Saturday, May 25, 2024

Puerto Rican mayor says the island’s profile has grown since Maria

Puerto Rican officials say they are encountering more sympathy from Washington since two hurricanes devastated the island last year, according to the mayor of Ponce.

María Meléndez, a supporter of statehood for the U.S. territory, told The Hill she’s seen a change on Capitol Hill since the hurricanes raised the island’s profile in the media. Through constant visits and lobbying efforts, Meléndez is striving to remind Congress that Puerto Rico, like other territories, lacks voting representation in Congress.

Meléndez, known as Mayita, recounted a visit with Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, who she says told her that many members of Congress had been previously unaware that Puerto Rican nationals are natural-born U.S. citizens. Many Puerto Rican officials, including Meléndez, are also using the visiting senators and representatives with large Puerto Rican constituencies, to lobby for support for the island’s reconstruction after the devastation of Maria.

The island is coming out of a decadelong recession, where public debt shot up to over $72 billion, forcing Congress to pass the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (Promesa), essentially putting the territory’s finances under direct control of the House of Representatives.

The island is represented only by a resident commissioner, a four-year elected official who has access to the House floor, but can only vote in committees. Meléndez, a member of the New Progressive Party (PNP) in Puerto Rico, said the island’s lack of representation is a civil rights issue.