Kamala Harris marks his first visit to Puerto Rico as vice president, sparking some protests

(Alejandro Granadillo/Associated Press)

Kamala Harris marks his first visit to Puerto Rico as vice president, sparking some protests

Kamala Harris

March 22, 2024

Vice President Kamala Harris visited Puerto Rico on Friday as part of a whirlwind trip to tout the federal aid the U.S. territory has received following deadly hurricanes and attend a Democratic fundraiser.

Her visit comes days after President Biden visited Western states on a campaign tour aimed at Latino voters ahead of the November general election. Although the residents of Puerto Rico cannot vote in the US presidential elections despite being US citizens, more than five million Puerto Ricans live on the US mainland.

Harris was accompanied by Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm and Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Adrianne Todman during the approximately five-hour visit to the island. They were welcomed by Gov. Pedro Pierluisi, a Democrat whose New Progressive Party has long pushed for statehood.

Harris’ first stop was a visit to a new house in the northern municipality of Canvanas, near the capital. It was destroyed after Hurricane Maria hit the island as a powerful Category 4 storm in September 2017, killing nearly 3,000 people in the aftermath.

Along the way, the motorcade passed people holding up their phones as they passed by. Some spectators leaned out of their cars to take photos as they waited for the motorcade to pass, while others stood outside businesses and homes as the motorcade continued. One girl held a sign begging for help to fix her house.

I see that we are making a difference. There is still more work to do, Harris said as she stood on the lawn of the new home, draped with a large Puerto Rican flag. We are ambitious. Yes, we are impatient.

It was Harris’ first visit to Puerto Rico as vice president. She visited the island in 2017 as a U.S. senator after Hurricanes Irma and Maria ravaged the island.

Harris said one of the ongoing challenges Puerto Rico faces is intermittent energy sources, with outages still occurring daily since Maria destroyed the power grid. She noted that the federal government has provided about $3 billion in reliable energy sources, including rooftop solar panels. Last year, the company also shipped mega generators to minimize outages.

[This] is about improving the quality of life and only about the well-being and dignity of every family to meet their basic needs,” she said, adding that hurricane resilience technology is being used. Puerto Rico has taught us some lessons.

Meanwhile, Todman said more than 6,000 homes have been repaired and more than 3,500 new units built since the devastating storm.

There’s no denying that more work needs to be done, she said.

Reconstruction in the years after Maria was slow, partly due to the spending restrictions implemented by the Trump administration at the time.

During Harris’ visit on Friday, Pierluisi thanked her and Biden for their help: they are with us in this reconstruction.

Hours before Harris’ arrival, several dozen protesters gathered in Puerto Rico’s capital to criticize the island’s territorial status and demand a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.

We find her presence disrespectful, said Joselyn Velzquez, a protest spokesperson, as a group around her waved Palestinian flags.

Nearby, a protester stood on an American flag, while others gathered more American flags and set them on fire.

She is not welcome here, one protester said.

After visiting the Canvanas home, Harris stopped at a community center in San Juan, where a handful of protesters gathered and shouted: Yankee, go home! as supporters chanted: USA! UNITED STATES! One protester held a sign saying Kamala Harris was a criminal.

Harris later spoke at a campaign reception before returning to the US mainland on Friday evening.

She gathered a few dozen attendees at a luxury apartment complex owned by developer Nicholas Prouty, who was hosting the event. Harris thanked him and Pierluisi, noting that the governor is not missing the opportunity to get a list of what Puerto Rico needs. Bizarre respect, she said.

As for the general election, Harris said, “We are going to win,” adding that everything is at stake.

What we’re looking at is fundamentally an election where we all have a question to answer, Harris said. ‘What kind of country and world do we want to live in?

Harris then spoke about what she sees as Republicans’ outright attacks on fundamental rights, adding: But the point of being a role model is that people watch what you do to see if it matches what you say.

She described Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, as someone who has expressed admiration for dictators and “someone who, speaking of Puerto Rico, has used words like ‘dirty’ and ‘poor’ and ‘corrupt.’


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