La Mesa Boricua:
Talking Points Memo
Powered by Alianza for Progress
La Mesa, a coalition of Florida non-profit and community advocates, wants you to be informed as to how our people are having an impact. Our goal is to build power for Puerto Ricans and Latinos in the state of Florida.
We’ll be updating you on some of the latest happenings catching our attention in the state and beyond, with a focus on how boricuas are having an impact. Here’s an update for June.
In this issue
A push to pass a bill that would resolve Puerto Rico’s status quo is quickly turning into a bonanza for pro-statehood lobbyists. Recent investigations have shown how the push to get Congressional allies to sign on to the pro-statehood bill in Congress is being carried by lobbying firms with ties to both Democrats and Republicans, and boasted by small-group of pro-statehood leaders that have been promised six-figure salaries.
Online news site The Intercept recently reported how millions of dollars a year are being sent through two “dark money” political committees, who are in turn hiring a small army of D.C. lobbyists to gather support for the pro-statehood bill. The Republican-leaning Puerto Rico Statehood Council and the Democrat-friendly Puerto Rico Equality Forum have already spent nearly $12 million lobbying federal officials for statehood since 2013, according to The Intercept. They’ve hired white-shoe law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP and right-wing lobbying short Navigators Global.
This year, they have significantly ramped up spending, to over $320,000 in the first quarter according to The Intercept, and additionally hiring Michael Best Strategies, a government affairs firm headed by Trump’s former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus. As the news site points out, many of the same lobbyists have in the past few years advocated for measures in Congress that have been negative for Puerto Rico, including the much-hated PROMESA Act and various “disaster capitalism” measures that have brought in a feeding frenzy of asset acquisition to Puerto Rico but resulted in few benefits to the economy there.
Besides the Beltway insiders, a special election held last month — to the lowest voter turn-out of any election in Puerto Rican history — selected six pro-statehood officials to serve as publicly-funded lobbyists for statehood. While most of the news of that development have been around the fact the tiny minority of voters chose to include disgraced former Puerto Rican governor Ricardo Rossello within those six, there is also the fact that the governor of Puerto Rico is budgeting over $200,000 as a yearly benefits package for each of those elected pro-statehood spokespersons.
- “Dime con quién andas y te diré quién eres. The list of mercenary Beltway insiders that the pro-statehood dark money groups are deploying in an effort to gin up support for their preferred bill in Congress is a thing to behold. The fact that many of those very insiders have been working for years against the interests of the people of Puerto Rico should raise alarm bells everywhere.”
- “Even worse, it’s not just donors’ money that’s being spent, but dollars and cents taken from the people of Puerto Rico. Governor Pierluisi’s $2 million exercise in cheerleading for statehood at the ballot box, and his commitment to pay those selected by a tiny slice of the electorate six-figure benefit packages to be spokespersons for his preferred status solution, in an insult to Puerto Ricans at a time many are worried their pensions will be cut.”
- “Two words: Ricardo Rossello. The fact the disgraced former governor is a poster child for those advocating statehood is all most people need to know about how unserious this effort has become.”
In spite of the challenges posed by 2020, the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce of Central Florida has had banner success over the past year in its vision of becoming the voice for Central Florida small business.
The organization has created “Lead Groups” in Orange, Osceola, and Seminole counties, has resumed in-person networking events and plans to bring back a yearly fundraiser that was put on ice during the pandemic. Also in the pipeline are fundraising programs, such as scholarships to benefit students, and one community agency in the area to contribute to their social work plans.
The organization claims 200 to 250 members and expects to grow significantly in the next several years. The Chamber has been promoting its ties to government contracting and special aid given out during the pandemic.
- “Puerto Ricans have moved from being recent arrivals to many parts of Florida a generation ago to an ingrained part of the community, entrepreneurs and job creators. We need to be recognized as such.”
- “The economic recession spurred by Covid-19 has hit our communities the hardest, forcing many to reinvent their careers in order to put food on the table. Our entrepreneurial spirit is showing and we need to support it.”
- “Apoya lo nuestro. We must come together to support those representing our community well. When one of us succeeds, we all succeeds.”
A recent premiere for “In The Heights” in this mecca of the Puerto Rican diaspora was a chance for the filmmakers to finally release a project that was held back due to the pandemic. Bringing the star power of producer Lin-Manuel Miranda and playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes, the movie promoters are attempting to make its release not just a film moment, but a cultural touchstone as one of the first big movies to be released in theaters again.
Miranda seems to be riding a wave of interest for blockbuster musicals about Latinos in America. (Steven Spielberg’s remake of 1961’s West Side Story is due out in theaters in December.)
Paired with the release, New York City’s official tourism organization is launching a campaign tied to the film to promote Washington Heights. The campaign includes various resources on the NYCgo.com website, including a guide to the neighborhood and the broader upper Manhattan area designed to help visitors take in destinations featured in the film, such as J. Hood Wright Park and the pedestrian tunnel at the 191st Street subway station.
Miranda, who co-produced the film, said his own life journey is inseparable from In the Heights, which includes childhood memories and family experiences from growing up in Washington Heights in the 1980s. He plays a small role in the film that he says is a homage to his grandfather.
The capital city of Connecticut saw its annual Puerto Rican Day Parade come back this year, after it was cancelled in 2020 due to the Covid-10 public health crisis. That puts it ahead of the famous New York City parade, which will be virtual for a second year in a row.
The parade was somewhat downsized from prior years, and keeps the ongoing tail end of the health crisis in mind — many of the floats and messaging is around asking people to get vaccinated or thanking frontline health workers.
The New York parade, by contrast, will again be virtual this year, broadcast as a show on the local ABC station on June 13. The parade with which Puerto Ricans celebrate their presence and contributions to this country will have as great marshals to the cast of the film “In The Heights”, which precisely arrives in the cinemas that weekend and is based on the successful musical of the same name by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes.
- “We are coming back from a year of Covid-19 lockdowns and that means getting back to normal. Our yearly parades celebrating the achievements of our diaspora are a big part of that for many in our community. It’s good to be back”
- “At the same time, the tail end of the pandemic is still with us. As much as we want to put 2020 in the rearview mirror, we know our realities are still shaped by a year of crisis.”
Nellie Gorbea might make history as the first Puerto Rican elected governor of state in the Union, if her campaign for that seat is successful in 2022.
The current Rhode Island Secretary of State, a position she has held for six and a half years, Gorbea officially kicked off her campaign in late May. She will run to be the Democratic nominee of a blue state with a population just shy of 1.1 million residents.
Gorbea arrived in Rhode Island 30 years ago, right after finishing college, and has worked in various community and political roles since then. Among the topics she is highlighting as she begins her run for office: the need for a strong economy, high-quality education, affordable housing and climate-resistant infrastructure.
It is estimated that 16.3% of Rhode Island’s population identifies as Latino, including 3.9% who are Puerto Rican.
- “Our leaders are not and cannot be limited only to “Puerto Rican districts” or “Hispanic districts.” Seeing one of us take the big step of running for the highest office in a state is a huge step in our community becoming ever more accepted and successful.”
- “We don’t have to feel like our community can only have power in the urban centers of New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Orlando. We are everywhere and should be represented everywhere.”
The party is over for the hedge fund managers and crypto traders that have made Puerto Rico a destination for anyone trying to avoid U.S. capital gains taxes. That’s at least the message the Biden Administration is sending out, beginning with a coordinated campaign to question the several thousand uber-wealthy people who have moved to the island since 2012 to take advantage of special personal tax carve-outs.
Some 4,000 people have moved to Puerto Rico over the past decade to take advantage of so-called Act 20 and Act 22, a local law that treats capital gains of new Puerto Rico residents extremely favorably. Biden’s tax proposal, published in late May, specifically targets those who have taken advantage of Acts 20 and 22, which could potentially end up taxing their capital gains as ordinary income — hence eroding the very tax loophole they moved to Puerto Rico for. Biden’s tax plans also look to tighten reporting requirements for those making large amounts of money selling cryptocurrency, a group that is disproportionately represented amongst those wealthy Puerto Rican newcomers.
Another loophole some companies were using in Puerto Rico to avoid paying corporate tax would also be closed in the plan. While some had hoped the Biden Administration would look at reviving the special tax treatment for industry in Puerto Rico, that is not included in the proposals.
- “Act 20 and Act 22 were passed in hopes they would lead to a boon for the Puerto Rican economy. So far, it’s mostly been a way for the super-rich to avoid taxes without contributing much to either Puerto Rico or the United States.”
- “While tax incentives are a tried and true way of spurring economic development, we can’t be part of a global race to the bottom.”
- “As the Biden administration releases tax plans, we will remember promises made on the campaign trail to bring a new golden era of economic development to Puerto Rico.”
A long-time Puerto Rican news anchor is making it big as she transitions to social media. Former Telemundo news personality Maria Celeste Arrarás said this month that her YouTube-based celebrity talk show recently surpassed one million views. She has been producing the show since January.
The first figure invited to arrarás’ show was Mexican-born journalist María Elena Salinas, now at CBS News, who left Univision after a fruitful 37-year professional career at the outlet.
Other celebrities who have been on “MC LIVE” are Cuban-American singer Gloria Estefan, Puerto Rican host and actress Adamari López, Cuban actor Mario Cimarro, host Mario Luis Kreutzberger, better known as Don Francisco, writer Isabel Allende and journalist María Antonieta Collins.
The social media success raises the profile of a Puerto Rican media leader who has expressed political aspirations in the past. Earlier this year, Arrrarás briefly flirted with the idea of running for the U.S. Senate as a Democrat.
- “At every level of notability, in every area of culture, our people are re-inventing themselves and becoming a more significant presence.”
Summer, Cameras, Action!
Consulado de Mexico, 2550 Technology Drive, Orlando
Alianza Center is thrilled to offer a one-of-a-kind leadership experience to our community’s youth, at no cost this summer, centered around topics like: environmental justice and health, stewardship of the Earth, communications, arts and crafts, entrepreneurship, STEAM, theater and film.
With an emphasis on civic engagement, youth will exit the two-week program with knowledge and skills to lead in key areas and issues in our community, specifically environmental justice and health. This program is available to youth of all ages and features daily guest speakers, hands-on activities, projects, field trips and free breakfast and lunch.
Latina Trailblazers Celebration
Jun 15 » 11:00 AM
Online – Hosted by PRDLEF
Join PRDLEF for a #LatinaTrailblazers Celebration! The event will celebrate 5 #Latinas whose achievements & commitment to #justice continue to have a mighty impact on the wellbeing of members of the #Latinx communities. RSVP: http://bit.ly/TrailblazersLJ
Conoce a Flor Turcio: El silencio de una niña
Jun 21 » 6:30 PM
Online – Hosted by PRDLEF
Se invita al público general a conectarse a traves de Facebook.com/uagmmoc
In-person: Ana G Mendez University, 5601 S Semoran Blvd, Orlando, FL 32822
Our people in the media
Marcos Vilar, executive director of Alianza for Progress, on using the “Build Back Better” momentum to push for universal affordable broadband
From stories of people who could not access unemployment benefits in Florida because they did not have a reliable connection to the state website to the heartbreaking reality of children who missed out on a full year of schooling simply because they did not have internet access at home, those without broadband fared the worst in 2020. Measured against these stark realities, it becomes clear why adding broadband subsidies to low-income families is a must, not only to benefit those families, but to make sure the rest of President Biden’s vision can become a reality.
Federico de Jesús, a senior adviser to the Power 4 Puerto Rico coalition, which supports the Self-Determination Act
The way that [pro-statehood officials] govern in Puerto Rico is pro-privatization, pro-bondholder. But with liberal groups, grassroots people, people in the diaspora, new parties on the island … the diversity of those who don’t support ‘statehood my way or the highway’ is growing.
Ricardo Negrón Almodovar, cofounder of Del Ambiente in partnership with Alianza Center’s First Friday: Celebrando Pride
Celebrating Pride will be a cultural and educational space to highlight LGBTQ+ Pride month. In addition, it will serve as a tribute and space of remembrance to all the people impacted by the tragedy in Pulse. We invite the entire Latino community to join this great event that seeks to put aside prejudices and celebrate strength in diversity.
Johanna López, directora ejecutiva de Alianza Center hablando sobre Summers, Cameras, Action!
El campamento le provee a nuestros jóvenes de 5 años a 18 años espacios creativos de aprendizaje en campos que son de su interés, a la vez que desarrolla su liderazgo y autoestima. Es una reintegración educativa y social de productividad después del impacto de la pandemia en nuestra sociedad. Nuestros jóvenes podrán descubrir nuevas oportunidades de brillar a través de sus ideas innovadoras.