Friday, September 20, 2019

Puerto Rican organizations putting the island at the front and center of the 2020 elections

As the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates ramp up their campaigns, a number of Puerto Rican organizations are demanding that they incorporate into their platforms definitive stances on a series of issues affecting the island and its 3 million residents.

“Now is the time to show us, not only that they care, but show us how they’ll act,” Federico de Jesús, senior advisor of Power 4 Puerto Rico, a coalition of 35 organizations and leaders advocating for the island, said on a call with reporters. Yesterday, the group released an open letter pushing candidates to support “a comprehensive platform that addresses issues affecting Puerto Rico.”

In the letter, they urge candidates to publicly support “full participation of island residents in critical federal anti-poverty programs,” such as Medicaid and food stamps. Since Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory and not a state, it does not get the same federal funding and instead manages these programs through block grants.

The group is also calling for parity on the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, and a repeal of the century-old Jones Act, which raises the cost of imported goods to Puerto Rico by prohibiting foreign ships from going there; only American-built vessels and crews can make shipments to the island. In addition, the group backs a Marshall Plan-type mobilization to rebuild after Hurricane Maria, which led to the deaths of at least 2,975 people.

“Puerto Rico must be at the forefront of our elected officials and our candidates’ priorities to ensure this injustice never happens again,” said Melissa Mark-Viverito, interim president of Latino Victory, an organization dedicated to helping elect Latinos, referring to failures in the the federal response to the hurricane.

While Puerto Rican residents can’t vote in presidential elections, they can, as U.S. citizens, vote in presidential primaries. Puerto Rico could give Democratic candidates a boost in rising above an already crowded field.

Carlos Vargas-Ramos, a research associate who studies the impact of migration on Puerto Rican political behavior at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College-CUNY, told NBC News that visits to Puerto Rico can certainly benefit candidates seeking to mobilize Hispanic and Puerto Rican voters living in the U.S. — and that “could make a big difference in competitive states like Florida.”

NBC NEWS