There are things that are not forgotten. Along Interstate 4 that runs through central Florida, the image of Donald Trump throwing rolls of kitchen paper at the victims of Hurricane ‘María’ is a thorn that Puerto Ricans carry very deep. For half the world it was one more proof of racism and the lack of empathy of the president. For Puerto Ricans, a painful reminder that they will always be second-class citizens, despite the treaties that unite the former Spanish colony as a territory not incorporated into the United States. “Will they still remember when it comes to voting?
“Of course I do!”, Bets Carlos Suarez, a Puerto Rican who directs the master’s degree at the Center for Latin American Studies and the Department of Political Science at the University of Florida. “When it was learned that he had contracted Covid-19, messages of ‘Get better!’ written on kitchen paper rolls“In the street there are no doubts either. When asking Nilda Gonzalez what she likes about Joe Biden, she drops the sandwich and thinks about it for a moment.” That it is not Trump, “she cuts it off.
The Democratic Party knows that in that grudge he has an important pool of votes, but you have to pamper her. For that, it has bought the data of a hundred million telephone numbers that begin with the prefix 787 assigned to the Caribbean island, like those that most of those who moved to the mainland keep after the hurricane devastated the island. Crews of volunteers comb I-4 from Daytona Beach to Tampa and concentrate on the Kissimmee area that Biden visited last month with the stars that Puerto Ricans see on television: Ricky Martin, Eva Longoria and Luis Fonsi.
Democrats trust that bloc of voters compensate for that of Cuban-Americans, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans from the south of the state, traditionally more conservative and attached to any president who offers a strong hand against the dictators from whom they are fleeing. Puerto Ricans tend to vote Democratic. The census confirms that in recent years the Puerto Rican population of Florida has grown to 1,190,000 people and represents 27%, compared to 29% represented by the Cuban exile.
“And most importantly,” says Carlos Vargas Ramos, a researcher at Hunter College’s Center for Puerto Rican Studies, “871,000 are over 18 years old and eligible to vote.” Evangelicals will follow Trump, because abortion is the only issue they care about, but a small fraction of these voters would be enough to tip the balance. in the State where, according to the calculations of Sharon Austin, professor of Political Science and editor of ‘The American Political Science Review’, the two candidates will arrive at election night with a difference of between 1% and 2%
There’s just one problem: “Puerto Ricans don’t vote,” observes Daniel Smith, a political researcher at the University of Florida and an electoral expert. “I have seen time and again how the results of the polls with that population do not translate into votes.” Their skepticism was proven true in 2016, when only 62% of those registered to vote participated in the election, costing Hillary Clinton the state by just 112,000 votes. and Pennsylvania for 44,000 – the second destination for Puerto Rican refugees, also key on the road to the White House. By the time the 2018 legislative elections were held, with the offenses of ‘María’ still fresh, the two counties in the Orlando area with the highest concentration of Puerto Ricans had not only not registered any increase in registered voters, but thousands were purged for taking too long inactive.
Mobilize the vote
It was a matter of priorities. They were more concerned about finding work and putting food on the table than registering to vote, something that only those residing in one of the 50 States of the Union can do. “None of the candidates is going to pay my bills“, Jorge Rivera defends himself, who at 56, after a lifetime in the United States, admits never having voted.” What for? So that they earn more money with my vote? Even Barack Obama left the White House rich! “
Jack Hopkins, who organizes the Democratic grassroots in the Orlando area, admits that the party has not done a good job mobilizing that vote, but thinks this time it may be different. And not just because the rejection of Trump generates the enthusiasm that former Obama vice president lacks, but because the party has understood that it has to work those votes. “We want to identify the refugees from ‘María’ who were forced to move to the continent,” Tom Perez, general secretary of the formation, told a press teleconference. Vargas-Ramos anticipates that three years later many of those refugees will have returned home, but the effort can be very effective among those who welcomed them in Florida or mobilized to help Puerto Rico during the tragedy.
Biden’s victoryhappens to win at least one of those two states in which the Puerto Rican population is based, Florida and Pennsylvania. “It is no exaggeration to say that the future of our country depends on Hispanics having the opportunities and tools they need to be successful,” Biden told them when he visited. To the rhythm of the music, he promised to forgive the island’s debt and invest in infrastructure so that the local government can raise its head, because “despite having been in power for four years, the president Trump does not seem to understand that the inhabitants of Puerto Rico are US citizens“Three days later, the president saw the threat and announced 13,000 million in aid that, later it was known, was cheating, by including a game of 9,600 already approved by Congress that had not been endowed with funds.
Suárez thinks that he has not deceived them, although some naive people always fall. “Don’t you dare vote for Trump,” he warned his mother, Joanna Gomez. “He has given aid …”, she stammered. “He hasn’t given anything!” Her daughter interrupted her. “Well, I don’t vote for any,” the old woman resolved. “Nothing about that. On November 3 I am wearing it myself.” Biden may not excite many, but Trump’s offenses threaten to take their toll on him in this final judgment at the polls.