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Politics

Why so 'Despacito' Donald? Rubio and Florida politicians react quicker than Trump on Puerto Rico

Senator Marco Rubio and Governor Rick Scott are trying not to be associated with the president's slow response. The crisis caused by Hurricane Maria is expected to accelerate the exodus of Puerto Ricans to Florida, and potentially shake politics in the most coveted swing state in the nation.
29 Sep 2017 – 07:24 PM EDT
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Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Republican, on Monday during his visit to the island. Crédito: Twitter account of Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rosselló @ricardorossello

Donald Trump is taking heat for his slow response to the crisis in Puerto Rico after the island was hit by Hurricane Maria, and perhaps he could take a lesson from some Florida politicians who wasted no time finding a way to get there.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio was on the island Monday for a visit of just over three hours in which he met with Governor Ricardo Rossello and emergency management officials.

Florida governor, Rick Scott, rode on a helicopter Thursday with Rosselló to help deliver supplies.

Meanwhile, Trump found himself in another Twitter war defending himself from criticism for the administration's slow response to the disaster.

Rubio and Scott are seen as having more on the line than Trump in Puerto Rico. While Hispanics are not a core constituency of the president, for Florida politicians all Latin American politics is local.

There are already more than one million Puerto Ricans in Florida and the figure has grown even faster in recent years because of the economic crisis on the island. It is foreseeable that the exodus of Puerto Ricans will accelerate as a result of the chaos in the island, where a return to normality could take months.

In Florida, some are calling for emergency measures, especially in schools.

“Think about it, kids may not be able to go to school for a whole year on that island. Those parents are gonna want to send their kids somewhere where they can go to school,” Rep. Renee Plasencia told the ABC News affiliate in Orlando. “We're bracing of very large, large group, unprecedented.”

In Florida, the most contested state by Democrats and Republicans nationwide, small demographic changes can trigger a political earthquake. Since 1992 voters have cast 50 million presidential election ballots in Florida, with Democrats enjoying an 18,000-vote advantage — only a 0.4 percent difference.

Scott is considered a likely Republican candidate for the Senate in 2018, when the other aging Florida Senator, Democrat Bill Nelson, 75, is due to seek re-election.

Rubio was re-elected in November last year. In the Senate he is seen as the voice of reference in matters of Latin America and the Spanish-speaking world. He tweets almost daily about Latin America, including 33 posts on Puerto Rico since Monday.

Another likely Democratic candidate for Florida governor next year, Miami Beach mayor Philip Levine, arrived in Puerto Rico Wednesday with thousands of pounds of supplies.

But Republicans stand to lose the most if they are not seen as invested in the island's plight, because the vast majority of Puerto Ricans who settle on mainland often vote for the Democrats. Although Puerto Rico does not vote in presidential elections, its residents can vote on the mainland if they relocate there as they hold U.S. citizenship.

We still do not know how the Puerto Ricans performed in the 2016 presidential election because the U.S. Census Bureau has yet to publish its periodic breakdown of voting by nationalities, but for decades Democrats have won that vote overwhelmingly.

Political scientist Daniel Smith concluded that seven out of ten Puerto Rican Florida voters supported Democrat Hillary Clinton, based on an analysis of the precincts with more Puerto Ricans.

We still do not know how the Puerto Ricans performed in the 2016 presidential election because the census has not published the breakdown of voting by nationalities, but for decades Democrats have won that vote overwhelmingly.

Political scientist Daniel Smith concluded that seven out of ten Puerto Rican Florida voters supported Democrat Hillary Clinton, based on an analysis of the seals with more Puerto Ricans.

Both Scott and Rubio also have an interest in not being associated with the president's slow response, Univision News tells Eduardo Gamarra, a pollster and professor at Florida International University.

"It's still a matter of debate but the response from the Trump government has been atrocious, especially because of the delay in sending the Armed Forces," says Gamarra. "They want to show that their response is better than Washington's."

Other politicians in the rest of the United States have shown solidarity with Puerto Rico. Office holders from New York and New Jersey - states with 1.1 million and 470,000 Puerto Ricans - have also visited the island or have leapt into action.

Among others, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York visited the island last Friday along with Puerto Rican congresswoman Nydia Velázquez; New York Mayor Bill de Blasio sent police and firefighters to help with relief efforts and New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, a Cuban-American, visited the island Thursday.

While they have large Puerto Rican constituencies in their communities, Florida politics stands to be shaken the most by events in the island. It is likely that the new wave of Puerto Ricans will affect Florida, the number one destination for decades.

No to Maduro

The attention of Republicans in Florida to Puerto Rico is reminiscent of their support for the growing community of Venezuelan immigrants opposing the Nicolás Maduro regime.

But unlike the Puerto Ricans of Florida, many of the immigrant Venezuelans do not automatically have the right to vote. The Venezuelan community in Florida is also much smaller. In the referendum organized by the opposition against President Maduro's plan to call a constituent assemby, 144,000 Venezuelans participated throughout Florida.

Some Republicans in Florida are alarmed by some signs that Hispanics in Florida might mobilize massively against the party in the Trump era. Against the odds, Colombian-American Annette Tadeo, a Democrat, won a special state Senate election on Tuesday for a district that contains part of the Miami metropolitan area.

But not all political analysts believe that the possible increase in the exodus will bring immediate negative consequences for Republicans.

Although Puerto Ricans often vote for Democrats, newcomers have low rates of participation in elections due to lack of knowledge of the electoral system and national politics.

And against many predictions, the Hispanic vote did not add Florida to Clinton's column.

"The presidential election of 2016 did show that demographic changes take a while to take hold," Florida political analyst Susan MacManus said in an e-mail to Univision News. "Clinton's campaign staff was counting on the cohesiveness of racial/ethnic groups (established and new arrivals) that did not occur to the degree that was anticipated."

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