Diaspora & P.R.’s Business Sector: A Necessary Partnership

Editor’s note: The following was first published in the July 11-17, 2019, issue of Caribbean Business.

Puerto Rico business leaders have stepped up to the plate in recent years with their advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill. Groups such as the Private Sector Coalition, the P.R. Chamber of Commerce, P.R. Manufacturers Association and others have made stops in Washington, D.C. a regular staple. Their stated objectives are often related to saving the island from one of its multiple “cliffs,” such as the impending Medicaid cliff, disaster relief and other immediate concerns.

Grassroots organizations and nonprofits, such as the P.R. Community Foundation, Taller Salud, Youth Development Institute of P.R., Asociación Puertorriqueña de Profesores Universitarios, Espacios Abiertos and several others, have also realized that urgent matters, including fighting the draconian cuts to University of Puerto Rico’s (UPR) budget, for example, will not be accomplished without consistent presence in D.C.

These efforts, while necessary and well-meaning, are often undertaken in an ad hoc fashion intended to only put out the immediate fire but not necessarily address the underlying concerns. Business groups in Puerto Rico, therefore, need to focus on the long game and forge the most natural of strategic alliances to advance their aims: a partnership with the 5.2 million-strong Puerto Rican diaspora in the continental United States.

The patria extendida is not only a ripe market for exports and investment opportunities—though this much-talked-about concept has also been underexploited—it also should be the lynchpin for the island’s lobbying efforts in Congress. With 1.2 million Puerto Ricans living in the swing state of Florida, and hundreds of thousands more residing in Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and other battleground states, our community is in the best position to demand action from the next President of the United States.

Hurricane Maria, and the tragedy that followed the botched federal response, awakened a sense of indignation among Puerto Ricans in the States not seen since the movement to kick the U.S. Navy out of Vieques. That is the type of herculean mobilization needed to help get Puerto Rico out of its decades-long recession and rebuild. The diaspora’s potential ability to sustain a constant drumbeat of advocacy before their members of Congress, and the opportunities presented by the upcoming presidential election, should provoke a much-needed conversation between the Puerto Rico business community and boricua advocacy groups in the United States.

In fact, the diaspora and its allies are already moving in that direction. Recently, 55 national and local organizations sent a letter, www.power4puertorico.com/lettertocandidates, to presidential candidates of all parties demanding they release a comprehensive platform containing their policy commitments toward Puerto Rico and displaced families stateside.* Among their numerous demands, at least three key items are consistent with the business sector’s priorities:

•Enacting federal tax incentives for job creation;

•Exempting Puerto Rico from the Jones Act and air cabotage laws; and

•Providing Puerto Rico’s full participation in key federal programs, such as Medicaid, the Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (PAN by its Spanish acronym).

Puerto Rico will not be able to recover from devastating financial and economic crises, on top of the worst natural disaster in modern U.S. history, without meaningful collaboration among our leaders on both sides of the pond. The first place to start should be to build a robust partnership between the island’s business leaders and the best lobbyists we could ask for—Our brethren in the United States—who, if properly engaged and mobilized, will not rest until the federal government responds to Puerto Rico’s demands for the economic tools and the dignity it deserves.

*Full disclosure: The author serves as senior adviser to one of the groups behind the letter campaign.

The author is a principal of the D.C.-based consulting firm FDJ Solutions, and was the communications director for Hispanic media for Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Barack Obama.