After Hurricanes, the MA-Puerto Rico Connection Comes into Sharper Focus

Friday, September 29, 2017

This past Wednesday, Jeff Sanchez of Jamaica Plain, a proud son of Puerto Rico and one of the most powerful members of the legislature, came to the podium in the House chamber to call attention to those in the Caribbean suffering greatly because of recent hurricanes.

“I stand here to ask for a moment of silence for the victims of Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Maria and the affected regions of the Caribbean, Puerto Rico in particular: 3.5 million United States citizens are crying for help right now in a way that so many of us would expect to be heard from this commonwealth if we were in the same situation,” said Sanchez, who was recently appointed chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee. 
“Puerto Rico is a United States territory, a commonwealth,” Sanchez continued, “and the U.S. citizens there are seeking help.  I want to thank all of you for the outreach and the outpouring of help so many have come to us offering.  Make no mistake, the (electric) lines are down, the communications are down, people are crying, people are hurting.  Hospitals are inundated with water.  I want to recognize this travesty with a moment of silence.”

That same day, Governor Charlie Baker telephoned Ricardo Rossello, Governor of Puerto Rico, to offer assistance in the island’s recovery effort.
Puerto Ricans are not just citizens who reside in a distant U.S. territory.  They have been, for generations, our neighbors here in Massachusetts.  According to the 2010 U.S. census, the last definitive national population count, two of the 10 U.S. cities with the largest Puerto Rican populations are in Massachusetts. Springfield is Number 4 on the list with 50,798 Puerto Ricans, (exceeded only by New York, Philadelphia and Chicago), and Boston is Number 9 with 30,201. 

The 2010 census pegged the total Puerto Rican population of Massachusetts at 266,125 -- 5.76% of our entire population at that time.    
I thought that the unprecedented damage done to Puerto Rico by Irma and Maria might bring the subject of statehood to the fore again, but so far that has not happened. 

Not four months ago, on Sunday, June 11, the latest in a widely intermittent series of plebiscites on whether Puerto Rico should try to become the 51st state was held.  Ninety-seven percent of the Puerto Ricans who voted that day favored statehood.  
Only the U.S. Congress can grant statehood. With Republicans controlling both branches of the Congress, nothing will be done any time soon to advance the cause of statehood because Puerto Rico would be entitled to two U.S. Senators and three U.S. Representatives. Republicans know that Democrats would be likely capture most if not all of those seats.

I think that’s too bad, not for partisan reasons, but rather for peace and prosperity in the Western Hemisphere and for the security of our nation.
A long time ago, a very astute person, my older brother, Jim, said to me, “I don’t know why we (the U.S.) spend hundreds of billions of dollars every year stationing troops overseas and keeping the sea lanes in the Middle East open for oil shipments.  We’d do way more for our security by building the best possible relationships with our neighbors in the Americas.  Think about it.  If the Canadians and the Mexicans and all of the people in the Caribbean love us and trust us, who could ever defeat us militarily -- or economically?”

Elevating the status of a strategically important island some one thousand miles from our shores, an island whose residents are already citizens of the U.S., would make us a stronger and safer nation in the long run.  It would also convey respect for all of the Spanish-speaking nations in the region, strengthening the peaceful bonds we have with them.

If anyone’s interested in contributing to the relief and rebuilding of Puerto Rico, one of the organizations worthy of donations is “United for Puerto Rico.”  For more information, go to:




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