Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rossello has criticized the U.S. federal government’s response to Hurricane Maria, which devastated the U.S. territory in September, leaving many in Puerto Rico without power and other basic services that still have not been restored.
Rossello spoke Friday at a political gathering in the U.S. state of Florida, where thousands of Puerto Ricans have fled since Maria. He used the occasion to advocate for Puerto Rican statehood and to call on Puerto Ricans on the mainland to use their vote to support the island.
Citizens, but not equal
“One hundred years of U.S. citizenship, but not quite equal,” Rossello said, noting that people on Puerto Rico are considered U.S. citizens, but do not have the same voting rights as people in the mainland United States.
He also said the fact that Puerto Rico has gone five months without the aid it needs to restore power and clean water, while similarly hit Florida and Texas have bounced back, highlights the imbalance.
“It is completely unacceptable, it is inhuman, and you have to ask yourself if this would happen in any other state. The answer is no. The reality is, this would only happen in Puerto Rico, because we are treated as second-class citizens,” he told reporters.
He urged the Puerto Ricans who have moved to Florida to seize their power to vote, “so that everyone in Congress knows that if you turn your back on the people of Puerto Rico … there will be consequences.”
Rossello was seen as a supporter of President Donald Trump after the presidential election, but his position has changed since Hurricane Maria.
He has been particularly critical of the U.S. tax law signed a few weeks ago. The law could put Puerto Rican companies at a disadvantage with mainland U.S. companies because they will be treated as offshore firms and subject to higher taxes.
Rossello urged Puerto Ricans to vote in the 2018 midterm elections, opposing those politicians who have not been supportive of Puerto Rico. He noted the political power that Cuban-Americans have developed by voting as a bloc and urged Puerto Ricans to organize in the same way.
“If they can do it,” he said, “why can’t we do it?”
He called the notion “a great opportunity for all Puerto Ricans, for those who are as outraged at the lack of rights as I am.”
While the number of Puerto Ricans who have come to nearby Florida since the storm is unclear, the University of Florida estimates that the number is around 50,000, based on school enrollments and requests for state aid.
Florida Governor Rick Scott puts the estimate at 300,000, based on the number of people who have flown into Florida’s major airports.
Florida pledges help
Scott, who was also in attendance at Friday’s news conference in Orlando, announced the state is offering $1 million to help Hurricane Maria refugees in Florida find employment. He said since September, the state’s career services agencies have helped more than 7,600 Puerto Ricans find jobs.
He also said he is asking local housing officials and community leaders to help in the effort to find housing for refugees.
Rossello also reacted publicly to Trump’s recent vulgar remarks about immigrants from Africa and Haiti. He said, “It is surreal that this was said by the president. The United States is the greatest nation in the world, but we need to act like it.”