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‘We are second-class citizens’: Puerto Rico’s governor responds to GOP tax bill, lack of aid funding

"In the time to take action, they have reneged."

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello. CREDIT: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello. CREDIT: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló vowed to target Republicans at the ballot box next year after Congress failed to appropriate necessary disaster relief funding for the island and left provisions in the recently passed tax bill that could devastate Puerto Rico’s economy.

“We are going to do an evaluation of all of the congressmen and congresswomen that pledged support to Puerto Rico, and in the time to take action, they have reneged on that word,” Rosselló said on MSNBC Thursday. “Ware second-class citizens. We don’t have representation, but we do have 5.3 million Puerto Ricans in the United States and we want to organize them to make sure that our voice is heard.”

Three months after Hurricane Maria hit the territory, Puerto Rico is still experiencing a “super blackout,” the longest and largest power outage in modern American history. Many people are still living in darkness, and the island is not expected to have full power until February, up to five months after the storm. Deaths from the storm have also been significantly under-reported by the government, and although the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) says the island has potable water, experts say that can’t possibly be true.

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To make matters worse, Democrats and other advocates argue that the funding Congress has appropriated to help Puerto Ricans in need is only a fraction of what’s necessary, and certain provisions in the recently passed Republican tax bill could devastate the island’s economy.

On Thursday, the House passed a funding bill to deliver $81 billion to Puerto Rico and other communities recently affected by disasters in Texas, California, and Florida, but the package has been met with resistance in the Senate and is unlikely to pass. Even if it does, Puerto Rico alone is estimated to need $21 billion over the next two years.

And despite being part of the United States, the newly passed bill treats Puerto Rico like a foreign country, and part of the bill that aim to incentivize bringing business back to the United States could mean that business may abandon Puerto Rico for the mainland.

So although Rosselló would not name names on MSNBC Thursday, he is vowing to fight those decisions on election day. But, perhaps more importantly, he said Puerto Rico should “of course” have representation in Congress.

If there was one time in our history where we can see what it means to be a colonial territory versus what it means to be a state, right now it’s that time,” he said. “We don’t have political power in Congress. We don’t have equal treatment in federal programs, and until we show that we can muster some muscle in some other jurisdictions or until the United States calls upon what I think is a moral imperative to finalize colonialism in the 21st century, transition out of that, and make Puerto Rico a state, which has been favored by Puerto Ricans twice in the last five years, then we will be with this lingering dilemma.”