ORLANDO, FL — National political, civic, business and nonprofit leaders of the Puerto Rican diaspora convened Wednesday for the first time in Orlando, Florida to formulate a “National Puerto Rican Agenda.”
The symposium was the first-ever meeting of parties interested in forging a national advocacy coalition among stateside Puerto Ricans. Attendees from across the country gathered to develop a strategy for organizing in their respective communities, with focus on increasing civic engagement across the country and addressing the fiscal, healthcare and environmental crises in Puerto Rico.
“El Encuentro Nacional de la Diáspora” gathered grassroots activists from eight states, Washington, D.C. and more than 100 local Floridians who share a commitment to a National Puerto Rican Agenda for issues that affect stateside Puerto Ricans and Puerto Rico’s future, proving that the demographic has become a powerful force in mainland politics.
There are currently more than 1 million Puerto Ricans living in the Sunshine State, and more than 5 million Puerto Ricans in the mainland United States. The Puerto Rican community in the United States is quickly becoming a decisive voting block for local and national candidates.
How candidates respond to the issues of importance to the community will surely be reflected in the diaspora’s vote for the 2016 elections, leaders said.
The event featured remarks by Reps. Nydia Velázquez, Luis Gutiérrez, José Serrano, Alan Grayson, New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and other political and civic leaders. The audience also heard expert testimony from academics, advisors and commentators.
“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,” Serrano said.
“It’s time for Washington to take action to address this crisis and bring justice to the people of Puerto Rico,” he added.
Wednesday’s grassroots gathering rallied in support of legislation to give Puerto Rico equal funding for federal healthcare programs and Chapter 9 Bankruptcy protections for its public corporations to alleviate the island’s debt.
These projects, along with the environmental cleanup of Vieques and the restoration of El Caño Martín Peña, have been part of Puerto Rico’s legislative agenda in Congress.
“People are leaving Puerto Rico at a rate unseen since my parents left in the 1950s,” said Gutiérrez. “But guess what? They are all citizens who can vote and have an immediate impact on U.S. politics, especially in Florida.”
“I see this as a moment in history when Puerto Rican unity across geography and generations is more important than ever. We will be voting for the betterment of Puerto Rico and the U.S.,” Gutiérrez said.
Meanwhile, Velázquez called for action to address Puerto Rico’s spiraling healthcare crisis.
“Delay is morally unacceptable; 3.5 million American citizens are counting on Washington to move decisively and preserve their healthcare system,” she said.
For her part, Mark-Viverito said Puerto Rican leaders residing stateside will meet again to strategize on ways to “create awareness and make our voices heard until the federal government responds. We are united on this effort and we won’t back down until Puerto Rico is back on track.”