Enrique Fernandez Toledo, Director of Puerto Rico Relief and Economic Development Policy for the Center for American Progress (CAP) led fourteen CAP staff members on a fact-finding trip to Puerto Rico and came back with some key conclusions.
“Our visit allowed us to witness firsthand the creative and courageous response to the crisis by brave individuals and hard-working, close-knit communities,” team members wrote in their report. Through more than 30 visits with community leaders and government representatives, the team was able to see first-hand that local responses have been able to overcome challenges
They also determined that there are some major challenges remaining.
- “The colonial relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico is not working.” Observers are becoming increasingly willing to use the term “colonial” to describe the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States.The team found consensus on the idea that the current territorial relationship is damaging to Puerto Rico.
- Resources are not reaching those who need them. The team placed the blame for this on government entities, including FEMA, the federal government in general, and local governments in Puerto Rico. Their proposed solution is to send resources directly to community organizations.
- “PROMESA is having major consequences.” PROMESA and the Fiscal Oversight and Management Board (FOMB) are widely unpopular and people expressed a great deal of frustration with the board. Local feeling is that the recovery plan is both overly optimistic and unconnected with specific needs and opportunities in Puerto Rico.
Other conclusions drawn by the working group: women are driving the recovery efforts on the island, inequality in Puerto Rico has been exacerbated by the 2017 hurricanes, and the territory is not ready for the 2018 hurricane season.
Fernandez Toledo was brought into CAP to head up the Puerto Rico Relief and Economic Policy Initiative. This effort focuses on “long-term planning, economic recovery, and solvency” for Puerto Rico. Fernando Toledo served Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) for 20 years as deputy chief of staff and senior policy adviser, particularly on policy regarding Puerto Rico. Gutierrez is the author of a bill calling for a referendum in Puerto Rico between independence with and without Free Association. The bill had no cosponsors and has not been acted upon in committee.
Nonetheless, the team did not mention any specific recommendations for solving the problem of the “colonial relationship.” They expressed a plan “to develop concrete policies” to address the concerns they identified.
“We saw and admired the tremendous strength, resilience, and steely determination of the Puerto Rican people to overcome the incredible challenges that they face daily,” the report concluded. “CAP will continue its work developing bold progressive policies to help Puerto Rico; to advocate alongside and on behalf of the unheard residents; and to hold accountable those responsible for mismanagement and prolonged suffering.”