Will Puerto Ricans Decide the 2016 Election?

The effect of Puerto Ricans in presidential elections is not a new topic. Despite being U.S. citizens, Puerto Ricans are unable to vote due to being residents of an “unincorporated territory.” However, they still contribute to national politics in other ways. Puerto Rico still has delegates, and they lend to decisions in partisan primaries. Yet another way they affect the presidential election has started getting more widespread attention in the media. I myself first realized this when a certain far-right news site shared an outlandish story about one of the presidential candidates actively importing people from the island in order to sway the upcoming election. This story is improbable simply because it’d be a ill-conceived waste of resources to go out of the way to physically bring Puerto Ricans up to the mainland en masse when they’re already doing that.

Despite how some keep trying to frame the whole disaster, the current economic crisis has been happening more or less for decades. Puerto Rico has frequently experienced fiscal turmoil during the U.S.’s overlordship, and this virtually always culminates in migration to the mainland. The lopsided political relationship between the U.S. and the commonwealth ultimately falls hardest on the working-class in Puerto Rico and many of their number find more and better opportunities in the continental mainland, especially when the alternative is no opportunity. Some of these migrants were even able to earn enough working in the mainland to build mansions back in their significantly poorer communities. You’ll occasionally see hand-built mansions mingled in with shacks on the rough mountain roads through places like the traditionally isolated San Sebastian, which provided many of those migrants to places like New Jersey.

The current migration, however, has a considerably different makeup. The demographic that’s leaving the island now to settle in the mainland is not made up almost solely of poor laborers and farm workers, but is constituted very significantly by professionals and specialists of all segments of the middle class. Despite this, many have found less opportunities than their forebears, who flocked to grab onto factory jobs and other labor-intensive professions that were still available in relative abundance in the Northeastern United States at that time. These new migrants have instead congregated in Florida, where they deal with poverty and rising racial tensions. You may be asking why all this background information is important – it’s because it’ll give you an idea of how these Puerto Ricans will vote, if at all, and why.

Coverage of this issue is divided between the usual far-right panic attacks about mass Hispanic migration throwing swing states to the Democrats, and whether or not Republicans could possibly take advantage of the new demographics in Florida. Reporters point out that Puerto Ricans, like most Latinos, are inherently socially conservative and emphasize family values. However, this point is frequently misread by outsider observers who don’t really seem to realize what Puerto Ricans on both the island and the mainland prioritize in terms of values. I see no way the current Republican party could possibly poach any voters from Clinton, and it’s their own fault. That’s not to say that the Democrats have done any better, but though both parties shoot themselves in the foot when it comes to enticing Latino voters (and probably all other minority voters, and arguably just all voters), only one continuously rubs salt in their own wounds. The Republican party of this election has been adding some dirt and fungus to that gaping open wound as well, and they’re behind even the Democrats in realizing Puerto Ricans and other Latinos have been watching the whole time.

Clinton is enjoying a lead of around 60-70 percent among the Puerto Ricans living in Florida, which is about the percentage she had over Obama during the 2008 Democratic primary in Puerto Rico. A study conducted by the Center for American Progress offers some more interesting breakdowns. The biggest concern amongst the Florida Puerto Rican community by far is the economy/unemployment, with healthcare being the runner-up, and issues like immigration, education and racism trailing behind at more or less equal levels of interest. The vast majority would not vote for Trump, and though nearly half like Marco Rubio most would still choose a Democratic presidential candidate over him. A slim majority are pro-statehood and consider a presidential candidate’s views on Puerto Rico to be a deciding factor in casting their vote. Of those surveyed, most were older (over 40), had some level of education beyond high school, had resided in the mainland for over 15 years, were children of first generation immigrants, and were from lower income households. Most also followed the news regularly, primarily through TV.

Though this was one study, it provides some interesting insights. One of the biggest is that the majority of Puerto Ricans in Florida are not newcomers. Most are the children of people who migrated there in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, when Puerto Rico went through several recessions coinciding with economic downturns in the mainland. Most are also educated, to various degrees, but still poor, and stay connected the news and to current events in Puerto Rico. In the latter case, that’s despite over half not being born on the island. We can make several inferences from all this data: mainland-based Puerto Ricans still far outnumber those residing on the island, and they fall in line with most other Latinos demographically and ideologically. One of the biggest differences is also one deciding factors in determining their 2016 votes – their continuing connection to Puerto Rico. The lukewarm to frigid reception of Republicans is a product of this, as though both parties and their associates blame each other for the problems in Puerto Rico, only one is more vocal and binary about their views regarding the island. Trump’s nomination only made it worse, with Puerto Ricans having the same low view as other Latinos of his past comments about Mexico. Though Puerto Ricans have been citizens for generations, most still pretty open-minded about opening paths to citizenship for the undocumented. It’s also interesting to note that though the report claims most are pro-statehood, it doesn’t go into detail about committed they were to the cause – which may have shed more light on why Puerto Ricans wouldn’t be more inclined to lean Republican as nearly every pro-statehood Puerto Rican politician does.

I’ve found that most Puerto Ricans have become, deep down, rather pragmatic politically due the issues they face regarding their identity as part of the United States. Many see Puerto Rico becoming a state as an inevitable reality, as, typical of colonized people, they cannot see themselves operating independently and risking becoming one of the poor islands occupying the Caribbean. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of Puerto Ricans who are patriotic Americans, but many don’t take for granted that the U.S. has their best interests at heart. Many becoming reactively leftist, especially those coming from the island. Indeed, I’ve seen firsthand how elitist conservatives can become liberal political activists when they come North. I’ve seen some juggle contradicting views of the poor on the island and the poor in the mainland. Puerto Ricans in the U.S. clearly see themselves as of the “have-nots” and the right-wing’s continued rhetoric demonizing Puerto Rico has left little room in their minds as to who’s to blame. Republicans keep unloading into that foot, and they’re panicking now because although Puerto Ricans aren’t really swarming to Florida as it’s been portrayed, they’re adding numbers to an already disenfranchised but politically conscious community.

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The World Baseball Classic, El Clásico Mundial

By Ramon Negron

The World Baseball Classic, el Clásico Mundial has already finished the qualifying tournament and the teams are set for 2017. Australia, Colombia, Japan, Puerto Rico, Canada, Cuba, Korea, United States, China, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Venezuela, China, Italy, Netherlands, and Israel will all be playing baseball in early March 2017 in a world tournament, anticipated to be its most attended and watched World Baseball Classic.

El Clásico Mundial, as Spanish speakers call it, is more than just about the game, it’s about pride. The same pride Jose Fernandez expressed every time he pitched, every time he smiled. You see, beisbol for Latinos can be considered a tradition ingrained in our genes; like un buen chancletaso, it leaves a mark that will never be forgotten. With greats such as Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda, Pedro Martinez, Omar Vizquel, David Ortiz, Mariano Rivera and many, many more, the American pastime has been greatly influenced by the Latino culture.

Amidst a financial debt crisis and a battle of opinions regarding its political status, Puerto Rico remains ready. The Clásico Mundial represents the fire within for Boricuas in the mainland. You see, it’s not all about Wall street when you’re on the diamond, it’s about la raza. With signs located in the metro area capturing some of the players on the world team including Yadier Molina, Fransisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, Javier Baez, Carlos Beltran, Angel Pagan, Kike Hernandez, George Springer and possible pitchers Jake Arrieta and Marcus Stroman, this may be Puerto Rico’s best team yet.

Why is this important…Well, it’s liberating! To win an international event such as the World baseball Classic for Puerto Rico is a step in the right direction, one that leads to emancipation. With the corruption that many speak about and feel day to day on the island as well being identified as somewhat of an outcast due to the lack of good leadership, it is time to put individual efforts together and steer our own ship.

A Bigger Crisis in Puerto Rico May Be Developing

The ongoing economic crisis in Puerto Rico has almost completely overshadowed the environmental one that’s gone virtually unnoticed by the major news media. The majority of the island’s landfills are well over capacity and possibly spreading disease and toxic waste to the nearby communities. The Environmental Quality Board, the local government entity in charge of managing Puerto Rico’s ecological concerns, was granted control over the landfills by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1994. Evidently, the EQB has not followed the regulations put in place by the EPA and the latter is cracking down of the former. However, Puerto Rico Limpio, an environmental citizen’s action group on the island, released a fairly damning report based on the EPA’s own documents that accused the agency of ignoring the impending crisis for the past decade.

The online narrative for this situation looks like a one-sided duel of press releases. In one corner, you have the EPA doing its best to claim a premature victory for wagging its finger at the EQB and closing down two landfills, with plans to shut down the rest in upcoming years. On the other side is PRL tossing fire and brimstone at the EPA for ignoring EQB’s wrongdoings for so long. To their credit, the EPA has stepped in a few times on the island in the past year, though that’s only recently and only concerning polluted water and private commercial interests. Up until now, the EPA has done little besides the finger-wagging at the EQB about the crowded landfills and, in an eerie repetition of the Flint water crisis, has done little else with the derelict local government agencies on the island.

That last point may shed some light on the entire situation. In the case of Flint, the EPA was supposedly powerless to take any action against Michigan’s own local environmental government agency. If the same is true in this scenario, then that’d the great case of tragic irony, given how easily every other federal agency who has tried has superseded the Puerto Rican government’s authority. Congress is sending a pretty clear message about priorities when it steps in to protect the investments of hedge funds and restore confidence in the municipal bond market, but not when another government body is trying to make sure the land stays habitable. As hyperbolic as that sounds, who can argue otherwise? Dozens of politicians stepped in to weigh in on the fiscal crisis, most weighing heavily in favor of restructuring the debt as opposed to a bailout. In contrast, only one congressional representative has been the only one so far to sound the alarm bells about the landfills, and he’s a former Puerto Rico resident.

Besides bureaucratic red tape, incompetence or corruption, the only other explanation for the EPA’s willful ignorance is just that they thought no one would care. The lack of coverage of the crisis from any of the major news organizations seems to support that last theory. Possibly irreparable environmental damage is going on as you read this, and it’s happening right on American soil. Every ecological activist should be bringing attention to this impending disaster, just as with #NoDAPL and the Sioux people who are even now fighting to fend off their own man-made crisis.

Puerto Rico May Have Some Good News for Its Tourism Industry

With all the bad and potentially worrying  news spreading currently about Puerto Rico, we try our best to try to find the more positive pertinent bits where we can. Despite some ongoing scares, certain types of tourism of the island are still holding strong, namely cruise ship stopovers. The Port of San Juan saw a record-breaking 1.5 million customers in 2015, and it looks like that record might be broken again by at least another 100,000 more cruise ship passengers in the 2017-18 season. This is a complete reversal from the decline experienced between 2008 to 2013. According to Fox Business News, the appointed head of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company (PRTC) as of 2012, Ingrid Rivera Rocafort, made it her mission to increase cruise traffic to the island’s capital. Coupled with other good news, such as United Airlines expanding its number of flights from Newark to San Juan and new and promising types of tours in Puerto Rico, it would seem there’s a ray of light in all the darkness.

Of course, a quick search on the subject will link you to a repeated story hosted by several sites that regurgitate press releases, and chances are you’ll be targeted by some variation of “visit Puerto Rico” ads afterwards. Obviously, the PRTC is carrying out another aggressive public relations campaign to combat the  negative impact of the Zika press and bring in much needed money from tourism by using the tools at their disposal. The cruise tourist sector brought in an estimated $225 million in 2015, and the last marketing campaign that the PRTC put forward was able to generate between 7 to 10 percent increases in room bookings for certain hotels. With the massive debt Puerto Rico owes, growing revenue streams are desperately needed. However, the PRTC is still focusing on the same narrative of the island as an exotic escape which focuses almost solely on the upper scale sections of San Juan. We think that this not only a wasted potential, but that it will ultimately only lend to the indifference and ignorance in the mainland U.S. of Puerto Rico. I personally spoke to past cruise passengers who stopped over at San Juan, and one was particularly adamant that he wanted to nothing to do with the rest of Puerto Rico – a sentiment that I’ve unfortunately heard more than once. This continued framing of Puerto Rico only seems to reaffirm to its visitors that the island is just a place to have a few drinks and then forget as soon as you leave.

We realized that we are biased observers, but we also like to think of ourselves as informed observers. We’ve seen the effects of poverty in Puerto Rico firsthand, and spoken to the food vendors, hotel owners, artists, and everyone else with something to hock – they all want more mainland Americans to come their way. The difference can be seen when leaving San Juan between the capital and the rest of the island, and counting on a few hundred million coming to one port may not do much to pay the billions owed by the entire island. Puerto Rico needs capital from the more financially robust mainland to cycle through its local economies to make municipalities self-sufficient, and it needs it regularly. Focusing on one target audience for temporary services may not bring in that repeat business, or speak to the key influencers needed to bring that capital flow.

We’ve already pointed out recently the unique story about a certain New York lawyer who would not have returned to Puerto Rico if he had not been able to find out on his own that it was more than beachfront hotels. That lack of information almost prevented the arrival of a man who now employs several local Puerto Ricans at a revamped mountainside resort that has been labeled one of the best hotels in the whole world by one of the founders of Expedia. It was the only hotel in Puerto Rico, and in Latin America, that made the list. Steven Weingarten is a job creator, a businessman, and – most importantly – a member of his community in Utuado. When I was interviewing him, he was on his way to grab a pincho from a local kiosk – the man’s become more of an authentic Puerto Rican that some even on the island. He’s exactly the type of person the PRTC should be reaching out to more: someone who’s willing to actually engage in Puerto Rico, with Puerto Ricans, and spend some actual time there. While the current promotional campaign seems to be making an impact, there’s no telling what the future will hold. Puerto Rico needs to revamp its image as more than a tropical getaway if the country is going to have any future.

Puerto Rico’s Fiscal Control Board Gets Started

The Junta de Control Fiscal (JCF) has already set a deadline for a new plan to begin solving Puerto Rico’s debt problems. By October 14, current Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla is expected to present this plan to the board. Despite being tasked with overseeing Puerto Rico, the JCF has been meeting in Manhattan, where they have already been accosted by protesters. There is a lot of controversy surrounding the board, from its very existence to its seven members, some of who have questionable pasts concerning the island.

The JCF, via NBC*:

  • Andrew [Biggs] is currently with the American Enterprise Institute and served in the George W. Bush administration, including in the Social Security Administration and supports privatizing the system.
  • Jose B. Carrión III is president and principal Partner of HUB International CLC, LLC. He previously served in various positions in the island government, including the Workers Compensation Board. [Carrion is a pro-statehood Puerto Rican Republican, who evidently also promotes Republican involvement in pushing for Puerto Rican statehood on the side. He’s also the brother-in-law of Pedro Peluisi, Puerto Rico’s non-voting Congressional representative.]
  • Carlos [M.] García is the CEO of BayBoston Managers LLC and managing partner of BayBoston Capital L.P., a company he founded in 2013. He has held several financial positions in the past, including president and CEO of island’s Government Development Bank. García, who favors statehood for the island, is considered the architect of Puerto Rico’s controversial Ley 7 (7 Law), which allowed the government to temporarily declare a fiscal emergency and lay off thousands of public sector employees in response to Puerto Rico’s fiscal crisis.
  • Arthur González is with the New York University School of Law. Judge Gonzalez previously served on the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York from 1995 to 2012, retiring as Chief Judge in 2010.
  • José R. González is CEO and [P]resident of the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York. He has served in a variety of banking and financial services positions, including with Credit Suisse First Boston and with the Government Development Bank of Puerto Rico.
  • Ana Matosantos, the only woman on the board, is president of Matosantos Consulting and has been director of the California Department of Finance and deputy director of budgets for the state. [Matosantos has been lauded by past associates for cooperating with administrations from both parties.]
  • David Skeel Jr. is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, having previously taught at Temple University in Philadelphia and in private practice. He authored the book, “True Paradox: How Christianity Makes Sense of Our Complex World.”

*Brackets denote edits and additional information not included in the original article referenced.

Three of the board are Democrats, while the other four are Republicans, giving the majority control effectively to the latter (like a lot of other such committees seem to do…). Four are Puerto Ricans, though at least three of those are pro-statehood Republicans who were deeply involved in the last statehood governor’s cabinet. Like former Governor Fortuño, some of them have been diligently working within the Republican party in the mainland. It’s also important to note that Fortuño promoted the idea of a fiscal control board along with limited debt restructuring for municipalities and public corporations almost exactly a year ago. He made sure to assert that the government’s debt should not be touched so as to not set a precedent of rewarding states or territories for fiscal mismanagement – a consistent rhetorical point among Republicans concerning the debt crisis.

Ir’s hard to not be skeptical of the board and its members. Some of them have repeatedly shown a greater prioritization for ideology than for Puerto Rico itself. The former governor and his cabinet, including those on the JCF, still try to perpetuate their story of “saving” Puerto Ricans from themselves by implementing fiscally conservative policies. Of course, they really did neither, and in fact, according to some sources, Fortuño actually outspent the people he accuses now of overspending. Despite this blatant hypocrisy, these same people were still chosen to try to “save” Puerto Rico again. And yet again, Puerto Rico’s actual welfare falls to the wayside in the interest of making political partisan statements. The worst part for me personally is that the framing of the Puerto Rican appointees is one of native sons shepherding their homeland, while precedent demonstrates that they’ll do anything but. Between their personal agenda of promoting Puerto Rican statehood and their loyalty to a party that frequently uses the island as a pawn in their ideological battle royale, I don’t have a lot of faith that this control board will do anything beneficial for Puerto Rico. Once again, the help the island needs will have to come from outside the governments in San Juan and Washington.