Hispanic Caucus Holds First Gathering of the Week at DNC
PHILADELPHIA — Puerto Rico came to the forefront during a gathering of the Democratic Hispanic Caucus held Monday at the Philadelphia Convention Center.
The island’s debt crisis, the Zika virus and the role Puerto Ricans on the U.S. mainland could play ahead of the presidential elections were some of the topics discussed during the caucus, along with immigration and discrimination issues. Victims of the recent Orlando shooting were also paid tribute, as speakers heavily criticized racism and discrimination against Latinos and the LGBTT community.
“The big elephant in the room—and I don’t mean Republicans—is that we still have a colony,” said Rep. José Serrano, adding that as long as Puerto Rico continues to be a colony of the U.S., the island’s woes, particularly its fiscal problems, won’t be solved once and for all.
Along with Serrano, New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito; Liza Ortiz, campaign manager for Popular Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate David Bernier; and Manuel Ortiz, a lobbyist on K Street with ties to the Democratic Party and who advises New Progressive Party gubernatorial candidate Ricardo Rosselló’s campaign, took part in a panel that discussed various issues related to the island.
Serrano believes the U.S. is “just putting bandaids on” without solving Puerto Rico’s political status. He urged Congress to explicitly express which options are available, and says he supports three formulas: statehood, independence and free association.
Mark-Viverito stressed it is important for the Puerto Rican diaspora to take on an active role in finding solutions to the crisis. Moreover, she said the fiscal board to be established by the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act, or Promesa, should concern everyone and urged once again for completing an audit of Puerto Rico’s debt.
As for the Bernier campaign manager Ortiz, she said economic development must be achieved first and foremost, adding that the island’s debt must be restructured. She added that Bernier “has been in talks with bondholders since Day 1,” and was confident a solution could be reached with the island’s creditors.
In his evaluation, lobbyist Manuel Ortiz insisted it is impossible to de-link status from Puerto Rico’s economic issues. On that front, he touted the NPP gubernatorial candidate’s plan to seek economic development by achieving parity in the Medicare and Medicaid federal programs.
“Economic development tools for Puerto Rico are clearly lacking,” Ortiz said during an exclusive interview with Caribbean Business after the panel discussion.
He added that Promesa lacks provisions for economic development. “The most important thing is that the board members be chosen from technocrats. People who are experienced, financial services people, people who know municipal debt—not ideologues and people who are going to bring their own agendas. I am inspired by conversations that I have had with the White House and with Speaker [Paul] Ryan,” Ortiz said.
“Once they get in there, I think it is important that the new administration produces audited financial statements; the data that is out there right now is not enough to get a clear picture,” he added, pointing to claims that Rosselló made that the debt was overblown to obtain the oversight board.
“[Promesa] is important to me and, yes, it is important to our constituents,” former Miami Mayor Manuel Díaz said for his part during an exclusive interview with Caribbean Business.
On the Zika front, Serrano doesn’t think that “any American, including Puerto Ricans, understand the major threat posed by the virus,” adding that resources and funding must be provided to fight the virus in Puerto Rico.
Meanwhile, as expected, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was slammed during the event, particularly for his stance against immigrants.
“How have we allowed Trump’s language to be acceptable of this country’s political debate?” said DNC Vice Chairwoman María Elena Durazo, criticizing the GOP candidate for his continuous remarks against immigrants, particularly Hispanics, in the mainland U.S.
“Today, we are here to protect and defend immigrants in the U.S.,” added Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, who also took part in one of the event’s panels.
“We are all going back home…back to Puerto Rico to elect Hillary Clinton,” Durazo added. Yet, although Puerto Rico residents vote in U.S. primaries, they don’t have the right to vote in the presidential elections.
“Preach the good word; let’s make sure the Latino community puts Hillary in the White House,” said actress Rosie Pérez, who moderated the Puerto Rico panel during the Hispanic caucus.