Some 350 leaders of the Puerto Rican diaspora met this week in Orlando at the Acacia’s El Centro Borinqueno. The event, El Encuentro Nacional de la Diáspora Puertorriqueña or The National Conference of Puerto Rican Diaspora, sought unity among Puerto Ricans both on the Island and on the U.S. mainland.
One topic that seemed to produce that unity was healthcare. Rep. Serrano summed up the views of the conference:
There are 3.5 million Puerto Ricans suffering the effects of an ailing health care system. As American citizens that pay the same Medicare and Social Security taxes as state residents, they deserve to be treated equally and fairly under U.S. health care laws. Puerto Rico deserves to have access to the same level of health care funding as the 50 states.
Hillary Clinton, who expressed regret that she was not able to be present in person, sent a letter which expanded on the health care issues and placed U.S. treatment of Puerto Rico in a broader context:
The unequal treatment of our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico in the Medicaid and Medicare programs on the Island fails to meet human needs; leaves the local government, health care providers, and many Americans with financial burdens; and forces many Puerto Ricans to move to the States to receive affordable care.
We must also do everything in our power to assist Puerto Rico in solving its serious economic challenges. Unequal, inconsistent, and incoherent treatment of Puerto Rico in federal policies have contributed to a number of economic problems, including an excessive public sector debt.
Clinton also spoke out on “the fundamental question of Puerto Rico— its ultimate political status.”
Congress has an obligation to honor your choice. And I for one won’t rest until they do. This is vital to Puerto Rico’s future and to the future of the United States — because this speaks to what kind of democracy we are.
The United States owes a lot to Puerto Rico. Puerto Ricans are proud American citizens who have helped strengthen our nation and whose sons and daughters defend our country around the world. The creativity and culture of Puerto Ricans enriches us. Our country, led by the President and the Congress, have a duty to stand with Puerto Ricans.
A Congressional Briefing panel featured Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill), Nydia Velazquez (D- NY), and José Serrano (D-NY). The panel reiterated support for chapter 9 bankruptcy for Puerto Rico, and reminded attendees that mainland Puerto Ricans have voting power in the upcoming election.
Also among the participants were US Reps. Alan Grayson, D-Fla, Brendan Boyle, D-Pa.; Senators Darren Soto (Fla), Gustavo Rivera (NY), Iris Y. Martinez (Ill); Puerto Rico Senator Rossana López; Florida state Representatives Victor Torres, Jr., John Cortez, and Jose Javier Rodriguez; Dennis Rivera, president of the Puerto Rican Healthcare Crisis Coalition; Billy Ocasio, Executive Director, National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture and David Hernández, President, Board of Directors, National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture; Debbie López, President, Chicago Chapter, National Organization of Puerto Rican Women; Mayra Estrella, Program Director, Puerto Rican Cultural Center and Sandra Candelaria, Program Director, Puerto Rican Cultural Center; Florida Soil & Water Conservation District Supervisor Daisy Morales, Kissimmee City Commissioner Art Otero , Melbourne City Commissioner Teresa Lopez, Philadelphia City Commissioner Maria Quinones Sanchez, and New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. In all, eight states and the District of Columbia were represented, as well as Puerto Rico.