Democrats’ Debates Continue to Ignore Puerto Rico and They Know It (OPINION)

Jan 15, 2020
12:52 PM

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., right speaks as from left, Democratic presidential candidates businessman Tom Steyer, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg listen Tuesday, January 14, 2020, before a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

During last night’s Democratic presidential debate in Iowa, just when I was starting to fall asleep after almost two hours of mild “debating,” I heard the moderators start asking questions about the environment. I suddenly sat up straight, shook off the drowsiness, and started paying attention again. After all, they HAD to mention Puerto Rico in their answers, right? (I know Latino Rebels’ founder thought so too.)

Well, they mentioned forest fires in California, flooding in Iowa, and even what’s happening in Australia; but the 3.5 million U.S. citizens living in fear of another earthquake hitting them at any moment got zero mentions. Zero. It was actually surprising to find out that the only candidate that seemed to have Puerto Rico on his mind was not on the debate stage.


The thing is I really shouldn’t be surprised. The Democrats couldn’t bother to mention the island during the June debates in Miami. At that time the whole world was talking about how the #RickyRenuncia movement was an example on how to create change in a democracy. Only Julián Castro mentioned Puerto Rico in passing.

The Democrats couldn’t bother to mention Puerto Rico during the September 12 debate in Houston. A debate that happened a week before the second anniversary of Hurricane María, which destroyed Puerto Rico and took the lives of more than 3,000 people.

The Democrats couldn’t even be bothered to include Puerto Rico in the core issues they have been “debating” for months. No mention of a member of the FOMB being part of Latinos for Trump during their talks on corruption, or the fact that Puerto Rico is even more screwed than any other jurisdiction when it comes to healthcare funding, or discuss any sort of reparations for the decades that the U.S. military bombed Puerto Rico to practice for wars on foreign soil.

What’s even more infuriating is that groups like Power 4 Puerto Rico have been asking candidates to publish their plans for Puerto Rico, so it’s not like the campaigns are not aware of the request. But the reality is that in presidential campaigns, electoral considerations will almost always go before doing the right thing. That is just the truth.

Democrats know that most of us living stateside cannot support Donald Trump after the way he has treated Puerto Rico during one of our most trying moments. They know that most of our population in the U.S. is in states that vote blue and that we identify with the struggles of minority communities. They also know that Puerto Ricans do not make up a sizable part of the electorate in any of the early state primaries so why bother?

But here’s what they don’t know… They don’t know that Puerto Ricans are tired of being ignored, being taken for granted, and being told that we are to blame for the Democrats’ missteps in Florida. They don’t know that our population is growing in states that they are targeting for future growth, like Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. They also appear to have forgotten that Florida and Puerto Rico are holding their Democratic primaries in March, and that in a contested primary they will need every delegate they can get.

In the end, the damage might already be done. More and more reports are coming out detailing the concerns from Hispanic community leaders about the lack of effective outreach by the Democratic party. Trump seems to be gaining traction with Puerto Rican voters after Democrats thought they didn’t have to worry about that. What seemed like a slam-dunk for Democrats a couple of years ago has suddenly become a toss-up.

So how will Puerto Ricans end up voting? Nobody knows. What I do know is that —after everything we have been through— if candidates can’t be bothered to mention Puerto Rico during a debate, we won’t bother to come out and support them.


Frederick Vélez III Burgos is a former Congressional staff member and has worked in the last three election cycles to get out the vote in the Latino community. Born and raised in Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico, he now lives in Miami, FL. You can follow him on Twitter at @frederickviii.