Although it is having a hard time financing and providing public services to the residents of Puerto Rico, the government of the territory launched an effort to provide government services to citizens of Florida last week.
The Commonwealth’s Federal Affairs Administration opened an office in the central Florida city of Kissimmee for the purpose.
Florida is now home to more than 850,000 people born in Puerto Rico or of Puerto Rican heritage. Many live in the central portion of the State, with a substantial number in and around Orlando. A third of Orlando neighbor’s Kissimmee’s 60,000 people are of Puerto Rican origin.
Federal Affairs Administration Director Juan Hernandez Mayoral said that the administration of new Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla “seeks to improve the quality of life” for “our compatriots” of Puerto Rican origin in Florida and throughout the United States.
Further casting people from Puerto Rico as being from another country instead of the U.S. territory that it is, Hernandez Mayoral declared, “Puerto Ricans have decided to immigrate to Florida” (as if they were moving from a foreign country instead of a U.S. territory).
And he contended during the office’s opening ceremony that Puerto Ricans who “have decided to live their lives outside our country should … feel that the Government … of Puerto Rico is there to serve them wherever the [presumably meaning “they”] live.”
He explained that “Despite the vast ocean that divides us, we have truly believe that in the end we are one country,” according to his office. The “we” was a reference to people of Puerto Rican heritage. [The “have” was in his statement.]
For his part, Hernandez’s boss, “Commonwealth” party Gov. Garcia made it clear that, in addition to assisting individuals and businesses, a primary mission of the office will be to register people who have moved from Puerto Rico to Florida to vote in Florida.
In fact, the office is being headed by the former Hispanic outreach director of the Florida Democratic Party who told the Orlando Sentinel that she had worked to register thousands of Latinos to vote in the 2012 elections.
Garcia explained that the voter registration goal was to give Puerto Rico political power that the Commonwealth does not and cannot have. Although people born in in Puerto Rico have been U.S. citizens since 1917 and the islands have nearly 3.7 million residents, because Puerto Rico is not a State it is only represented in the Federal government by a sole resident commissioner in the House of Representatives who can only vote in committees to which he or she is assigned.
Garcia also asserted that “For the first time, Boricuas [Puerto Ricans] in this State will outnumber those in New York,” although New York still has 200,000 more people of Puerto Rican origin than Florida.
Puerto Rico’s Federal Affairs Administration has long had an office in New York.
A former office in central Florida was closed in 2009 in recognition that inadequate territorial tax dollars should be used to provide public services to residents of Puerto Rico instead of to citizens of the States.
Some people protested the office’s opening. “We are U.S. citizens, and being here in Orlando, we have the same opportunity that every U.S. citizen over here has,” one said in a televised interview.
Others criticized Garcia, who opposes statehood and equality within the U.S. for Puerto Rico, terming his Florida venture “hypocritical.”
Equal treatment of Puerto Rico in the U.S., he recently threatened, would turn the islands into a “Latin American ghetto.”
The Commonwealth’s per capita income is a third that of the States and half that of the poorest State. Its unemployment rate is almost double the rate in the States, and labor participation rate is a third less than in the States. It income gap with the States has grown for the past four decades, and its underdeveloped economy and social problems have caused millions of Puerto Ricans to move to the States, particularly to Florida during the past decade of economic decline. The Commonwealth’s operates its government with a huge annual deficit, and its debt is astronomical in comparison to the States. Because of its debt and poor economic prospects, its credit is just one notch above ‘junk’ status. Statehood would inject billions of dollars a year into Puerto Rico’s economy and give Puerto Rico more power than many States to further have the needs of the islands addressed. So, Garcia’s warning was a hyperbolic, desperate attempt to discourage support for statehood.
Puerto Ricans voted against the Commonwealth’s current territory status in a plebiscite and for statehood among the possible alternatives by large margins last November at the same time that they very narrowly elected Garcia. The now governor took losing positions in the plebiscite, urging a vote for the current status and campaigning against statehood.