With just weeks to go before a presidential election that could change the future of the country — and the world — the Biden-Harris campaign has announced a plan for rebuilding Puerto Rico, the first time a candidate has addressed the needs of the island in a presidential race.
According to the plan published on the campaign’s official website, Joe Biden recognizes the particular circumstances of the more than 3 million American citizens who also identify themselves as Puerto Ricans. After several natural disasters, a domestic political crisis, and the negligence of the Donald Trump administration in offering solutions, the former vice president’s campaign goes straight to the point by assuring that it is crucial to address the issue of the island’s political status.
“As President, Biden will work with representatives who support each of the status options in Puerto Rico to engage in a fair and binding process to determine their own status,” the plan explains. “As President, Biden will create a federal working group for Puerto Rico which will report directly to the President to make sure Puerto Rico has the resources and technical assistance it needs not only to recover but also to prosper.”
The campaign’s proposed solutions include federal disaster reconstruction funding, ensuring transparency and accountability for those funds, the forgiveness of disaster relief loans, rebuilding Puerto Rico’s infrastructure, invigorating leading industries, equal access to nutrition assistance for Puerto Rican families, among others.
Although it all sounds ideal on paper, for many, it is again a political strategy at a crucial time in the presidential race, where Trump and Biden are vying for the support of the Hispanic community in the country.
Last week, an NBC News and Marist poll found that President Donald Trump continues to lead among Latino voters by four percentage points, 50-46, in a terrifying flashback to the 2016 election.
The release of Biden’s plan coincided with his visit to the state of Florida, whose Latino voters who identify themselves as Puerto Ricans support the vice president by 61%, compared to 28% who support Trump, according to an August poll by democratic pollster EquisLabs.
“I think he has a lot of work to do with folks in Florida,” said Julio Lopez Varona, co-director of community dignity campaigns for the progressive Center for Popular Democracy, adding that the new recovery plan is “a step in the right direction.
“Florida has 1 million Puerto Ricans, and these Puerto Ricans have more of a bootstrap-minded mentality and tend to be a little more conservative. How does he improve people’s lives in Kissimmee? And I think there has to be a case made for Puerto Ricans who want to come back and what can be done about that,” he told Buzzfeed.
On the other hand, some are more skeptical of Biden’s plan for Puerto Rico.
In a Twitter thread, journalist Julio Ricardo Varela, founder of Latino Rebels and one of the most influential Puerto Rican voices in media, highlighted the lack of “clear positions on key things that could move the needle with Puerto Rican voters in FL and PA.”
Varela referred to the status of the island, the recognition of what he called “the debacle of the vote” of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA,) and the impact of the Jones Act, a federal law that regulates maritime commerce in the United States, in the island.
“The policy reads like a PPD Lite version based on consultants from PR who have access to the candidates. For something that needs to excite Boricuas 50 days from now, not much is there,” Varela added.