UNITY MARCH FOR PUERTO RICO
The mission of Unity March for Puerto Rico is to stand in solidarity – ONE people - ONE voice- against unjust laws that have been systematically oppressive and crippling to the people of Puerto Rico and the socio-economic growth and sustainability of the island. We are asking that our leaders ACT NOW and make the necessary legislative changes to uplift the people of Puerto Rico and hearten, support and sustain the economic growth of the island.
Unity March for Puerto Rico is asking for legislative reforms in support of: permanently exempting Puerto Rico from the Jones Act; the cancellation of Puerto Rico’s debt; and rebuilding Puerto Rico.
The Unity March for Puerto Rico is the largest, most visible element in achieving this mission. To carry on the momentum of the march, we have established Project Puerto Rico, our goal is to create a council that will serve and lead in efforts of legislative reform and serve as the liaisons between the people of Puerto Rico and the administration and its leadership to ensure viable but just legislative changes that will serve the people of Puerto Rico.
In the summer of 2017, Maria and Irma, two Category 5 Hurricanes, put La Isla del Encanto before the eyes of the world. However, as the globe bared witness to the insufferable conditions of this natural disaster, it also witnessed the effects of a century-old manmade catastrophe which contributed to insufferable conditions for the people and the island of our Puerto Rico. We must, ACT NOW.
OUR GUIDING PRINCIPLE
We are U.S. citizens. We deserve the same treatment as our fellow Americans. We, Puerto Ricans, have been U.S. citizens since 1917. Just like our fellow citizens throughout the fifty states and other U.S. territories, we have contributed to this country and deserve the same respect and support. Throughout the past century, we have paid taxes, voted in presidential primaries, sent non-voting representatives to Washington D.C., and have served in the military, sacrificing our lives for the freedom of this country. As human beings, we deserve to be treated with dignity. As Americans, we are entitled to the same federal response expected when natural disasters affect other parts of the United States. The federal government’s inadequate response and neglect continues to cause further fatalities and damage to the island of Puerto Rico. In the richest, most powerful country in the world, it is inexcusable that millions of its citizens must languish without access to food, clean water, stable communication, electricity, and proper medical care. The federal government’s response to the destruction of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico to that of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in the mainland United States, is substantially different, morally inappropriate and unacceptable. We demand that the people of Puerto Rico- Americans citizens- be treated rightfully.
THE JONES ACT
On March 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Jones-Shafroth Act. This law gave Puerto Ricans U.S. citizenship. The Jones Act separated the Executive, Judicial, and Legislative branches of Puerto Rican government, provided civil rights to the individual, and created a locally elected bicameral legislature. The two houses were a Senate consisting of 19 members and a 39-member House of Representatives. However, the Governor and the President of the United States had the power to veto any law passed by the legislature. Also, the United States Congress had the power to stop any action taken by the legislature in Puerto Rico. The U.S. maintained control over fiscal and economic matters and exercised authority over mail services, immigration, defense and other basic governmental matters- Library of Congress Hispanic Division
Eliminate the Jones Act
The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, also known as the Jones Act, is an archaic piece of legislation regulating maritime law. A seemingly innocuous and originally patriotic bill, the law requires that anything shipped between U.S. ports be carried by U.S. ships (i.e., ships built in the U.S., owned by U.S. citizens, and crewed by U.S. citizens and permanent residents). Essentially, "Buy American, drive American," but for ships transporting anything between American seaports. Today, the U.S. produces about 1% of the world’s ships.
Under this law, any non-American ship that wants to deliver physical aid like food, building materials, and emergency supplies to the Puerto Rican people can either a) pay a tax punishment, or b) dock in Jacksonville, Florida, and pass its cargo to an American ship for transport, which, again, takes additional time and lots of money. These costs then trickle down to the Puerto Rican people in the form of higher prices for crops, first aid kits, lumber, and more.
That passing along of costs to the Puerto Rican consumer takes a toll. Cost of living on the island is 13% higher than in 325 urban areas across the U.S. And those higher prices are not easy for Puerto Ricans to pay: per capita income on the island is $18,000, which is about half that of Mississippi, the poorest of the fifty states. The island’s economy has lost billions of dollars over the last two decades alone because of the Jones Act. In fact, without the Act, Puerto Rico’s public debt crisis might not exist.
We demand that Congress permanently suspend the outdated, burdensome Jones Act. Though the Trump Administration temporarily halted enforcement of the law, Puerto Rico’s recovery will take months, if not years. A temporary fix will not do. Full and permanent suspension of the act for Puerto Rico is necessary.
Cancellation of Puerto Rico’s Debt
$73 Billion dollars in debt is the storm that hit the island of Puerto Rico before Hurricane Maria was even a point of discussion. Both caused utter destruction on the island; however, one was a natural disaster, while the other a man-made catastrophe.
For the past century, The Jones Act has had a crippling effect on the socio-economic growth and sustainability of the island. Puerto Rico is a captive market of the U.S. with the territory being the fifth largest market for U.S. products on a global scale. Although Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States, prices of U.S. goods are an estimated 20% higher than they are in the mainland. The inflation of cost is directly related to the Cabotage Law, formally known as The Jones Act.
According to Nelson Denis in his book The War on Puerto Ricans, the estimated yearly consumer spending of U.S. products in Puerto Rico is $35 billion. Considering the 20% excess amount that Puerto Rico pays for U.S. goods and the 85% of goods that Puerto Rico imports from the U.S., the island pays nearly $6 billion dollars annually in excess profits to U.S. corporations. This is all because of The Jones Act and this number exceeds the federal benefits that the U.S. invests into Puerto Rico, which falls just under $5 billion. Thus, the debt cancellation at the very least should be considered a retroactive economic relief for the unjust ruling of the act in the past century.
Right now, the priority must be to rebuild Puerto Rico's basic infrastructure, including bridges, roads, and the power grid. Debt forgiveness is an integral part of the restoration process. Unity March for Puerto Rico stands for justice, and in this case, justice means forgiving a debt that is the result of laws, such as the Jones Act, that have punished the island and stifled its economic well-being for almost a century. This man-made catastrophe made Puerto Rico vulnerable to the natural disaster that almost obliterated our island. We do not ask, we demand, not for debt relief, but for justice to be served.
Rebuilding Puerto Rico
We must rebuild a stronger, safer, more sustainable infrastructure. Despite the tragedy of Hurricane Maria, the aftermath provides us with an opportunity to unleash innovation and creative problem-solving to improve the overall quality of life in Puerto Rico.
A primary example of forward-thinking solutions focuses on restoring power to the grid using renewable resources like solar, wind, and ocean wave energy. The continued threat of climate change is likely to make future storms like Maria more frequent and intense. By rebuilding the energy infrastructure in Puerto Rico with renewable, low- to zero-emission sources, we can ensure more durable and reliable power systems, while also placing Puerto Rico at the forefront of the climate fight. Likewise, roads, institutions, and financial instruments can be created to heal the economy that has been crippled by unfair laws.
THE PEOPLE’S DEMAND
We must ensure that resources are delivered where they are needed most. In the wake of disasters, the generosity of governments, businesses, non-profits, and everyday people around the world brings hope to those affected. However, too often, there is little accountability to ensure that goods and funds actually reach their intended targets. Following the destruction of Hurricane Maria, there were several accounts of distribution issues, theft, and corruption, leaving some of the most vulnerable victims of the hurricane without any help. In Puerto Rico, the government and the organizations that are the sources of assistance must implement stringent monitoring and reporting mechanisms to guarantee that their resources are delivered to the people and communities for whom they are meant.
What We've Achieved to Take Action
- Defined our Mission Statement.
- Established a Unity March Committee.
- Secured logistical processes.
- Engaged the national Puerto Rican community to unify as one voice.
- Engaged stateside and national leaders
- Created a portal for information sharing.
- Established relationships with over 20 States
- Identified State Chapter Leaders.
- Created a social media presence.
- Established a platform for education and raising awareness about the mission
- Created a March Registry
- Began fundraising efforts