National Institute for Latino Policy (NiLP)
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José R. Sánchez
Tanya K. Hernandez
NiLP readers will enjoy this contribution from Norma Iris
Lafé. Some will say this piece is stream of consciousness. Others will claim it is magical realism. And still others will dismiss it as fictional reporting. We think it is what the author claims, an essay and memoir. Like all fascinating and provocative writing, it recognizes that every attempt to write is political. Every story, poem, report, or analysis tells a story and offers a perspective on politics, which at bottom is nothing more than how we deal with power. This essay does this and is episode one of a series that the NiLP Latino Affairs Journalis proud to publish and offer our audience. Enjoy this essay! More to come. [Note: this essay has been only lightly edited for grammar and spelling mistakes. The content belongs to the author.]
"STOP THIS MINI-TRUMPWORLD, I WANNA GET OFF!":
On the Vindication of Carmen Yulín Cruz, the 'People's Candidate'
memoir essay series
by Boricua Freedom Writer Norma Iris Lafé
Behind the Curtain of My Colonial Life
My train of thought comes to a sudden halt at my computer. It's my wise-cracking daughter Mija peeping through the door behind me, who's given me an affectionate old ladies Spanish nickname (I'd like to ring her neck for). PANCHA! Your readers are not going to believe the goings-on inside La Isla, so be careful not to mention any names. My Calirican, Boricua-reborn bilingual daughter, was warning her social activist mother, at the sight of me wielding the power of the pen. "You're doing the right thing, but you'd better use a pen name and don't divulge your real home town. They...could come after you," Mija's fearing for my safety. But I'm determined to stand by my freedom of expression first amendment rights. It's reasonable for me to question: Where is the will of the Puerto Rican people in our island democracy? Most endure unmitigated poverty, hoodwinked by self-serving unscrupulous political leaders, they elect into public office, who are living high on the hog! More 'Spin, Lies and One-upmanship' than you can shake a stick at, during an election campaign year--left, right and center of Carmen Yulín--in the battle for ratings between NotiUno and WKAQ Radio.
But first...my take.
EPISODE 1: "The 'Yulín' Superstar Phenomenon Is Born"
There are stories, and then there are living legends. Puerto Rican patriots of extraordinary courage and moral outrage who give voice to the resistance in modern times. And in so doing, incur the open wrath and slurs of their political enemies for challenging the established colonial order; the fat cats and political hacks of island government hold dominion over, and fear losing at the polls. Today, the eyes of the world are on
"America's Forgotten Colony"
1 solely because, during our darkest hours after Hurricane Maria's full-frontal assault, September 20, 2017, a woman stood up to the Empire (the 'bully' in the White House) when nobody else would. And that's a vindication story worth revisiting (and getting straight from the horse's mouth) ahead of Elections 2020, November 3. Here and there.
Now, I'm not biting the Federal Emergency Management Assistance (FEMA) hand that feeds us (with
our USD tax dollars).
But to think, FEMA operatives were already in place in the Caribbean, picking up the pieces after Hurricane Irma, begs the question, by Mija and I, as it did for the provincial and mainland media covering the manifold effects of climate change: What's with the dehumanizing, inequitable and slow-as-molasses response to Hurricane Maria survivors on the "U.S. protectorate" Puerto Rico?
3 and haphazard emergency strategic planning (on the part of both FEMA and the Governor Ricardo Rosselló administration) to which we can also attest, having survived the rigamarole waiting game of 'Catch the FEMA Inspector if You Can'--only God knows how.
THANKFULLY, from a distance, my California crackerjack paralegal niece, and her web savvy city planning project manager hubby, came to the rescue of their island family in crisis mode. When disaster relief funds were too slow in coming, and the FEMA blue tarps to cover our roof-ravaged heads, had been
'lost in the mail'.
(So to speak.)
Insofar as anti-Trumpism fuels the narrative, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz receives accolades for speaking truth to power. She fires off her Mayday distress tweets, "We are dying over here!". And further, breaks it down for the "Miscommunicator-in-Chief", during his disgraceful paper-towel-tossing bungled visit almost 2 weeks later, that "this is about saving lives, not about politics", keeping the plight of devastated Puerto Ricans in the national public eye (my kind of gal).
Whereas, the more restrained Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevarez, was not in a diplomatic position to balk at Trump's slow response, while galvanizing American sympathy for Puerto Rico statehood, by attempting to piggyback his statehood demands with his FEMA emergency disaster recovery funds petition. ("When you can guarantee two Republicans", the President jests, grinning like a Cheshire Cat.)
Rosselló is humiliated in the process
(in full view of all Americans)
,5 by the President's patronizing request of the governor, to limit the use of the USNS Comfort (chintzin' on the ol' family recipe) as the 1,000 hospital-bed 'Mercy Ship' sat in the San Juan harbor, bogged down in FEMA bureaucratic red tape: Underutilized. (Only 200+ patients are hospitalized here, alerted a dutiful Boricua naval nurse's APB social media video, urging distressed islanders to contact the Military Joint Operations Center directly). Meanwhile, death was on the doorsteps of survivors enduring dire medical emergencies
of Puerto Rico's 78 Municipalities (population 3.4 million) were declared disaster zones, at first. Slowing down the emergency response for the remaining 23 townships (populations below 50,000) cut off from their hundreds of communities in crisis: no electrical power, no telecommunication lines, no food, no water, no access to critical medical care. (Including my coastal town Vega Alta, where my FEMA emergency aid forms bounced back, "you are not in a disaster zone". Go figure.)
trumped-up 'Whitefish' corruption scandal
steal the media attention
7away from the human tragedy, but the
power grid restoration delays and snafus, visited cruel suffering on survivors beset with the perils of the longest blackout in U.S. history. Adding insult to injury, after the Governor's fall from grace, the U.S. Treasury wasted no time in smacking a merciless
hold on the disbursement
of the approved $4.9 billion emergency stopgap funds (a loan even).
And lest we forget, out of the blue Geraldo Rivera (NBC) is on the scene to defend his friend "the Donald". Amidst the mayhem, he thrusts his mike in Carmen Yulín's face, and questions. "I don't see anybody dying?". (Proof positive, the 'Jerry Rivers' of my South Bronx young adulthood has lost his mojo for 'honest' investigative reporting.)
: The unusual national mainstream media attention, instant rise to stardom of the intrepid Carmen Yulín, is processed through a de-facto partisan lens. Fearing their federal disaster aid could be jeopardized, by losing favor with a
,9 statehood partisans lambasted 'La Alcaldesa' for putting FEMA funds at risk. Dignified and proud patriots, on the other hand, praised the Mayor's eloquence and uncommon valor; and were awestruck by the defiance of her "Nasty" 'signature protest tee shirts' that catch the eye of
The presumption also being, the 'nationalist', who ran for mayor under the Popular Democratic Party (PPD) ticket--soberanista orpro-sovereignty wing of the party--must be gunning for the New Progressive Party (PNP) statehood Governor's chair.
(And heaven forbid that a 'nationalist-soberanista' demonstrates the political finesse, media savvy and backbone to lead her colonized people out of bondage!)
One must give credit where credit is due.
Carmen Yulín's twitter face-off with the clueless and remiss President, finally puts the island-colony on the American social justice map, by triggering an unprecedented chain reaction of external investigations into the inner workings of the established colonial (dis)order (where transparency has never been an operative word in island government).
(1). U.S. Congressional delegations start streaming in like clockwork, to examine first hand their damaged territorial prized possession. Then-Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who knows right from wrong, confirms, "This is a humanitarian disaster" (pained $$ signs in his press conference eyes for the 'Goose No Longer Laying Golden Eggs'); (2) The Harvard New England Journal of Medicine first of several shocking
death toll studies
is released; (3) The PBS Frontline behind-the-scenes investigation sheds further light on the
Blackout in Puerto Rico
(4) House Democrats demand an official
13 into the Trump administration's half-hearted federal response; (5) And yet another
UN Decolonization Committee Resolution
14 urges the international debate, addressing Puerto Rico's lack of self-governance, be moved to the highest forum, the United Nations General Assembly.
U.N. committee resolutions citing U.S. violations of international law, that come with the penalty of hefty fines, have been to no avail, documents activist/historian José López Sierra of
Puerto Ricans United for a Decolonized Puerto Rico
(Notwithstanding the C-word 'colonial' is seemingly verboten among mainstream media outlets, the buzz word on the island, across all party lines, is La Colonia, pursuant to PROMESA Fiscal Control Board dictatorial imposition, June 24, 2016.)
The "Yulín" brand of messaging vindicates the hands-on Mayor's "life or death'' cries for help on behalf of the people of Puerto Rico.
Eighteen Months Later...
and false claims that
"we only take from the USA"
is an affront to all Boricuas.
The island's most vulnerable, the poor, elderly, jobless and homeless see no end to their personal crises;
Pueblos continue removing storm debris to overflowing garbage landfills: 4 out of 29 are
slated for closure
16 by the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Approved disaster reconstruction projects
get mired in the minutiae of
stricter auditing controls
for the discredited Governor Rosselló administration.
(Who is briefing the President on Puerto Rico in light of "
the $91 billion Trump lie
While it's true, that all the White House
has cast a pall over the seat-of-the-pants Rosselló administration; that doesn't bode well for his 2020 reelection, according to his 47% disapproval rating in the recent El Nuevo Día(ENDI)
public opinion poll.
(Even with the
"Green New Deal"
21 legislation touted by Forbes.) Not to mention, the tough-on-Trump, out-of-character Rosselló stance to "punch the bully in the mouth", that for many critics was a little "too much" and "too late".
It's also true, after a long period of deliberation, the undaunted Carmen Yulín has since tossed her hat into the ring. Among PPD registered voters interviewed, 41% favored her gubernatorial candidacy. Should she prevail in the
June 2020 primary
(a crowded field of 6 candidates), it will be by unifying the PPD's
23 behind her community empowerment agenda. Likewise, by forging a progressive allegiance from now till December 31, 2019--the official 2020 candidacy and new party inscription deadline--this could be the first-time ever that competition and open debate would take place between an assimilationist, and a 'nationalist' for La Fortaleza Governor's Mansion.
One wonders: in the face of Puerto Rico's
foreseeable mass depopulation
, as predicted by the PROMESA board's migration expert, who will be left to govern from the traditional PPD status quo base, the PNP statehood base, and the PIP independence base?
And how will the newly emerging splinter groups, as well as the other 'wild cards', independent swing voters play out?: Among these are the leftwing
Movimiento Victoria Ciudadana
25 (Pro-Citizens Clean-Government Alliance); Partido del Pueblo Trabajador (People's Pro-Labor Party), Partido Libre Asociación (Free Association Party); and the fractious right wing Movimiento Pro-Familia(Pro-Family Christian Fundamentalists Movement) and the Republican Party of Puerto Rico.
And so...the status plot thickens. Islanders are closer to ascertaining, once and for all, the real will of the Puerto Rican people. However, the race is on to sway public opinion in favor of statehood (to stack the Republican deck) by fast-tracking anotherplebiscite on the 2020 ballot, one ["Statehood Yes or No"?] referendum question,
excluding all other status options
; disregarding that
statehood is not a priority issue
'27 for the U.S. Congress,
reports Nicole Acevedo (NBC Latino).
And, what would be the outcome of fear mongering all establishment opposition parties [diehard Puerto Rican Patriots] as radical 'socialistas' and Marxist 'comunistas'. (Sound familiar?)
In other words, let the smear campaigns begin!
"The People's Candidate: 'La Comandante Yulín' "
- Antonio Weiss, Brad Setser; "America's Forgotten Colony: Ending Puerto Rico's Perpetual Crisis", Foreign Affairs Magazine, 6/11/19 https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/puerto-rico/2019-06-11/americas-forgotten-colony
- Nelson A. Denis, "Taxing Puerto Ricans to Death", Orlando Sentinel, 1/10/18 "https://www.orlandosentinel.com/opinion/os-ed-taxing-puerto-rico-to-death-20180110-story.html
- PBS Frontline, Emma Schwartz, Laura Sullivan, "FEMA Acknowledges Failures in PR Disaster Response", 07/13/18 https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/fema-report-acknowledges-failures-in-puerto-rico-disaster-response/
- PBS Frontline, "FEMA Tarp Contractor under Investigation for Fraud", 06/14/19 "https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/fema-tarp-contractor-under-investigation-for-fraud/
- C-SPAN Oval Office Hurricane Response Meeting Governor Rosselló and President Trump, 10/19/17 https://www.c-span.org/video/?436016-1/president-trump-puerto-rico-governor-defend-hurricane-response
- Jodi Jacobson, "More Americans Died from Hurricane Maria than 911: Does Anybody Care? The WIRE, 5/20/18
David Dayan, "Trump Administration Tells Puerto Rico It's Too Rich for Aid Money", The Intercept,01/18/18
About the Author:
Norma Iris Lafé
shares the personal vignettes of a DiaspoRican (Nuyorican returnee) on the island, bringing readers insider news and the view from 21st Century "colonial" Puerto Rico. She's aWriter's Well Literary Competitionwinner (2012), former public affairs writer KCBS News Radio (SF). The Bronx Science alumna, holds a BA in Black and Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College (NYC). Currently editing her back-to-roots memoirs, contact
for links to other published works.
Jose R. Sanchez is Chair of the Board of Directors of the National Institute for Latino Policy (NiLP) as well as Editor in Chief of the new Latino Affairs Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com.
The NiLP Report on Latino Policy & Politics is an online information service provided by the National Institute for Latino Policy. For further information, visit www.latinopolicy. org. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.