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Crime in Puerto Rico Crime in Puerto Rico has always been a problem. However within the last two decades, the United States territory has seen the highest crime rates ever recorded. Drug trafficking, severe unemployment, and other social issues on the island indicate there may be no end in sight to the increase in troubling crime statistics.

Police data shows there were 110 murders in Puerto Rico for the month of January this year, 34 more than during the same month in 2010. As of February 22, 2011, there were 179 homicides recorded, 40 more than in the same period last year.

In 2009 more than 890 people were killed on the Caribbean commonwealth that is home to nearly four million people. Island officials say traffickers flooding the island with drug money make it one of the most violent places under the American flag.The numbers were so bad in 2009 that in 2010 Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuño activated the National Guard to help combat crime, however the extra effort did little to lower the bloodshed.

That was not the first time a Puerto Rican Governor used extreme measures to curb crime. The last time Puerto Rican Guard troops assisted police patrols was in 2004, when former Gov. Sila Calderon activated the National Guard, sending 500 troops to help police patrol public events and areas where large amounts of people gathered.

In the 1990s, then Gov. Pedro Rossello ordered frequent raids of housing projects to cut crime, but that led to accusations of rights violations. The local director of the American Civil Liberties Union said adding soldiers to the island’s 19,000-strong police force was a poor strategy.

The U.S. has a constitutional tradition of keeping military and civilian authorities separate, and the law limits use of federal troops to enforce civil laws.

Police statistics dating back to 1940 showed the highest number of murders on the island occurred in 1994, when 995 murders were reported. Since then murder rates have gone down, however in recent years the numbers have skyrocketed again. In 2000 there were 695 murders in Puerto Rico.

In 2004 the number was 790, a murder rate that year higher than New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. In 2008 there were 800 people killed on the island, 80 more than in 2007.

On December 25, 2010 police data showed there had been 962 reported violent deaths, 72 more than in 2009, making 2010 the second worse year for homicides on the island since it starting keeping such records.

The last decade has been the worse for murders in Puerto Rico. Since 2000 more than 8,600 murders have been reported.

According to recent statistics, the areas with the highest increase in homicide rates include Caguas, Mayaguez, Bayamón, Arecibo, Ponce, and Carolina.

Robberies have also been increasing in recent years, especially in the tourist-filled San Juan area.

Clarisa Jiménez, the president of the Hotels and Tourism Association of Puerto Rico, believes the violence has hurt the worldwide perception of the U.S. commonwealth, which each year welcomes about four million visitors, most of them from the U.S. mainland.

Puerto Rico’s strategic location had made it hub for trafficking drugs into the U.S. and other parts of the Caribbean. This drug activity has been blamed for the islands crime problem, but other social factors are at play.

In recent years there have also been high profile murders of gay and transgender people, the most heinous being the 2009 killing of 19 year-old Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado. Lopez Mercado was found decapitated, dismembered, and partially burned in the town of Cayey. Anti-gay sentiment on the island has contributed to such violent acts.

According to José Figueroa Sancha, the superintendent of the Puerto Rico police department, 42 percent of crime is related to the social environment of the island. He cites as an example the high number of domestic violence deaths registered.

“These types of crimes are hard to prevent because of their nature. It’s hard to stop a person from killing his or her partner. It’s also hard to stop a man who burns his family. These are new crimes,” Figueroa Sancha said, noting another recent high profile murder.

Crime overall has gotten worse in Puerto Rico and the tough economic times may also be a causing factor. In January of this year the unemployment rate of the U.S. commonwealth claimed up to 15.7 percent. Data from the commonwealth’s Planning Board shows that between October 2000 and October 2010 Puerto Rico lost 46,000 jobs.

The combined issue of crime and economic hardship has most likely also caused a slight exodus from the island. Puerto Rico’s population declined by 2.2 percent in the last decade, which makes the commonwealth one of only two U.S. jurisdictions that saw this trend. The state of Michigan also saw a decrease in its population over the last decade.

As of April of 2010, Puerto Rico’s population was 3,725,789. This is an 82,821 reduction from the previous decade, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Along with all the troubling statistics, several studies highlight the social affect of Puerto Rico’s problem with crime.

A study by the Josephson Institute of Ethics for the Puerto Rican government found that 28 percent of the island's 10th-12th grade students took a firearm to school at least once during the past year.

Another report released by the Alliance for Social Transformation showed that about 16 percent of students between the ages of 13 and 17 carried weapons while at school during the past year. The study also revealed that one in every four high school students had stayed away from school on at least one occasion because they did not feel safe.

November 2010 - Last Official Deadline for New Puerto Rican Birth Certificates is Oct. 30, 2010 Finally, it’s official. After close to a year of discussion and a great deal of confusion, and two deadline extensions, all Puerto Rican birth certificates issued prior to July 1, 2010 will become invalid as of October 30, 2010. That means all Boricuas born in Puerto Rico will have to replace their old birth certificates, if they have not done so already. Only birth certificates issued after July 1 of this year will be valid after October 30, 2010. All other existing birth certificates will become invalid.

The birth certificate issue began back in December 2009 when the government of Puerto Rico enacted a new law that would require all Puerto Rican-born citizens to apply for a new birth certificate. The law, which originally would have made old Puerto Rican birth certificates useless effective as of July 1, 2010, aims to fight fraud and prevent identity theft.

Since Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States, anyone born there is automatically a U.S. citizen. The new law was created with help from the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to address the fraudulent use of Puerto Rico-issued birth certificates to unlawfully obtain U.S. passports, Social Security benefits, and other federal services.

For more information on the December 2009 law and additional reasoning for the requirement of new birth certificates you can read the April political column of ElBoricua.com.

The new birth certificate requirement left many Puerto Ricans, both on the island and mainland, confused about who should actually get a new birth certificate, when to get it, and how to go about getting one. After much outreach by government officials, Latino organizations, and the media, the answers to these questions eventually became clearer, however other problems shortly arose.

Puerto Rico officials soon became unable to deal with the processing of the large number of requests for new, more secure birth certificates, so the initial deadline of July 1, 2010 was postponed, twice. The first deadline extension was September 30, 2010, the second, October 30, 2010.

Puerto Rican Secretary of State, Kenneth D. McClintock, has said that due to the new birth certificate requirement workdays have been expanded and new temporary offices for the Vital Statistics Registry have been opened. Despite the extra personnel and locations, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico has been extremely busy issuing new birth certificates.

The island's government processed about 800,000 birth certificate requests since July, according to Luis Balzac, regional director in New York of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration.

"We have been working hard to make sure that those who need it could get the document," Balzac told the Orlando Sun Sentinel in October. "For others, I would remind people to ask themselves when was the last time they needed a birth certificate."

Another problem and possible reason for the deadline extensions could have been the confusion experienced by some stateside government officials. Some states like California, Ohio and Nevada for a short time stopped accepting Puerto Rican birth certificates altogether.

Even with this last official extension of October 30th, only people who really need to present a birth certificate for official government business should rush to replace their old documents. Birth certificates are generally used when applying for new passports, drivers and marriage licenses. So if a Puerto Rican-born citizen does not have to provide an official birth certificate for any of these reasons right away, he or she can really wait until the New Year to get an official new document.

Hopefully now that the final deadline has been established, the new birth certificate requirement has become clearer to a larger number of people, both in the states and on the island. Puerto Rican-born citizens must obtain a new, valid copy of their birth certificate from the Puerto Rico Vital Statistics Record Office. There are now also several ways to request a new Puerto Rican birth certificate. Online requests can be submitted via pr.gov and more information about the new law and instructions on how to apply by mail can be found at www.prfaa.com.

Education in Puerto Rico: A Need for Major Improvement.

September 2010.   Recent demonstrations in Puerto Rico have highlighted a desperate need to overhaul the island’s entire educational system. Students and teachers have been unsatisfied with the government’s lack of leadership and outraged by layoffs, budget cuts, tuition hikes, and attempts to privatize the system.

A one-day teachers strike nearly paralyzed public education in Puerto Rico last August. Teachers took collective action to draw attention to the general deterioration of the island’s public school system. The Teachers’ Federation of Puerto Rico (FMPR) said 30,000 teachers stayed away from their posts on August 26, paralyzing 90 percent of the 1,500 public schools in the United States island territory. Teachers also marched to the governor’s office in Old San Juan to protest a shortage of personnel, supplies, and poor working conditions.

Teachers said decades of neglect by past island administrations have left school buildings crumbling and art, physical and special education programs cancelled.

"We have always had problems in previous years, but this year has been the worst," said Maria Melendez, a teacher who is vice president of the FMPR, which represents a membership of more than 42,000 teachers on the island. Puerto Rico’s public school system has 475,000 students who are taught at 1,517 schools.

The teachers charged that the government had failed to fill 1,000 vacancies for the new school year. The teachers argued that the personnel shortage hurts students and gives teachers extra work. They also say there is a major shortage of textbooks and paper for photocopies.

The walkout was the largest organized by public school teachers on the island since a 10-day strike in 2008. Teachers then demanded improved working conditions and better wages. Teachers in Puerto Rico earn about $20,000-$28,000 per year, according to the FMPR.

Jesus Rivera Sanchez, the Interim Education Secretary, called the August teachers strike, “devastating.”

"I cannot resolve in two months all the problems in the education system that have been there for years," said Rivera, who was appointed in late May.

The August 26 teachers strike was also a protest against privatizing employee pensions, according to Rafael Feliciano, president of the FMPR.

“There is an effort on the part of the government to dismantle the public school (system) and discredit it,” said Feliciano.

According to Feliciano, the government intends to partially privatize the system via Law 7, a measure aimed at reducing the U.S. commonwealth’s serious budget deficit and one that has already been used to layoff thousands of public employees.

“That law favors the dismissal of public employees from schools to hand over the system to private companies,” Feliciano has said.

Organizers of the recent teachers protest, which was supported by the main opposition Popular Democratic Party, warned that if the government did not meet the teachers’ demands an open-ended strike would be scheduled for October.

The teachers’ strike comes on the heels of an almost two month-long student protest on 11 campuses of the University of Puerto Rico system that ended last June. More than 62,000 students took part in the massive demonstration that started on April 21 and virtually shut down all but one of the 11 university campuses.

The multi campus-wide show of strength was another organized attempt to protest major municipal layoffs ordered by Gov. Luis G. Fortuño, a Republican elected in 2008.

Puerto Rico has been dealing with a huge budget deficit and 16 percent unemployment.

The University of Puerto Rico was founded in 1903, when the teachers college that had been founded in 1900 in the town of Fajardo was relocated in Río Piedras. In 1903, legislation was enacted to convert the school into a university.

The University of Puerto Rico is currently composed of the following campuses: Río Piedras, Mayagüez, Medical Sciences, Cayey, Humacao, Aguadilla, Arecibo, Bayamón, Carolina, Ponce, and Utuado.

The overall budget cuts this year forced the University of Puerto Rico’s administration to take cost-cutting measures that students and staff thought were extremely unfair to low-income students, including a significant tuition increase.

The student protests gained great publicity on the mainland and received strong local support from union leaders and writers and performers, including the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano and Boricua musician Ricky Martin.

Eventually students and university administration came to an agreement to end the strike. Students agreed to clean up the campuses and the university agreed not to suspend or expel students involved in the protests. The university also agreed to delay a tuition hike until the spring semester of the 2010-11 academic year, instead of introducing an increase in the fall.

"Not since Puerto Rico rallied to chase the United States Navy out of Vieques a decade ago have so many different social sectors rallied around a single cause," reported the Miami Herald.

The Power of the Latino Vote

July 2010 - Latinos, the largest and fasting growing minority group in the United States, were instrumental in electing the last two presidents of the United States. The power of the Latino vote will continue to have a vital impact in the outcome of many political elections in the U.S. If tends keep with the present pace, few politicians in this country will be able to hold an elected position without winning the Latino vote.

According to the National Council of La Raza, between 1990 and 2000, the Latino population experienced a growth rate of 57.9 percent, compared to 13.2 percent nationwide. Census figures today show 46.9 million Latinos make up 15.4 percent of the total U.S. population. By 2050 more than 130 million Latinos will live in the U.S., about 30 percent of the population or 1 in 4 residents.

In 2008, the Latino electorate grew to an estimated 12.1 million registered voters and cast an estimated 9.7 million votes in the November Presidential election, according to the William C. Velasquez Institute (WCVI). This estimated total of 12.1 million registered Latino voters in 2008 represents an increase of 2.8 million since 2006, or a 30.5 percent increase, making it the largest numerical increase in U.S. Latino voter registration history.

The jump in Latino voter registration was driven by California and Texas, which in 2008 contained an estimated 50 percent of the U.S. Latino vote. In California, Latino voter registration increased by 18 percent since 2006. In Texas, Latino voter registration increased by 19.7 percent since 2006.

In the 2008 General Election, nine states which voted for Republican President George W. Bush in 2004 supported Democratic U.S. Senator Barack Obama in 2008: Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia. Latino voters are credited with helping propel Obama to victory in states like Indiana and New Mexico.

WCVI Latino voter polls for the 2008 Presidential Election showed then-Senator Obama was supported by a 68.6 percent to 28.7 percent for Senator McCain. These statistics are supported by a CNN National exit poll, which found a 67 percent to 31 percent spread between Obama and McCain among Latino voters.

President Obama recognized the help he received from Latinos by appointing some to visible positions, including U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor, Labor Secretary Hilda Solís, and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Although Latinos were the largest minority population in September 2007, they were not the largest minority group among eligible voters. African-Americans were about 12 percent of eligible voters at that time, in comparison to whites who were 74 percent.

A report entitled The Power of the Latino Vote in America  by America s Voice, a pro-immigrant group, notes the Latino vote in 2010 will be an important factor in a an increasing number of upcoming congressional races across the country. The group argues that how both political parties handle the issue of comprehensive immigration reform will have a serious impact on Latino political behavior.

Some politicians undercut the political clout of Latinos because a large number are not eligible to vote because of citizenship status or are not yet 18 years old. Estimates show that in 2008 Latinos made up 9 percent of the electorate nationwide. The Latino population as a whole is very young and more Latinos become eligible to vote each year and others eventually become naturalize citizens gaining the right to vote.

According to figures from the America s Voice report, between 2000 and 2008 Latino voter registration grew 54 percent and turnout grew 64 percent. In the 2004 presidential race, 7.5 million Latinos voted. In the 2006 midterm election, 8 million voted, and in the 2008 presidential race, 10 million cast ballots.

A 2007 report by the Pew Hispanic Center found some 57 percent of Hispanic registered voters called themselves Democrats or said they leaned to the Democratic Party, while 23 percent were aligned with the Republican Party. That 34-percentage point gap between Democratic and Republican Latinos was compared to a 21-point gap in July 2006.

The Republican portion of the Latino vote has declined in three straight national elections. However, President George W. Bush drew an estimated 40 percent of the national Latino vote in 2004 - a record for a Republican presidential candidate.

Latinos make up at least 25 percent of the population in nearly one in five congressional districts, according to America s Voice. In the 2010-midterm elections the group suggests Latino voters will be a potentially decisive force in 37 House and Senate races, plus contests for governor in California, Colorado and Texas.

The report also states Latino voters may be pivotal in eight Senate races, including Arizona where Republican Sen. John McCain is trying to keep his seat and where a controversial immigration law has gained national attention.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal Survey showed that while all respondents back the Arizona law by almost 2-to-1, 70 percent of Latino voters oppose it, with eight in 10 saying they believe it's likely to lead to discrimination against legal immigrants.

In a May 2009 poll of Latino voters by Bendixen & Associates, 82 percent of Latino voters said that the immigration issue is important to them and their families, and 69 percent said that they personally know someone who is undocumented.

"Most politicians understand the importance of the Latino vote in presidential years, but what we're saying is that Latino voters will have a huge impact in the mid-term elections," Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice said in February.

Statistics clearly indicate Latinos will continue to be a political powerhouse in the U.S. for many decades to come.


Congressman Gutiérrez: Fighting for Puerto Rican, Latino, and Immigrant Rights

May 2010 - Congressman Luis Gutiérrez, one of only three Puerto Rican members of the U.S. House of Representatives, was arrested on May 1 in Washington, D.C. while protesting Arizona s new controversial illegal immigrant legislation bill, SB 1070. Representative Guiterrez, the first Latino elected to Congress from the Midwest, has a long-time commitment and passion for protecting and advocating for Puerto Ricans, Latinos, and the nation s immigrant community.

The D.C. march was one of about 80 nationwide that were held along with the annual Labor Day union demonstrations, also known as May Day rallies that celebrate the economic and social achievements of workers. Outraged by a controversial Arizona immigration law signed on April 23, tens of thousands of protesters -- including 50,000 alone in Los Angeles -- rallied in cities across America demanding that President Barack Obama tackle national immigration reform immediately.

Congressman Gutiérrez was among 35 activists arrested and taken away in plastic handcuffs by U.S. Parks Police for failing to move from a sidewalk outside the White House.

"They were asked to move by park police and they did not and they were asked again a couple more times, then they started arresting folks," said Douglas Rivlin, a Gutiérrez spokesman.

According to Rivlin, Rep. Gutiérrez and other protesters were transported by bus to a processing center, where they were booked. Gutiérrez was charged with a misdemeanor, released that evening, and ordered to pay a fine of between $50 and $100.

Congressman Gutiérrez is not new to civil disobedience. He was one of about 180 people arrested for trespassing during a 2001 demonstration against U.S. Navy bombing exercises on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico.

Immigration reform is Rep. Gutiérrez's greatest legislative passion. He has held public forums around the country to build a grass-roots movement in support of overhauling the existing immigration laws. His efforts led to President Obama expressing support in May 2009 for rewriting the immigration laws, however Gutiérrez is not satisfied with the lack national advancement on the issue.

"For Latinos in this country -- for anyone who cares about fair, comprehensive and humane immigration reform-- Barack Obama has delivered 'change.' It's been a change for the worse," Gutiérrez wrote in an op-ed piece on March 17, 2010.

"His administration's action on comprehensive immigration reform can fairly be summarized with one word: nothing," Gutiérrez wrote.

Because of Rep. Gutiérrez s work on immigration issues, he was appointed Chair of the Democratic Caucus Immigration Task Force and the chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Immigration Task Force.

In December 2009 Gutiérrez introduced his own immigration reform bill focusing on border security, detention, and enforcement. The proposed bill also includes employment verification and an earned legalization program for the country s estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants.

Another one of Congressman Gutiérrez s passion is voicing his opinion on the political status of Puerto Rico. Gutiérrez made headlines recently regarding a House-approved measure that could open the door to Puerto Rican statehood. The bill, the Puerto Rico Democracy Act, passed by the House on April 29 with a 223-169 vote, authorizes the U.S. commonwealth to conduct a vote asking its people whether they favor the island's political status. If most said no, a second round of voting would ask whether Puerto Rico should be a state, a commonwealth, a sovereign nation associated with the U.S., or fully independent.

Gutiérrez, a supporter of independence for Puerto Rico, noted on the House floor leading up to the vote that Puerto Ricans rejected statehood in 1967, 1993 and 1998. He said he could support statehood if Puerto Rico could still keep its Olympic team, Spanish as its main language, and other aspects of its identity.

Luis Vicente Gutiérrez was born to Puerto Rican parents in Chicago on December 10, 1953. The son of a cabdriver and an assembly line worker graduated from Northeastern Illinois University in 1977 with a degree in English. As an undergraduate he was the leader of the Union for Puerto Rican Students. Gutiérrez worked as a teacher, social worker, community activist, and city official until his 1986 election to the Chicago City Council.

In the Chicago City Council, he led the fight for affordable housing, tougher ethics rules, and a law to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Gutiérrez has served as a Democratic member of the United States House of Representatives since 1993, representing Illinois's 4th congressional district. He and his wife Soraida have two daughters, Omaira and Jessica and a grandson, Luisito.

Gutiérrez is an eight-term congressman who won each of his last five elections with greater than 80 percent of the vote.

According to the Chicago Tribune and a congressman s spokesman, Gutiérrez owns a home and rental property near extended family in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico, visits often and may retire there someday.

Island-born Puerto Ricans Will Need New Birth Certificates as of July 1, 2010

April 2010 - In December 2009 the government of Puerto Rico enacted a new law that would require all Puerto Rican-born citizens to apply for a new birth certificate. The law, which becomes effective on July 1, 2010, aims to fight fraud and prevent identity theft. However, there is much confusion around who really needs to get a new birth certificate and when and how to get one.

A State Department study of 8,000 federal fraud cases found that as much as 40 percent of identity fraud in the U.S. involved birth certificates from Puerto Rico. The new law was created with help from the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to address the fraudulent use of Puerto Rico-issued birth certificates to unlawfully obtain U.S. passports, Social Security benefits, and other federal services.

"It's a problem that's been growing and as the need in the black market for birth certificates with Hispanic-sounding names grew, the black market value of Puerto Rican birth certificates has gone into the $5,000 to $10,000 range," said Kenneth McClintock Hernandez, Puerto Rico s secretary of state.

Puerto Rico's legislature passed the law (Law 191 of 2009) after raids earlier in the year broke up a criminal ring that had stolen thousands of birth certificates and other identifying documents from several different schools in Puerto Rico.

As of July 1, 2010 the birth certificate of all Puerto Rican born citizens will become invalid. People born in Puerto Rico, a U.S. commonwealth, are U.S. citizens at birth. This means all Boricuas born on the island must arrange to get new certificates.

The four million residents of Puerto Rico may not see the new birth certificate law as much of a hassle. In the 50 states, when parents are asked for their child's birth certificate as proof of age or identity, they make a copy. According to Secretary McClintock Hernandez, in Puerto Rico, for years people have been handing over the actual government-issued document. Some parents end up getting a dozen birth certificates to leave with different schools, community services, and agencies. Puerto Rico's new law now makes it illegal to file away other people's birth certificates.

Because of the new law, beginning July 1, 2010 Puerto Ricans presently living in Puerto Rico can visit a local Department of Health office and request a new birth certificate from the vital statistics division. Applicants need to provide a copy of a photo ID and complete a form that requires the following: name, parents' name, name of hospital, current mailing address.

U.S. residents born in Puerto Rico should visit http://www.prfaa.com/birthcertificates/ to download an application and mail it to San Juan, Puerto Rico, along with a copy of a U.S. photo ID, a return self-addressed stamped envelop, and a $5 filing fee. The law only waives the fee for a new birth certificate for people over 60 and for veterans. There is no replacement exemption for age.

The Puerto Rican government will not accept any applications until after July 1, so the mail system may be flushed with Puerto Rican paperwork during the summer. It is also unclear how soon new birth certificates will be returned to applicants.

Because of the new law and past questions around the validity of Puerto Rican documents, people applying for driver's licenses in other states have already reported having their birth certificates rejected.

Cesar Perales, president and legal counsel of the civil rights group LatinoJustice PRLDEF, says his concern with the new law is that suddenly all Puerto Rican birth certificates appear suspicious. He says stateside Puerto Ricans already have trouble convincing people that their documents are as good as any other American's.

"Just a couple of years ago, the state of New Hampshire decided that people with Puerto Rican passports would be treated like foreigners and had to go to a special office in order to be able to get a driver's license," Perales says.

Some news outlets report that California and Ohio have also already stopped accepting Puerto Rican birth certificates. Perales believes some islanders could also be stigmatized in an era of heightened concerns about both terrorism and immigration.

Hopefully by July 1, 2010 all U.S. state officials and Puerto Rican-born citizens will become familiar with the new Puerto Rican birth certificate law. Officials note that only persons expecting to present a valid birth certificate after July 1 should apply. Others, who do not need to present a new birth certificate for any official reason, should wait.

U.S. Congressman José Serrano (D-Bronx) said he would wait to reapply for his own Puerto Rican birth certificate.

What I ve been trying to do is stop people from panicking,  Rep. Serrano said. You re living in New York, and you re established already, no one is going to ask you for a birth certificate. 

However, Perales has asked Puerto Rico Governor Luis G. Fortuño to extend the deadline for getting new certificates by at least six months and launch an extensive publicity campaign. Perales says the process needs to be changed to ensure a smooth transition for people from an old to a new birth certificate without a gap in which they have no valid document.

"The timing of it is strange," Perales said. "It's almost calculated to create problems."

For more information on how to request a new Puerto Rican birth certificate visit http://www.prfaa.com/birthcertificates/.

The Importance of the U.S. Census For Latino Communities

March 2010 - Next to the process of voting for political representation, being counted in the United States Census is the most important thing Latinos can do to make our voices heard. The majority of Latino leaders say this is the most important census for Latinos to date, but some are encouraging Latinos to pass on their participation. However the act of not responding to the constitutional questionnaire will hinder Latino progress for the next 10 years.

"This will be the most important census in history for the Latino community,  said Arturo Vargas, Executive Director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund. As the nation's second largest and fastest growing population, a Latino undercount will mean a failed census."

The U.S. Constitution requires the completion of a census every 10 years. The census is a count of everyone living in the United States, regardless of citizenship. Census workers began knocking on doors in early March and census forms are scheduled to hit mailboxes during the week of March 15.

Results of an accurate census count leads to vital funding for needed federal, state, and local services. Every year, more than $400 billion is distributed to states and communities from the federal government, based in part on census data. Census information also affects the numbers of seats each state holds in the U.S. House of Representatives, and states also use totals to redraw legislative districts.

New York's Secretary of State Lorraine Cortes-Vazquez said that during the last census, 200,000 people went uncounted in New York, which she said represents a lot of dollars lost  and many individuals without necessary resources & and a loss of representation. 

According to Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF,) the 2000 Census left an estimated 373,567 people in Texas uncounted, and the state missed out on more than $1 billion in federal funds over the last decade. MALDEF officials said Latinos, particularly immigrants, students and the working poor, are among the most difficult to count.

Census data is used to guide planning for hospitals, schools, roads and bridges, job training centers, free lunch programs, community clinics, and senior centers. Census data impacts local initiatives such as justifying the need for after school programs or to designate urban revitalization areas. Information from the census is also used for housing, public safety, and many other human services.

Nonprofit organizations rely on census data when applying for federal grant money. Community organizations use census information to develop social service programs for seniors and children, and businesses use it to identify where to locate factories, shopping centers, movie theaters, banks and offices, all of which can lead to new jobs.

With such clear importance behind the collection of census data, its incredible to believe that a radical group of Latino leaders is playing dangerous politics that will directly have a negative affect on present and future Latino services.

Over the last year, Reverend Miguel Rivera has directed a national campaign to boycott the 2010 Census in the absence of immigration reform. Rivera, who has been an evangelical minister for 39 years and also manages a radio program that airs in 28 states, said, We demand that the U.S. Congress and President Barack Obama take action to legalize our undocumented brothers, so that they may participate in the census without fear. 

However, Reverend Rivera is playing into a deep-set fear of many undocumented immigrants. Census information cannot be used against anyone. It is important for everyone to understand that by law, Title 13 of the United States Code protects the confidentiality of all census information provided, including your name and address.

Census workers cannot share individuals  answers with anyone else, including other government agencies. Revealing census participants  personal information is a federal crime punishable by up to five years in jail and a $250,000 fine.

However, a recent survey by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center found that 11 percent of people believe that the census is used to locate undocumented immigrants. The survey of 1,504 adults also found that 33 percent of Latinos interviewed didn t know about the census and only half of those who knew about it planned to participate.

Answering the census is one of the most important things you can do for yourself and your community,  said Broward County (Florida) Commissioner, Ilene Lieberman, Chair of the Census 2010 Complete Count Committee. The questions that are asked help make sure everyone is counted and paints a portrait of America. 

The 2010 Census will be one of the shortest and simplest in U.S. history. It will ask just 10 basic questions, four more than the first national head count in 1790. The questions include: Number of people living in home; Owned or rented; Telephone number; Relationship to householder; Name; Gender; Age; Date of Birth; Ethnic origin; and Race.

The 2010 Census does NOT ask about immigration status or citizenship, bank account information, salary or income, and will never require a Social Security number.

For the first time, the Census bureau this year will send out questionnaires in Spanish, Chinese and three other languages to every household in specific neighborhoods, even if some people in these areas speak only English or another language.

The estimated 48 million Latinos living in the U.S. mainland and the four million living in Puerto Rico play an important role in depicting the future of America. Every Latino must be counted to ensure all required services are provided to the communities that need them most.

Latinos really can't move forward until we mail the census forms back. For more information visit 2010.census.gov.

Many People, One Culture: A History of Immigration to Puerto Rico

February 2010 - Puerto Rico s history of immigration may make Boricuas the most ethnically diverse people of the Caribbean. Puerto Ricans know about the three main ethnic backgrounds that make-up the Puerto Rican people: the indigenous Taíno Indians, Spaniards, and Africans. However other ethnicities have and continue to contribute to the Puerto Rican culture.

Spanish immigration to Puerto Rico began in 1493 when Christopher Columbus claimed the land for Spain. Juan Ponce de León, a lieutenant under Columbus who later became the first governor of Puerto Rico, founded the first Spanish settlement in 1508. Spanish is the predominant language among Puerto Rican islanders, however it contains many words of Taíno and African origin.

African immigration to Puerto Rico began with the slave trade. Later African people from non-Spanish colonies, such as Jamaica and Saint-Dominique (now Haiti) immigrated to Puerto Rico. Descendents of former African slaves have helped develop Puerto Rico's political and economic structure and shape the music, art, and heritage of its people.

In 1791, slaves in Saint-Domingue (Haiti) revolted against their French masters. Many of the French escaped to Puerto Rico via what is now the Dominican Republic and settled in the west coast of the island. When the British tried to invade Puerto Rico in 1797 many Frenchmen joined the Spanish in defense of the island. The invasion failed and a great number of Frenchmen who fought stay and live on the island.

By the early 19th century Spain had lost most of its possessions in the New World except for Puerto Rico and Cuba, who were demanding self-governance and had pro-independence movements. In hopes of securing these areas, Spain announced the Royal Decree of Graces in 1815, which granted the Caribbean territories the right to have commercial ties with countries that were in good standing with Spain. The decree also offered free land to any Spaniard who was willing to settle in those territories.

Hundreds of French (especially Corsican,) German, and Irish families soon immigrated to Puerto Rico. They were later followed by smaller waves of Dutch, Greek, Italian, Maltese, and Portuguese immigrants who adopted the language and customs of the island and were completely integrated into the society.

Corsica, which is west of Italy and part of France, was geographically similar to Puerto Rico. This was appealing to many Corsicans who wanted to start a "new" life. Hundreds of Corsicans immigrated to Puerto Rico and settled in the mountainous southwestern region of the island. However it was Yauco s rich agricultural area that attracted the majority of Corsican settlers. They eventually became masters of cultivating coffee and leaders of the Puerto Rican coffee industry. Today the town of Yauco is known as both the "Corsican Town" and "The Coffee Town."

During the latter part of the 19th century, Spain and the rest of the Americas became industrialized and needed a larger workforce. Poor men from China where shipped to the Americas as cheap contract laborers. Many of these unskilled workers made it to Puerto Rico. When the United States enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, which limited Chinese immigration after the end of the California Gold Rush, many Chinese in the U.S. mainland fled to Puerto Rico and worked in restaurants and laundries.

An increase of immigration to Puerto Rico occurred when the U.S. acquired the territory from the Spaniards after winning the Spanish-American War of 1898. Additional Chinese immigrants came to work in the island's sugar industry and worked in re-building Puerto Rico's infrastructure and rail systems. Irish-American soldiers who helped the U.S. seize the land were assigned to military bases in Puerto Rico and later chose to stay and live on the island.

With the passage of the Jones Act of 1917, which made Puerto Ricans U.S. citizens, many Boricuas were required to join the U.S. military. Puerto Ricans fought in Germany during World War II and many continued to serve in Germany as members of the regular Army after the war. A large number of these soldiers married and returned to Puerto Rico with German wives.

Immigrants to Puerto Rico also included Jewish communities that were fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Large groups of Jewish immigrants came in the 1930s and 1940s and after the 1959 Cuban Revolution. Almost all of Cuba's Jews went into exile, many fleeing to Florida and Puerto Rico. Today, Puerto Rico is home to the largest and wealthiest Jewish community in the Caribbean and the only island where all three major Jewish denominations are represented.

Other Cubans immigrated to Puerto Rico after the 1959 Cuban Revolution mainly because of Operation Bootstrap,  the U.S. Puerto Rican industrialized program. Cuban immigration slowed in the 1980s but continues today with many opening businesses near San Juan.

Dominicans have lived on the island of Puerto Rico since colonial times. Many residents of Santo Domingo, now the Dominican Republic, left for Puerto Rico in 1795 after the Spanish ceded the land to the French. The Haitian invasions of 1801-1803 and Haitian occupation of 1822-1844 saw more Dominicans coming to Puerto Rico. Dominican immigration coincided with political upheavals including the 1961 assassination of Dominican President Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina and the 1965 Dominican Civil War. Today about 200,000 Dominicans live in Puerto Rico, a majority of them in San Juan, Carolina, and Bayamón.

The large number of undocumented residents in Puerto Rico has become a hot political issue. Since Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, the U.S. Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) handles immigration enforcement. But undocumented Dominicans, Jamaicans, and Haitians say local police harass them or turn them in to immigration authorities.

The U.S. has yet to begin a serious conversation about immigration reform, however it will be interesting to see how new regulations will affect immigration in Puerto Rico. If the U.S. tightens its southern borders a new wave of Mexican immigration may affect Puerto Rico. The recent devastating earthquake in Haiti is sure to affect further immigration of both Haitians and Dominicans to Puerto Rico.

In any event, U.S. and Puerto Rican officials should keep in mind that we have always been a nation of immigrants. Current U.S. citizens and political leaders should find ways to fairly welcome those seeking a better life and those who have already contributed greatly to the U.S. and Puerto Rican cultures.

The 2010 Census: A Push for a Full Latino Count

January 2010 - A network of Latino leaders has been assembled to ensure an accurate count of all Latinos in the 2010 United States Census. Over 30 national and regional Latino organizations and hundreds of individuals in the U.S. and Puerto Rico have joined forces to create the Latino Census Network. The Network, which is a project of the National Institute for Latino Policy (NiLP,) aims to educate the Latino community on the importance of the Census and provide a united Latino voice on related issues and policies.

Results from the 2000 Census showed that Latinos became the largest minority in the U.S., however some say Puerto Ricans and other Latinos may have been underrepresented in the count. Next year the government will conduct its national census in an effort to count every person living in the U.S. The data collected from this count, which occurs every 10 years, is used to assign Congressional seats, electoral votes, and funding for federal and state programs.

Most Puerto Ricans do not live in Puerto Rico. In 2007, the Census Bureau's American Community Survey set the number of Puerto Ricans living in the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia at 4.1 million, slightly greater than the entire population of Puerto Rico (3.9 million.) About 57 percent of all Puerto Ricans living in the U.S. live in the Northeast section and 27 percent live in the Florida region.

Angelo Falcón, the president of NiLP, recently conducted a seminar about the 2010 Census at El Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños at Hunter College of CUNY. Falcón and the NiLP were appointed by Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez to serve on the Census Advisory Committee on the Hispanic Population.

Falcon, who was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, told the seminar audience that the Latino Census Network is developing ways to assist the 2010 Census in assuring the best estimate of the Latino population. The Network is promoting ways to increase government and non-government resources available to grassroots Latino community organizations to increase their ability to mobilize our communities to overcome any possible undercount.

According to political scientists, like Falcon, there is a serious under representation of Latinos on the Census Bureau work force. There are also needs for the improvement of Hispanic, race, language, and other Census questions to ensure a more accurate count of Latinos in the U.S.

Puerto Ricans have migrated to the U.S. mainland since the 1800s. Boricuas have relocated to many major cities including New York City, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Orlando, and Miami.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, between 1990 and 2000 the Stateside Puerto Rican population grew by 12.5 percent, from 3.2 to 3.4 million. This Stateside Puerto Rican growth rate is higher than the 8.4 percent population growth occurring in Puerto Rico during this same period. Mexican Americans are the largest Latino group in the U.S., making up 64.3 percent of the total Hispanic population, or 29.2 million people.

Census data from 2000 showed that Puerto Rican Americans, both on the island and mainland, represented 9.6 percent of all Hispanics in the US. The states with the largest Puerto Rican populations in 2000 were New York, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. The state with the largest Puerto Rican percentage of its total population was Connecticut with 5.7 percent. In 2000, Puerto Ricans in Connecticut made up 60 percent of the total Latino population.

Despite growths in the overall Puerto Rican population, some Puerto Ricans following Census data wonder about the new increase in Puerto Ricans in Florida, and the decline of Boricuas in New York City. Falcon mentioned a Puerto Rican poverty level of 25 percent, which may be a cause of the decrease of Puerto Ricans in New York where rents and property taxes are skyrocketing. However, the actual reason for the Puerto Rican population decline in New York City is unknown and greatly speculated. Other cities with decreases in the Puerto Rican population include Chicago, Illinois, and Jersey City, Newark, and Paterson, New Jersey.

So where are all the Puerto Ricans going? The cities with the fasting-growing number of Boricuas are Buenaventura Lakes (213 percent increase,) Poinciana (205 percent,) and Orlando (142 percent,) Florida. Puerto Ricans with higher earning income have been noted to move to states like California and Texas, however current and future population growth may add Florida to the list of favorite locations for well-to-do Boricuas.

The Latino Census Network would like to reinforce to Latinos that Census data provided to the government is kept confidential. This is important because the Census Bureau hopes to again count undocumented Latino residents. An accurate count would provide federal funding to needed education, health, and other community-related programs. An undercount of Latinos in certain local areas can undercut funding for police, fire, and sanitation services.

For the first time in 2010, there will be a bilingual Census form with just ten questions, which should take only ten minutes to complete. According to Falcon, the U.S. Census plans a massive three-month, $450 million advertising campaign targeting Latinos. An estimated $28 million will be spent on Spanish language media ads. The government also plans to use Twitter and new media to outreach to all Latinos.

The Latino Census Network wants to work closely with the Census Bureau to ensure a real Latino count. The group believes a real result in the 2010 Census will have important cultural, social, political, and economic implications for the development of Puerto Ricans and the Latino community in general.

Puerto Rico Governor Luis G. Fortuño

October 2009 - Last week a union worker in Fajardo threw an egg at Puerto Rico s Governor Luis G. Fortuño. The egg incident was in response to massive government layoffs. Gov. Fortuño, who was not hit by the egg, is trying to manage the economic crisis of a US territory whose four million citizens are facing a fifteen percent unemployment rate. According to union leaders, many state services will suffer from the reported 17,000 layoffs scheduled for November. Union groups are threatening a large-scale one-day strikeout, tensions are running high, and everyone is watching how Gov. Fortuño handles the pressure.

Born on October 31, 1960 in San Juan, Luis Guillermo Fortuño-Burset was raised by a middle-class family. The governor is the oldest of four children born to Luis Fortuño Moscoso, a dentist and Shirley-Joyce Burset de Mari. Fortuño graduated from Colegio Marista of Guaynabo in 1978 then received a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service from Georgetown University in Washington, DC. During his studies at Georgetown, Fortuño co-founded the Puerto Rico Statehood Students Association and became involved in the US Republican Party.

In 1985 Fortuño earned a degree from the University of Virginia School of Law and was an intern at the Office of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in Washington, DC. Fortuño is married to attorney Luce Vela-Gutierrez and the couple has a set of triplets, Maria Luisa, Luis Roberto and Guillermo, who were born in 1991.

Fortuño became a staff member of then Puerto Rican Governor Pedro Juan Rosselló González's administration in 1993. Fortuño was first appointed Executive Director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company and President of Puerto Rico's Hotel Development Corporation. In 1994, he became the first Secretary of the Puerto Rico Department of Economic Development and Commerce.

During the 1996 Republican National Convention, Fortuño was successful in including the support for self-determination and eventual statehood for Puerto Rico in the party platform. Fortuño later resigned his cabinet posts after Rosselló's 1996 reelection and returned to private law practice. While in private practice, Fortuño was a partner at the San Juan law firm of Correa, Collazo, Herrero, Jiménez & Fortuño.

After several years Fortuño decided late in the 2003 primaries to seek the New Progressive Party's (NPP) nomination for the post of Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico. He easily won the primaries. Fortuño s running mate was former Gov. Rosselló, who returned for a third bid as the NPP's candidate for Governor.

In the 2004 elections Fortuño barely beat the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, however his running mate Rosselló lost his bid for the governor's seat to then Resident Commissioner Aníbal Acevedo Vilá. This meant that Fortuño would be the Resident Commissioner under Gov. Acevedo Vilá of the PDP. This was the first time in Puerto Rican history that the Governor of Puerto Rico and the Resident Commissioner were not from the same political party.

In 2007, Fortuño joined Congressman José Serrano (D-NY) and other co-sponsors in filing HR 900, the Puerto Rico Democracy Act, to establish a self-determination process to change Puerto Rico s political status. The bill was eventually approved and became a major victory for Fortuño. He later announced his 2008 candidacy for Governor facing former 2004 running mate and former Gov. Pedro Juan Rosselló González in an NPP primary, which Fortuño won by a 20 percent margin.

On November 4, 2008, Luis Fortuño became the ninth Governor-elect of Puerto Rico by popular election winning by over 220,000 votes, the largest margin of victory in 44 years. Fortuño defeated incumbent Gov. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, who was fighting corruption charges. Fortuño s win gave the NPP its largest victory in history, control of the legislature, and power to name three appointees to the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico.

Gov. Fortuño was sworn into office on January 2, 2009, at a ceremony attended by five of the US territory's six living governors, the president of the Dominican Republic, Leonel Fernandez, and superstar Latino couple Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony.

Fortuño holds the distinction of being the first Republican to be elected Governor of Puerto Rico since 1969, and the second Republican governor since 1949. He is also the second US Republican Representative elected from Puerto Rico in the island territory s history.

Late last month a group of about 30 demonstrators struggled with police in riot gear outside Gov. Fortuño's residence in La Fortaleza in protest of the additional layoffs the governor says are needed to cut into a $3.2 billion deficit. Fortuño and other top officials, including Police Superintendent Jose Figueroa Sancha, called for calm.

"We are at a tense moment in Puerto Rico. Journalists, the police, the union leaders, we all have to cool down," Figueroa said during a radio interview.

Activists charge that the conservative governor is using the layoffs as a step towards privatizing government services. Gov. Fortuño says he has to make tough decisions in order to save Puerto Rico s economy.

This is the time to act,  Fortuño said in a recent speech where he emphasized that although the government might be in bankruptcy, Puerto Rico is not because it can emerge strengthened from the crisis. 

We will see.

Puerto Rico's Need for Strong Health Reform

September 2009 - Health Reform in the United States has been a hot political topic all summer and will continue to be widely debated this fall. The US Census Bureau reports that the number of Americans without health insurance rose to 46.3 million last year, from 45.7 million in 2007. A majority of Americans have voiced strong support for overall health reform, however not much has been said about the need for health reform in Puerto Rico.

Even though the life expectancy of people in Puerto Rico is higher than those living in the US, major health disparities in Puerto Rico have illustrated a strong need for an overhaul of its health system and examination of the island s overall quality of healthcare. A recent USA Today analysis of new government data shows patients in Puerto Rico die at statistically higher rates from heart attack, heart failure, and pneumonia than those admitted to US mainland hospitals. While 11.6% of patients stateside admitted for pneumonia die within 30 days, that number rises to almost 15% in Puerto Rico.
Death rates for heart attack are also above average (18.6% vs. 16.5%) and are slightly higher for heart failure (12.1% vs. 11.2%).

Every American should have access to affordable health care coverage for themselves and their families, and the four million US citizens in Puerto Rico are no exception,  Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuño has said.

The Puerto Rico Health Reform (or la Reforma as it is known to people in Puerto Rico) is a government-run program that provides medical and healthcare services to poor citizens of Puerto Rico by means of contracting with private health insurance companies, as opposed to the traditional system of government-owned hospitals and emergency centers. The Reform is administered by the Puerto Rico Health Insurance Administration and, as of 2005, provides healthcare coverage to over 1.5 million Puerto Ricans, equal to 37.5% of the island population.

Since the start of the island s commonwealth status, people living in Puerto Rico relied heavily on the local government for healthcare services, however the demand for care overburdened the government s resources. In 1994, then Puerto Rican Governor Pedro Rosselló privatized the public health system under the name Health Reform.  The privatization plan included selling government-owned hospitals and medical centers to local and US investors, except for the Rio Piedras Medical Center, which is still run by the commonwealth government. The Reform plan then implemented a universal free and/or low-cost health insurance plan for poor citizens. The only exception to the privatization plan was that mental health benefits and services were to be provided by behavioral healthcare and mental healthcare companies, and not by insurance carriers.

The three largest insurance companies operating in Puerto Rico are currently the only ones participating in the Reform. The three companies are Triple-S, Inc. with 40.4% of the Reform beneficiaries, Medical Card Systems (MCS) with 33.5%, and Humana with 26.1%.

According to the National Puerto Rican Coalition, severe inequalities in federal health care assistance funding are currently affecting 4 million Americans living in Puerto Rico who are not receiving the same healthcare benefits afforded to other citizens in the states.

Americans in Puerto Rico are excluded from various federal health care programs and receive limited funding in comparison to other citizens residing in the 50 states,  Rafael Fantauzzi, President and CEO of NPRC, has been quoted as saying.

In Governor Fortuño s view, federal funding disparities are due to Puerto Rico s current political status and the fact that the island s residents have no real voice in the federal government that creates the laws that govern their lives.

The Medicaid program is an example of the discrepancy in federal healthcare coverage. Medicaid is an existing program that grants federal assistance to states and territories to help provide healthcare to people with low-income. It pays for 50 to 83 percent of the cost, with a higher share of funding being provided to states with poorer populations. There are two limits on federal assistance to US territories such as Puerto Rico. One limits the federal contribution to 50 percent, while the other limits the federal contribution to a specific dollar amount or a cap.  There are no such limitations for states. According to the American Association of Retired Persons, this is an urgent matter for American citizens that live on the island because Medicaid support in the states totals about $330 for person per month compared to $20 per person in Puerto Rico.

Medicare pays healthcare providers for services to the elderly and the disabled. The program is partially paid for by a federal tax on income that Puerto Ricans pay. Unfortunately, Puerto Ricans do not currently receive benefits equal to those provided in the states. Unlike residents of the states, Puerto Ricans are not automatically enrolled in Medicare Part B, which pays for outpatient doctor and other services. Puerto Rico receives less funding for prescription drug benefits for Medicare program participants eligible for Medicaid because the territory receives block grant funding, rather than funding based on need, as is the case in the states.

President Barack Obama is pushing a health reform plan that will benefit all Americans, including people living in Puerto Rico. President Obama has created a plan that specifically helps lower health costs per family in Puerto Rico, increases funding for Medicaid and Medicare, and improves the quality of life for people living with HIV/AIDS in Puerto Rico.

President Obama has pledged to include Puerto Ricans in a reformed health system, as well as to treating Puerto Ricans equally in existing health programs. Puerto Ricans, both on the island and mainland, must watch the health reform debate closely and make sure our voices and concerns are clearly heard and addressed.

A Supreme Latina: Justice Sonia Sotomayor

August 2009 - After much debate, speculation, and controversy, Bronx-born Boricua Sonia Sotomayor was sworn-in as the first Latina United States Supreme Court Justice on Saturday, August 8, 2009. The US Senate confirmed President Barack Obama s nomination of Sotomayor on Thursday, August 6, 2009 by a vote of 68-31. Sotomayor will become the 111th person and only the third woman to sit on the highest court of the land.

"With this historic vote, the Senate has affirmed that Justice Sotomayor has the intellect, the temperament, the history, the integrity and the independence of mind to ably serve on our nation's highest court," said President Obama.

Sonia Sotomayor has been the pride of Puerto Ricans and Latinos everywhere since President Obama nominated her to the US Supreme Court on May 26, 2009. For more than two months the 55 year-old Sotomayor has been the focus of positive and negative news and editorial articles. Conservatives have gone as far as calling her a racist  for a comment she made in a 2001 speech where she said, "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life." She later distanced herself from the comment during the US Senate confirmation hearings in July.

Sotomayor showcased her legal knowledge and interpretation of the law during the nationally televised four-day Senate confirmation hearings. Boricuas from the island attended the hearing in a show of support and solidarity.

"Her journey is my journey," said Lynette Oliver, 56, who runs a women's support group in Puerto Rico. Oliver brought her hankie-size Puerto Rican flag because "I want her to know people from the island are here."

During the hearings, Sotomayor was pressed about the wise Latina  comment and for her views on abortion, gun rights, gay marriage, and assisted suicide. Republicans tried to pinpoint legal weaknesses and depict her as an activist or liberal judge who would let her ethnic background decide future cases. Sotomayor prevailed impressively in the end and showed most Americans that she was more than qualified for a position on the US Supreme Court.

Sonia received scholarships to attend two Ivy League universities: Princeton for her undergraduate degree, and Yale for her law degree. After law school Sonia took a job as an assistant district attorney in New York City, where for five years she prosecuted criminal cases. She then entered private practice and was a long-time board member of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund. In 1991 President George H. W. Bush appointed Sotomayor to the US District Court for the Southern District of New York. In 1997, she was nominated by President Bill Clinton to the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The Republican majority then in the Senate delayed her nomination, but she was eventually confirmed in 1998. One of Sotomayor's best-known decisions was in a case that ended the Major League Baseball strike in 1995. She is a lifelong Yankees fan.

Sotomayor s journey to the nation s Supreme Court is great proof that the American dream is alive and well. She was born on June 25, 1954 and raised in a Bronx housing project by Puerto Rican parents. Her mother, then Celina Baez, was born in Lajas, Puerto Rico and her father Juan Sotomayor, who had a third grade education and did not speak English, was born in Santurce. Sonia was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of eight and her father passed away a year later from heart complications. Celina Sotomayor worked as a telephone operator and then a practical nurse to help raise Sonia and her brother Juan, Junior. Sonia and Juan went off to college and eventually she became a lawyer, than a judge, and Juan became a doctor.

She has accomplished so much in her life,  President Obama said of Sotomayor back in May when he announced her Supreme Court nomination. She has never forgotten where she began, never lost touch with the community that supported her. 

Sotomayor has cousins and extended family in Mayaguez and relatives say she visits the Puerto Rican city once or twice a year. Her younger cousin, Jose Garcia Baez, 37, a lawyer from Mayaguez, has said Sonia never forgets she has family there. Jose was extremely proud seeing his cousin on television back in May standing next to President Obama.

Headlines in island newspapers after Sotomayor s confirmation to the US Supreme Court read: "Bravo Sonia!" and "From the Barrio to the Supreme Court."

Sonia Sotomayor will forever be a part of American history. She has always embraced her Latina identity, being quoted back in 1996 as saying, "Although I am an American, love my country and could achieve its opportunity of succeeding at anything I worked for, I also have a Latina soul and heart, with the magic that carries."

Puerto Rico's Economic Crisis

July 2009 - The current recession has had worldwide affect. However, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico has seen its economy steadily decline prior to the global economic crisis and will likely continue to suffer after others see signs of recovery.

Last May the U.S. Labor Department recorded a 9.4 percent national employment rate, the highest in 25 years. In March, Puerto Rico s unemployment rate jumped to 14.7 percent from 12 percent in January. It was listed as 14.3 percent last April. However the Government Development Bank (GDB) of Puerto Rico, an agency that protects the Commonwealth s fiscal stability, registered Puerto Rico s unemployment rate at 15.8 percent, the highest in 13 years.

The GDB rate may included about 8,000 Puerto Rican government workers who began getting dismissal notices in late May in the first round of layoffs that could reach 30,000 by the end of the year. Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuño said the layoffs where needed to cut $2 billion from next year s budget. The step is one of many planned to restructure the government and bring spending in line with revenue to avoid the island s economy from sinking deeper into recession.

In one of the largest demonstrations in recent Puerto Rican history, tens of thousands marched in front of the Capitol building in San Juan on June 5 to protest Gov. Fortuño s layoff plans. Fortuño, who is a member of the New Progressive Party (PNP) and was elected by a wide margin last November, faces a growing movement against his economic policies. Fortuño says the actions are necessary to decrease the deficit that he says was brought upon by the U.S. economic crisis.

According to Rafael Hernández Colón, a three-term former governor of Puerto Rico and the former long-time president of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP), companies have cut more than 109,000 jobs in the past years. The total number of jobs in Puerto Rico plummeted to 1,127,000, the lowest level since 1996. Hernández Colón says Puerto Rico s labor-participation rate has come down to 43.2%, almost half the 78% labor-participation rate in the U.S., and the lowest in the world. Puerto Rico s gross national product (total market value of all the goods and services produced) has remained in a free fall ever since Puerto Rico s recession started in March 2006.

In 2006 the Puerto Rican government declared bankruptcy, due to a severe budget deficit. The government was shut down from May 1, 2006 to May 14, 2006, leaving about 95,000 public employees temporarily unemployed and closing more than 1,500 public schools.

Puerto Rico has a history of economic problems. According to the GDB, in the 1970's the island s economy, which had grown significantly during the previous two decades, came to a sudden halt. Because of the Arab-Israeli War, the cost of gasoline and electricity spiked drastically and a ripple effect was felt throughout the economy. Thousands of Puerto Ricans lost their jobs and those who had jobs had a difficult time making ends meet as the cost of living rose dramatically. In 1980 many large U.S. corporations, particularly electronic and pharmaceutical firms, were drawn to Puerto Rico thanks largely to tax incentives. The new wave of investments back then helped put the island on the road to recovery.

The Puerto Rican government is much poorer than the poorest U.S. state and its economy has always relied heavily on U.S. federal aid. In 1935, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Puerto Rican Reconstruction Administration, which provided agricultural and infrastructural development. In the late 1940s a series of projects called Operation Bootstrap enticed U.S. companies with cheap labor and tax exemptions to establish factories in Puerto Rico. Manufacturing eventually replaced agriculture as the main industry. Since the Great Depression there has been external investment in the pharmaceutical and technology industries.

This week, a British subsidiary of New Jersey-based Merck & Co. announced a $65 million expansion of its pharmaceutical laboratories in Puerto Rico. The company employs roughly 900 people between its plants in Barceloneta and nearby Arecibo. Puerto Rico has been a pharmaceuticals hub for decades, although the closures of several manufacturing plants in recent years have contributed to the island s recession.

The convention business in Puerto Rico has managed to avoid the economic downturn, according to Thom Connors, the general manager of the Puerto Rico Convention Center in San Juan. The convention center has only been open for three years, but Connors says citywide events have increased significantly for this year and the next two years.

These recent developments may be glimmers of hope, however much more is needed to get Puerto Rico on its financial feet. A large number of people are hurting everywhere. Puerto Rico s recession has reached historic proportions, according to the Puerto Rico Planning Board, which predicts the situation will continue through the summer of 2011.

The number of families applying for state assistance has risen recently on the island. According to Yanitsia Irizarry Méndez, the U.S. commonwealth s secretary for family services, more than 500,000 low-income households in Puerto Rico receive federal assistance in the form of food stamps.

A study conducted by Gaither International in March found that 56 percent of consumers are buying fewer groceries than before. In the 2008 survey, 39 percent of respondents said they had cut back on purchases, up from 25 percent in 2007.

We have seen consumers holding back on buying furniture, cars, clothes they may even stop going to the movies or washing their cars,  said Beatriz Castro, research analyst for Gaither. But, for the first time in decades, Puerto Rico residents are also cutting back on food purchases and reducing their food budgets, not only buying cheaper but also buying less. 

When Will Puerto Ricans Resolve Our Political Status?

June 2009 - Six Puerto Ricans supporting pro-independence were arrested on May 6, 2009 for disrupting a session of the United States Congress. The group sang pro-liberation songs and was carrying Puerto Rican flags and signs that read, 111 years of colonization is a disgrace.  The incident illustrates the long-time unresolved, complex, and controversial issue of Puerto Rico s political status.

The future of Puerto Rico has been in status quo limbo since the 1952 constitution that officially created an unincorporated territory of the U.S. with commonwealth status.

Puerto Rico has been called the oldest colony in the world. It was discovered  during Christopher Columbus  second voyage to the Americas in 1493. It then became a Spanish colony until the Spanish-American War of 1898 when the United States won Puerto Rican control.

Boricuas cannot come together to decide the fate of our homeland. Puerto Rico s political status is an emotionally charged and often culturally sensitive issue for Puerto Ricans on the island and mainland.

Puerto Rico is officially named the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, similar to the Commonwealth of Virginia and Pennsylvania, however Puerto Rican residents do not have a voting representation in the U.S. Congress or vote in national Presidential elections. Most residents do not pay federal income tax but pay federal payroll taxes (Social Security and Medicare) and local income taxes. About 4 million people live on the island and another 4 million former residents and Puerto Rican descendents live on the U.S. mainland. Puerto Rico has international representation in sports and other international events as a nation and Puerto Ricans are considered to be a nationality.

To understand the future of Puerto Rican politics one must revisit the island s past and present political status. The U.S. Foraker Act of 1900 established a Puerto Rican government where the island's inhabitants were considered "citizens of Puerto Rico," not U.S. citizens. The Jones-Shafroth Act of 1917 granted U.S. citizenship to Puerto Rican residents. All persons born in Puerto Rico after 1941 are consider natural-born citizens of the U.S., one of the constitutional requirements to be President of the United States. Puerto Ricans have fully participated in all U.S. wars since 1898, including World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars, and the current Middle Eastern conflicts.

There have been many political parties in Puerto Rican history. A year after the U.S. took control of the island, Dr. José Celso Barbosa founded the Puerto Rican Republican Party which aimed to make Puerto Rico a state. During the last twenty years under Spanish rule most residents were interested in full autonomy from Spain. Luis Muñoz-Rivera organized the Federalist Party, which like the Republican Party favored statehood. The Union Party was later formed and was against colonialism and supported either independence or statehood. In 1912 the Independence Party was formed which lead the way to similar parties including the Nationalist Party founded in 1922. Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos helped grow the party that became an independence movement.

Luis Muñoz Marín, the son of Luis Muñoz-Rivera, founded the present day Popular Democratic Party (PPD) in 1938. The party favored independence for Puerto Rico in its initial stages but social and economic reform were priorities in the party s political agenda. In 1950 the U.S. Congress gave Puerto Ricans the right to organize a constitutional convention. Puerto Ricans supported this measure in a 1951 referendum that gave voters a yes-or-no choice for commonwealth status, defined as a permanent association with a federal union  but no choice for independence or statehood. A second referendum was held to ratify the constitution. Votes expressing opinions on political proposals, known as plebiscites, were held in 1967, 1993, and 1998, and voters chose not to alter the existing commonwealth status over the possible independence of Puerto Rico or statehood. In the 1998 vote independence received only 2.5 percent of the vote while statehood received 46.7 and commonwealth won out with 50.8 percent of the vote.

Although there has been limited support for an independent nation, there have been loud expressions of colonial opposition. Puerto Rican pro-independence extremists tried to assassinate U.S. President Truman at Blair House on November 1, 1950, and on March 1, 1954, they wounded five congressmen in an attack on the U.S. Capitol. Participants of both events wanted to bring attention to Puerto Rican independence similar to the recent non-violent group arrested on May 6, 2009.

Puerto Rico today does not stand unified toward a collective political status. People are torn between several political parties that represent distinct future political scenarios: the status quo (commonwealth), statehood, and independence. The Popular Democratic Party (PPD) wants to maintain or improve the current commonwealth status. The Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) founded in 1946 wants national independence. The New Progressive Party (PNP) founded by Luis A. Ferré in 1968 wants to fully incorporate Puerto Rico as the 51st U.S. state. In 2007 a fourth party, Puerto Ricans for Puerto Rico Party (PPR) was formed and hopes for a peaceful resolution to the status issue by not aligning itself with one particular in order to promote an open public dialogue.

Puerto Ricans must define Puerto Rico s future. Commonwealth status was not intended to be a final political destination. It is time for Boricuas to move from the status quo and find strength to become the 51st U.S. state, or an independent nation. We cannot continue to live a history of second-class citizens.


A Latina of Firsts: U.S. Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez

May 2009 - Nydia Margarita Velázquez, the first Puerto Rican woman to be elected to the United States House of Representatives, was born on March 28, 1953 in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico. Velázquez, who has a twin sister, is one of nine children raised by Benito and Carmen Luisa (Serrano) Velázquez in a small wooden house near Río Limon. Nydia s mother Carmen sold pasteles to sugarcane cutters in the fields of Yabucoa, a small town on the island s southeast coast known as "La Ciudad del Azúcar".  Her father, Benito, cut sugarcane and later became a butcher. He was also a local political leader fighting for the rights of sugarcane workers and their abuse by wealthy farmers. Benito passed on to his daughter a strong social conscience.

During Nydia's childhood dinner conversations often revolved around political issues. Nydia, who was an intelligent young Boricua, was the first in her family to finish high school. She did so at the early age of 16. While in high school Nydia, inspired by her father s spirit to fight for what was right, organized her high school classmates to protest against dangerous and unsanitary conditions at the school. Because of Nydia s initiative the building was closed and eventually the necessary renovations were made.

After high school Nydia attended the University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras. In 1974 she became the first person in her family to graduate from college. After her undergraduate studies, with reluctant support from her parents, Nydia left the island to attend graduate school in New York City. In 1976 she earned a Masters Degree in Political Science from New York University. After receiving her masters she returned home to be a professor at the University of Puerto Rico at Humacao. Her passion for politics and its ability to create social change brought Velázquez back to the mainland in 1981.

Velázquez became an adjunct professor of Puerto Rican studies at Hunter College at the City University of New York. While in New York, Velázquez got a taste of city politics. In 1983 she served as special assistant to former U.S. Representative Edolphus Towns, a Democrat from Brooklyn. As a special assistant, Velázquez was in charge of immigration issues and part of her job included testifying before Congress on immigration legislation. A vacancy on the New York City Council in 1984 lead the way for Velázquez s appointment to the seat, making her the first Latina to ever serve on the city council.

In 1986, Velázquez left New York to accept a position at the Department of Labor and Human Resources of Puerto Rico. In 1989 after Hurricane Hugo devastated the island, Velázquez personally called U.S. General Colin Powell to request, and shortly after received, federal assistance for Puerto Rico.

In 1992, Nydia Velázquez became the first Puerto Rican woman to become a member of Congress. Since then she has held a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and has continued her support of women, the poor, and Latinos. Congresswoman Velázquez has been busy making and deciding laws that benefit her community, including many Latinos in parts of Brooklyn, Queens, and Lower Manhattan. Velázquez s dedication and leadership has and continues to be instrumental in Congress.

In recognition of her national influence in both the political and business sectors, Velázquez was named "Hispanic Business Woman of the Year" in 2003 by Hispanic Business Magazine, becoming the first women to be named as such. In 2007 Velázquez was named Chair of the House Small Business Committee, making her the first Latina to chair a full Congressional committee.

Congresswoman Velázquez has a neutral stance on whether Puerto Rico should become a state or nation or continue as a commonwealth. "My responsibility as a member of Congress is to support whatever pledge Puerto Ricans make to resolve the situation," she told Newsday, a newspaper in New York.

In November 2008 Velázquez was unanimously elected by her peers to lead the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC.) As Chairwoman she is setting an agenda to ensure that Latinos are leading the way "Towards 2030," when the Latino population will make up 25 percent of the U.S. population. The CHC has met with President Barack Obama to discuss the urgent and vital need to reform the nation's broken immigration system.

Congresswoman Velázquez believes the Latino community must be a force for positive change. On the CHC website Velázquez says, We need to forge ahead and seize the opportunities so that by 2030, our young Latinos will be in a better position to lead, compete, and succeed. 

At a December 2008 event Flavio Cumpiano, Executive Director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, recognized Congresswoman Velázquez for her many firsts. Cumpiano also acknowledged her commitment in defending Puerto Ricans rights both in the US mainland but in the island as well. 

As a non-traditional politician, Velázquez does not fit the standard conservative or liberal labels; instead, she likes to call herself progressive. Velázquez has said, I am proud to serve as a representative of the greater community and to stand up for those who do not have a voice. 

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