ORLANDO, Florida – In these days of the first anniversary of the passage of hurricane "Maria" by Puerto Rico, the images of the devastation and the dubious response of the federal government to the disaster, and in particular the light switching of President Donald Trump, live among thousands of people. Puerto Ricans who were forced to leave the island and settled in Central Florida, as well as their relatives and acquaintances.
Florida is a key state in every election and the Latino vote is fundamental, especially in very closed elections. And it is possible that many of those Puerto Ricans, citizens with the right to vote, go to the ballot box with Maria in mind in the midterm elections.
Of the registered voters in the state, 16% are Latino and half of those voters are Cuban (28%) and Puerto Rican (22%), the latter will increase as the island community settles in the area.
The Trump factor
In 2016, Trump Florida won 1.2% of the vote. His rhetoric on immigration issues, translated into hard public policies with the Spanish community, has led politicians whose future depends to a large extent on the Latino voice to try to distance themselves sufficiently from the president to survive the elections, although they do not try to alienate president. basis of Trump.
This is what Governor Scott has done with his approach to the Puerto Ricans in central Florida, a strategy that includes ads in Spanish media.
A poll released by the International University of Florida this summer showed that although 7 out of 10 Puerto Ricans have a negative image of Trump, 55% have a positive image of Scott.
Trump said in the first days after the hurricane "Maria" that only "16" were the dead, when a few days ago a report from the University of George Washington, at the request of the Puerto Rico government, concluded that the dead were killed by the hurricane and its aftermath rubs the 3000 people. Another study from the University of Harvard puts the figure above 4000. Katrina claimed 1,833 lives.
Scott visited the island repeatedly and received the victims with open arms, with all kinds of help and guidance to Puerto Ricans, American citizens, who can not vote if they stay on the island.
Nelson against Scott
Nelson, the Democratic Presiding President of the Senate in Florida, has been criticized for his poor approach to Latinos. But the race is bound in recent polls.
"They have to differentiate between those who say they've done things for the community and those who really did them, for sure Senator Nelson could have done more to get closer to the Latino community, but if we look at his history and the legislation he has supported (we note that he has worked for our community, "said Frederick Velez, director of the Respect my People campaign, created by Alianza for Progress and in which various social groups wanting to educate voters in Florida and mobilize involved.
"Rick Scott has for the past eight years, regardless of how often he has been to Puerto Rico, supported policies that were negative to our community: less affordable housing, a disaster for environmental issues, he does not believe in renewable energy. not an ally of our community, "said Vélez.
The Nelson-Scott competition is one of the most important in the 2018 election and in which the Latino vote will be decisive, especially the Puerto Rican voice that in Florida tends to register without political preference.
"I feel that people who have lost everything, who sign up without political convictions, do not care much if they vote for a Democrat or a Republican," says Ms. Finaya Márquez, state coordinator of Mi Familia Vota in Florida, one of the groups of the Alliance in which they also include Alianza, Boricua Vota, Vamos to Puerto Rico, Organize Florida, Hispanic Federation, Faith in Florida, Jobs for Justice, Boricua Mission and FLIC.
"Here the feeling is very important: who helped me, who held out my hand, I was sorry that I had to come here to start over again, to look for a new life … Then they try to vote manipulating Puerto Rican based on many elements, but let's see, it's very important to me to decipher that mystery on November 6th, "Márquez added.
Many Puerto Ricans registered to vote as soon as they reached the bottom of Florida and are willing to keep their voting rights with Maria in mind. There are other factors, such as Trump attacks against the immigrant community in the country, attacks that Puerto Ricans, despite being citizens, feel that they are targeting the entire Latino community.
"For Puerto Ricans, immigration, separation of children from their parents at the border or refusing passports to American citizens at the border is important, we know that there is no difference, that everyone judges us in the same way and that it is a struggle. that we must enter into together and that it is therefore important to enter into alliances, "says Vélez.
For Márquez, Trump "has not only been a motivating element for people to register and vote, but, more importantly, to become a citizen."
"The average length of stay of people here is more than 10. And you realize that they had no interest in becoming a citizen because before people saw no difference between a citizen and a resident, and I explained to them that it was not the same Citizenship gives you the right to vote, and in the United States, voting is worth it because your vote counts, "he said.
Márquez does not doubt that the difference he sees is in what they see as the danger & # 39; that the presidency of Trump represents for them and their community.
Velez, on the other hand, makes the reservation that "although Trump is an important factor, the problems that mobilize Puerto Rican voters are the same as those that affect all Americans here in Florida: lack of affordable housing, quality education Affordable health care, a living wage."
A recent poll by Latino Decisions for the National Association of Latino Elected and Designated Officials (NALEO) found that, at the national level, the main motivation of Latinos to vote in the November interim elections is to stop Trump and the platform Republican.
According to the survey of registered Latin voters, 67% said they would very likely vote during the elections in November.
Another poll by Global Strategy Group for Hispanic Federation, Latino Victory Fund, Alliance for Progress and Power 4 Puerto Rico, about Latino voters' preferences in Florida, including an example of Latinos in Orlando, found that creating of jobs, housing affordable, immigration and climate change are central issues for latino voters in the state.
The same survey showed that the reconstruction of Puerto Rico is a binding factor for Latino voters in Florida. 64% said that this should be one of the problems that the next federal senator should address. For 82% of Puerto Ricans and 58% of Cubans, the reconstruction of the island is a priority.
Velez assures that the enthusiasm to vote sees the center of Florida, to the point that even people who can not vote participate in the efforts of electoral mobilization.
"The enthusiasm has increased, I was here in 2012, 2014 and 2016 and I can assure you that this year is completely different." All citizens, naturalized citizens, have realized that they have to vote. "In many areas of the dense Latino community there were increases of up to 200% in participation compared to 2016 in the primaries of this year, and compared to 2014 the increase is greater, "Vélez said.
Activists say that political parties tend to ignore the latino voice and not invest enough to consistently cultivate it, not just in every election cycle.
Hence the importance of the social groups that are committed to mobilizing those Puerto Rican and Hispanic voters.
"Our campaign is cultural, taking into account our differences, because until now the campaigns of politicians assume that all Latino people are interested in the same problems. If they are Latino, they think, because we are only about immigration going to talk, & # 39; said Velez.
"Our message is that despite our differences in nationality, we have common interests and struggles and that we must create alliances to get people to vote, so that our problems are addressed, but above all so that they respect us," Velez concluded. .
NOTE: This work is produced by the America's Voice organization to show the efforts to promote the participation of the Spanish community in midterm elections. Maribel Hastings is executive advisor to America & # 39; s Voice.
Life in Florida hotels of Puerto Ricans fled Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria (photo)