WASHINGTON, DC – Yesterday, on the six-month anniversary of Hurricane Maria, members of the Power 4 Puerto Rico coalition organized a demonstration in front of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) headquarters to demand accountability and oversight following the agency’s mismanagement of recovery relief. Power 4 Puerto Rico also launched a video documenting FEMA’s failure in Puerto Rico, which played continuously on a 10 x 8 foot screen in front of the FEMA building throughout the day.
The rally was led by coalition members Hispanic Federation (HF) and Center for Popular Democracy (CPD) and included a march from FEMA to Congress as well as a series of Hill meetings with Congressional leaders. In addition to activists and victims of Hurricane Maria, members of Congress spoke at the rally, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Reps. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY- 7), Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL-4), Adriano Espaillat (D-NY-13), Darren Soto (D-FL-9) and José E. Serrano (D-NY-15).
Daiza Aponte, displaced Puerto Rican mother: “I currently live in New York because of my daughters, for their medical care, because they developed respiratory conditions after Hurricane Maria. I am here by myself in New York. FEMA, listen and show yourselves. There are thousands of us who have been displaced–children with disabilities, senior citizens, and single mothers like myself–who need your help.”
Isabel Lopes, Microenterprise Incubator Bieke, Inc, Vieques Island: “We could be without electric power in Vieques for two years, because of delays in the wiring necessary to restore power. We are currently surviving with generators. We are here to ask Congress to help us and support Puerto Rico. We are U.S. citizens just like everyone else in this country, and we deserve to be treated as such.”
Anthony Ramos, actor, Hamilton: An American Musical: “Puerto Ricans are Americans. We are part of America. Seeing my people struggling that way, I was hurt and also motivated. I’m ready to do everything I can to help Puerto Rico, and I pray to God that America is ready to do whatever they can to help their fellow Americans. We are all one people.”
Julio López, Director of Puerto Rico Diaspora Campaigns at the Center for Popular Democracy: "Puerto Ricans are still going hungry and don't have power, water, shelter or medicine. The fact that families on the island and the mainland don’t have the aid required to recover should be a source of shame for the Trump administration and every Member of Congress. Puerto Rican families mobilized on Tuesday to send a message: we need to solve this humanitarian crisis, and we need to solve it now.”
Laura M. Esquivel, director of national advocacy, Hispanic Federation: “We cannot and we will not sit by while the people of Puerto Rico continue to suffer by being treated differently from other US citizens. Congress should start facing the fact that these are not just disaster victims, but new constituents who will have the right, as all US citizens who live on the mainland do, to vote for them in the next election.”
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY): “We say to FEMA: do not leave until every family has what they need to survive, to provide, and to be happy. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness apply to all American citizens. Every single one. We will not back down, and we will not give up.”
Congressman José Serrano (D-NY-15): “We will never give up. My colleagues and I in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus will continue our fight in Congress. We need everyone to continue the fight in front of the TV cameras. Be seen, be heard, and we will win.”
Congressman Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL-04): “Puerto Rico is just a metaphor for everything that is wrong with the Trump Administration. The way they treat our transgender community in the military is the way they treat Puerto Rico. The way they treat Muslims by trying to ban them is the way they treat Puerto Rico. The way they treat our Dreamers and our immigrants is the way they treat Puerto Rico. Our goal is to bring sensibility, honesty, transparency, decency and justice to our federal government once again.”
Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez (D-NY-7): “FEMA Administrator Brock Long, our message here today is: shame. Shame on the federal government for failing fellow citizens in Puerto Rico. Shame on the President of the United States for spending time posting tweets rather than assisting the people of Puerto Rico. Mr. President, we are not giving up on the people of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.”
Congressman Adriano Espaillat (D-NY-13): “We are here because FEMA has failed the people of Puerto Rico. More than 60 percent of applications from Puerto Rico for help rebuilding homes have been rejected by FEMA because they allege the applicants don’t have verifiable documents to establish ownership of their homes. That is why we have introduced a law that will permit individuals to submit an affidavit, like we did after Hurricane Katrina, so that help can arrive immediately.”
Congressman Darren Soto (D-FL-09): “President Trump wake up. Congress wake up. It’s time that we fund this effort the way it deserves. Like it did in Texas, like it did in Florida, like it did in California. These are American citizens who fight for our country, who pledge allegiance to our flag, and who do everything they need to to be American. It’s time for Congress to recognize that.”
The action at FEMA coincided with Power 4 Puerto Rico’s introduction of a roadmap for recovery that proposes an alternative to the expanded role of the Financial Oversight and Management Board (FOMB) in the hurricane recovery process. The coalition’s proposal puts communities first by supporting the formation of a separate entity led by disaster management experts with strong community-led input and oversight.
Power 4 Puerto Rico is a nationwide coalition of organizations, leaders, and advocates from across the nation calling on Congress and the Administration to adopt an ambitious, new agenda that will put Puerto Rico’s economy on the road to future growth and prosperity. The coalition includes Hispanic Federation, Vamos 4 Puerto Rico, Hedge Clippers, Center for Popular Democracy, 32BJ SEIU, Make the Road (New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey), Hispanic National Bar Association, American Federation of Teachers, UnidosUS, LCLAA, BoricuActívate, and many more.