; Emily Bonilla elected to the Orange County Commission, District 5; Armando Ramirez, re-elected as Clerk of the Court of Osceola County; José Alvarez elected the first Hispanic mayor of Kissimmee; and Olga González, elected to Kissimmee City Commission Seat 1.

Early Voting

An important lesson about early voting in the presidential election:  About 70 percent of all Florida votes were cast before election day but the latest analyses indicate there is no correlation between early voting and higher voter turnout.

Early voting simply changed the way people voted, which is important for organizers to keep in mind for future elections.

Undocumented Immigrants

President Barack Obama will have deported more than 2.75 million undocumented immigrants by the time he leaves office in several weeks, the highest number of any president – and some presidents combined, earning Obama the moniker of “Deporter in Chief.”

Of those deported, 84 percent had criminal records. That leaves over 820,000 of the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants with criminal convictions. If Trump delivers on his promise, there won’t be as many undocumented immigrants with criminal records to deport.


One of every five people or 20 percent enrolled in Obamacare lives in Florida, the highest percentage of any state. That’s over 1.3 million people, which is going to make it difficult for Washington to undo the Affordable Care Act without causing massive healthcare headaches for millions of people without other health care recourses.

There would be up to 800,000 more Obamacare customers in Florida if the state had expanded Medicaid, a key component of the health care act.

As of December 19, the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services reports about, 6.4 million people had signed up for Obamacare for 2017, or about 2 million more than the year before, indicating that Obamacare has become more – not less – relevant.

Puerto Rico Financial Crisis

At year end, the new fiscal control board that’s poised to take over Puerto Rico in 2017 projected the island’s financial predicament is worse than had been reported, which was already pretty bad.

Puerto Rico Gov.-elect Ricky Rosselló.

As reported in Orlando Latino, Puerto Rico’s projected 10-year deficit is $67 billion, or $10 billion higher than originally stated and nearly as much as the island and its public agencies owe bondholders.

Gov.-elect Ricky Rosselló must present a balanced budget, which would be a first in decades, requiring significant government cutbacks as well as deep reforms to keep the island economy from toppling completely.

Bottom line for Florida: The pain is likely to send more economic migrants to the Sunshine State, continuing a dramatic shift in the state’s Latino population. Puerto Ricans number over 1 million in Florida, compared with about 1.3 million Cubans, the state’s largest Latino group.


The final Zika numbers for Puerto Rico fell short of earlier predictions but are still alarming. The Puerto Rico Health Department reports nearly 36,000 islanders contracted mosquito-borne Zika, accounting for the lion’s share of locally transmitted cases under the U.S. flag.

Only 216 local cases were reported in the 50 states, with Florida making up 210 of those.

Zika can cause birth defects such as microcephaly in pregnant women. About 2,500 island women were infected in 2016, which is significantly below the 43,000 cases per year that were projected for Puerto Rico, as reported earlier in Orlando Latino.

Of those 2,500 cases only seven (7 ) resulted in infants with birth defects. The island has projected 1,000 fewer births this year due to Zika.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Puerto Ricans in Denial about Zika

The Zika virus is carried by mosquitoes commonly found in Puerto Rico and Florida. /photo courtesy CDC

It’s going to be a tough haul fighting the Zika virus.

Not only because Congress left town without authorizing additional funds to combat the mosquito-borne virus. Not only because the Obama administration states that it’s almost out of money left over from the Ebola scare to fight Zika. But also because there’s a great deal of skepticism particularly among Puerto Ricans about whether Zika exists or if the whole thing is a plot to reduce the Puerto Rican population.

Yes, you read correctly.

The New York Times recently wrote about the laissez faire attitude re Zika among Puerto Ricans on the island, which is making it hard to fight the virus. Puerto Rico has the largest Zika outbreak under the U.S. flag – nearly 5,482 cases as of August 3 and counting, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Cases jump 20 to 30 percent a week, according to island health officials. A 79-year old island man died due to Zika.

I heard the skepticism for myself this week during a presentation about the growing numbers and influence of Puerto Ricans in Florida.

I’m heartbroken.

But I strongly dissent.


I’m paraphrasing here but during the presentation a pastor said to strong audience approval, “I’m suspicious about the Zika ‘crisis.’ This could be a plot to reduce the population of Puerto Rico.”

The relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico is fraught with distrust – a distrust that has always been latent but is now in full bloom, given the island’s financial crisis and the U.S.-controlled financial oversight board that soon will govern Puerto Rico, in a throwback to the U.S. takeover of the island in 1898.

Many instances of “colonial” mismanagement and downright experimentation – the sterilization of women and birth control pill, for instance – on the Puerto Rican people have led to this day. In a huge bungle, most recently the CDC sent a shipment to Puerto Rico of the Zika-fighting pesticide Naled, apparently without the governor’s or administration’s consent, creating an uproar.

As of August 5, Puerto Rico has no effective way of fighting the Zika virus. None.

Science doesn’t appear to be on the side of the conspiracy-minded folks. And the skeptical attitude among authority figures and others is detrimental to Puerto Ricans.

Detriment to Puerto Ricans

The fact is, the island is a haven for the aedes aegypti, the same  mosquito that spreads dengue and chikungunya, also widespread on the island. The mosquito bears the Zika virus.

The CDC reports 1,800 Zika cases in the continental United States, almost all travel-related. However, the 5,482 cases found in Puerto Rico are nearly all mosquito-transmitted. 

A sampling of blood donations in Puerto Rico found that nearly 2 percent carried the Zika virus, which can lead to birth defects in the fetuses of pregnant women. That is only among a small sample of blood donors, not the general population in which the infection rate may be higher. Many people do not know they are carrying Zika because they do not experience symptoms.

Here’s a sobering figure: The CDC estimates 25 percent of the island’s population may contract Zika. That’s close to 900,000 people.

Don’t forget – Zika can be sexually transmitted, so it’s not only the mosquito you have to watch out for but also your partners. “Sex includes vaginal, anal, oral sex, and the sharing of sex toys,” states the CDC.


In a bid to fend off Zika, the abortion rate is rising among women in Puerto Rico, plus doctors are advising patients to delay pregnancy – all of which may make the island’s population decrease more acute.

The Puerto Rico Planning Board already reported that there are more deaths than births in Puerto Rico as a result of historical outmigration. Zika may accelerate the downward population spiral.

Zika in Florida

Zika-carrying mosquitoes were found in the Wynwood area of Miami-Dade, the nation’s first area of active mosquito-borne Zika transmission. Wynwood is a gentrifying neighborhood for decades known as “Little San Juan,” meaning it contains a large Puerto Rican population.

The Miami Herald reported that aerial spraying of Naled over Wynwood this week significantly reduced the Zika-carrying mosquitoes – so much so that the state lifted the public health alert in the one square-mile area. After only one spraying. 

The messy U.S.-Puerto Rico relationship has created denial among Puerto Ricans about Zika. I get that.

But Puerto Ricans need to cast aside their doubts and do all they can to fight the Zika disease. Puerto Ricans will be the biggest beneficiaries.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor