Tag Archives: puerto rico

Hurricane Maria has crushed Puerto Rican farmers.

The devastation wiped out 80 percent of Puerto Rico’s agricultural production, according to Puerto Rico’s agriculture secretary, Carlos Flores Ortega. The New York Times visited farmer José A. Rivera after the winds flattened his plantain, yam, and pepper fields.

“There will be no food in Puerto Rico,” Rivera, told the Times. “There is no more agriculture in Puerto Rico. And there won’t be any for a year or longer.”

Food prices will surely rise on the island, although the loss of crops will not necessarily mean people will starve. Puerto Rico imports about 85 percent of its food. Even so, the storm damaged the infrastructure used to distribute imported food, like ports, roads, and stores.

On CNN, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló pleaded for aid from Congress. “We need to prevent a humanitarian crisis occurring in America,” he said. FEMA and the Coast Guard are working in the territory.

Flores, the agriculture secretary, appeared to be looking for a silver lining. This may be a chance to rebuild the island’s agriculture so that it is more efficient and sustainable, he told the Times.

As climate change accelerates, we can expect the rate of disasters like this to accelerate as well.

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Hurricane Maria has crushed Puerto Rican farmers.

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Hurricane Irma flattens homes and causes power outages in the Caribbean.

One would think that the demise of ticks and tapeworms would be cause for celebration (especially if your introduction to parasites was, as in my case, an encounter with zombie snails at a mercilessly young age).

But hold the party, say researchers. After studying 457 species of parasites in the Smithsonian Museum’s collection, mapping their global distribution, and applying a range of climate models and future scenarios, scientists predict that at least 5 to 10 percent of those critters would be extinct by 2070 due to climate change–induced habitat loss.

This extinction won’t do any favors to wildlife or humans. If a mass die-off were to occur, surviving parasites would likely invade new areas unpredictably — and that could greatly damage ecosystems. One researcher says parasites facilitate up to 80 percent of the food-web links in ecosystems, thus helping to sustain life (even if they’re also sucking it away).

What could save the parasites and our ecosystems? Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: “Reduce carbon emissions.”

If emissions go unchecked, parasites could lose 37 percent of their habitats. If we cut carbon quickly, they’d reduce by only 20 percent — meaning the terrifying (but helpful!) parasites creating zombie snails will stay where they are.

More here – 

Hurricane Irma flattens homes and causes power outages in the Caribbean.

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As far as these states are concerned, the Paris climate agreement is still on.

To compensate, they want to build more natural gas-powered plants and dams. (Well, the first part sounded like a solid plan.)

According to Reuters, by 2030, the country’s current leadership wants coal and nuclear to contribute about 22 percent each to South Korea’s energy mix. Currently, coal and nuclear are responsible for 40 percent and 30 percent, respectively, of the nation’s electricity.

The plan also calls for burning more natural gas — increasing its share from 18 percent to 27 percent of the electricity pie. But South Korea will also rely more on renewables, mainly hydro — upping it from 5 percent of the country’s power to 20 percent.

If they follow through, they’d be walking in America’s footprints. Here, fracking sank the fortunes of nuclear and coal — though President Trump’s entire environmental platform seems to be geared to out-of-work coal miners.

Ironically, South Korea is right now the fourth biggest coal importer and one of the top 3 importers of U.S. coal. So even if Trump breathes new life into that industry, there could be one fewer buyer for its wares.

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As far as these states are concerned, the Paris climate agreement is still on.

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Puerto Rico Files for Bankruptcy the Day After Trump Admin Brags About Blocking Funds

Mother Jones

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After a day of sometimes violent demonstrations in San Juan protesting austerity measures and government handling of the debt crisis, Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rosselló, announced Wednesday morning that he would move the island’s crushing debts into the bankruptcy-like process created under federal legislation to deal with the crisis. Unlike public entities and cities in the states, Puerto Rico, essentially a colony of the US, is prohibited from filing for bankruptcy under federal law. This legislation created a different option that allows a federal court to restructure more than $70 billion—the largest such restructuring in the history of the US municipal bond market.

The announcement comes after a flurry of lawsuits filed against the island’s government by creditors Tuesday morning, the first to land after local officials’ proposal for partial repayment of the debt was rejected by lenders last weekend. Under legislation passed last summer, known as the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA), the island had until May 1 to negotiate a plan to address the debts while also providing basic services for the island’s 3.5 million residents. The deal from the local government last Friday offered as much as 77 cents on the dollar to some lenders while offering 58 cents on the dollar to others, according to Bloomberg, but the lenders called the deal unworkable. Hedge funds such as Aurelius Capital Management and Monarch Alternative Captial, and Ambac Financial Group, Inc., an insurer that owned Puerto Rican bonds, had been prevented from filing suit until May 1 under PROMESA.

The suits came a day after thousands took the streets in a national strike throughout Puerto Rico protesting cuts proposed by the board that was created under PROMESA, which increased water rates, while cutting funds to schools, public-sector jobs and pensions, health care spending, and the island’s university system totaling roughly $450 million over three years. After a day of largely peaceful protests, police used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse some protesters, according to local reports, and at least 17 people were arrested. Students and other protesters have demanded an independent audit of the debt, among other things, as the island grapples with the issue.

“As time goes by and austerity measures start to strike on more and more people, people are going to stand up and respond to what is the government violence against the people who are left in very difficult conditions,” Mariana Nogales Molinelli, an attorney in Puerto Rico and former candidate for the island’s non-voting representative to the US Congress, tells Mother Jones.

Nogales Molinelli says that the cuts by both the government and the control board to public sector workers and collective bargaining rights have made a lot of people angry—and not just university students. On April 18, the Puerto Rican Senate approved a bill that eliminated the publicly-funded audit commission responsible for insuring the debts were issued lawfully and were not in violation of island’s constitution. Some of the protesters at the capital were retired police, according to Joel Cintrón Arbasetti, a journalist with the Center for Investigative Reporting in Puerto Rico. Nogales thinks more police will join the protests.

“My guess is that part of the police force will be joining the people because they are going to be affected also,” Nogales Molinelli says. “Their kids’ schools will be closed, and they will not have enough medical insurance. The situation could explode because of all the austerity measures and they are going to have to work under much more pressure and in conditions that are going to be very difficult for them.”

Nogales says there have also been reports of some violent responses by police towards protesters and those perceived to be organizing protests. During a protest at the capital, she saw a police officer take a protester’s sign and hit her over the head with it. The Puerto Rico Police Department is currently under a consent decree with the US Department of Justice in an effort to become more professional and accountable after years of documented corruption and violence against the population.

Back on the mainland, Puerto Rico has been a political football for Trump and Congress during negotiations for a federal spending bill, with the president implying that Puerto Ricans, who have been US citizens for 100 years, were not.

When the budget deal was announced Monday morning, Democrats managed to get “an emergency injection of $295 million” to help shore up the island’s Medicaid program through the end of the year, according to Reuters. On Tuesday, Office of Budget and Management Director Mick Mulvaney bragged during a White House Press briefing that Republicans and the president had actually prevented any money from going to Puerto Rico, and that the $295 million had come from funds not previously allocated.

“You had the Democrats crying out that they got $295 million for Puerto Rico,” Mulvaney told reporters, “Did not cost the taxpayer a penny. They wanted new money, they wanted a bailout. We wouldn’t give it to them.”

It’s unclear how the restructuring will proceed as the provision in PROMESA has never been used, but the New York Times reports that Chief Justice John Roberts of the US Supreme Court will now appoint a bankruptcy judge to handle the case.

More here – 

Puerto Rico Files for Bankruptcy the Day After Trump Admin Brags About Blocking Funds

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Britain just went a whole day without burning any coal for electricity.

Ten years ago, Mark Magaña was a D.C. lobbyist, when the Bipartisan Policy Center hired him to rally Latino support for an ill-fated bill to limit corporate carbon emissions. As Magaña soon found, there was no network to tap. Even within green groups in Washington, most Latino environmentalists didn’t know each other.

“The more I got into it, the more I saw the individuals in D.C. were very isolated,” Magaña says. “If I went to a green reception, maybe I’d be the only Latino in the room. Maybe there’d be one other, but I wouldn’t know them.”

In response, Magaña founded GreenLatinos, a national network of Latino environmental advocates that connects grassroots efforts with power and money in Washington. So far, the group has convinced the Environmental Protection Agency to close several contaminating landfills in Puerto Rico and brought attention to the Standing Rock pipeline protests in the Spanish-language media.

Diversity is the future of the environmental movement, Magaña says. “Now it’s investment time, investing in the communities,” he says. “They will be the environmentalists of the future.”


Meet all the fixers on this year’s Grist 50.

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Britain just went a whole day without burning any coal for electricity.

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35 Years in Prison. 12 Years in Solitary. Now This Famed Puerto Rican Nationalist Will Be Set Free.

Mother Jones

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President Barack Obama on Tuesday commuted the remaining 20 years of the 55-year sentence Oscar López Rivera was serving after his 1981 conviction for “seditious conspiracy.” The 74-year-old Puerto Rican nationalist was accused of being affiliated with the FALN, a group fighting for the independence of Puerto Rico that was responsible for a series of bombings in the 1970s and 1980s.

In May 2014, Mother Jones‘ Shane Bauer wrote about López Rivera’s case:

In 1981, López was charged with armed robbery, possession of an unregistered firearm, and interstate transportation of a stolen vehicle, allegedly as part of a larger plot to challenge the United States’ role in Puerto Rico by force. The court determined that he was connected to the FALN. At his trial, one man testified that López taught him bomb-making skills.

In all, the FALN claimed responsibility for more than 120 bombings across the US between 1974 and 1983, leading to the death of six and the injury of dozens. But the basis for López’s conviction was specifically the more than two-dozen bombings claimed by the organization in the Chicago area, none of which resulted in injuries. A 1980 Chicago Tribune editorial observed that the bombs were “placed and timed as to damage property rather than persons” and that the FALN was “out to call attention to their cause rather than to shed blood.”

At least 16 other Puerto Rican nationalists were charged with seditious conspiracy and related offenses in the early 1980s. None were ultimately found to have connections to actual attacks, yet at the sentencing hearing, the judge said he regretted not being able to issue the death penalty. He handed out sentences up to 90 years, with López Rivera receiving 55 years. By contrast, the average sentence for homicide in 1992 (the closest year for which data is available) was less than 12.5 years.

During his 33 years in prison, López Rivera has served 12 years in solitary confinement in some of the highest security prisons in the country. His lawyer, Jan Susler, says he hasn’t been allowed to do an in-person media interview for 15 years. Nonmedia visits are restricted as well, she says. A delegation that included a New York senator, a New York assemblyman, and New York City Council members were denied authorization to visit him in prison.

Former President Bill Clinton offered López Rivera clemency in 1999 “against the protests of the FBI, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the US attorney’s office, and even his wife,” Bauer wrote. Instead of leaving prison, López Rivera chose to remain incarcerated until his codefendant, Carlos Alberto Torres, was released. (Torres was granted parole in 2010.) López Rivera, who is now 74, will be released from a federal prison on May 17.

He was one of 209 people who had their sentences commuted by Obama just three days before Obama leaves office. Perhaps the highest-profile case was Chelsea Manning, the former Army private accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of US government files to WikiLeaks in 2010. Obama also pardoned 64 people on Tuesday.

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35 Years in Prison. 12 Years in Solitary. Now This Famed Puerto Rican Nationalist Will Be Set Free.

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These People Now Hold Puerto Rico’s Purse Strings

Mother Jones

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President Barack Obama announced the appointment on Tuesday of seven people to the financial review board established by Congress to control Puerto Rico’s finances as the island attempts to manage $70 billion in outstanding debt. The board, made up of three Democrats and four Republicans, will not only approve any budgets created by the island’s politicians, but also attempt to negotiate with the island’s nearly 20 creditors.

The board’s Republican members are Andrew Biggs, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute; Carlos Garcia, former president of Puerto Rico’s Government Development Bank; David Skeel, a University of Pennsylvania law professor; and Jose Carrión, an insurance broker. The Democrats are Arthur Gonzalez, a senior fellow at the New York University School of law and a former US bankruptcy judge; Jose Ramon González, president of the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York; and Ana Matosantos, California’s budget director from 2009 to 2013, according to Bloomberg.

Obama selected the names from a list presented by Republican and Democratic leaders of Congress. It’s unclear when the board will begin its work.

“With a broad range of skills and experiences, these officials have the breadth and depth of knowledge that is needed to tackle this complex challenge and put the future of the Puerto Rican people first,” Obama said in a statement released with the names. “In order to be successful, the Financial Oversight and Management Board will need to establish an open process for working with the people and Government of Puerto Rico, and the members will have to work collaboratively to build consensus for their decisions.”

The announcement of the board members came the same day hundreds of protesters blocked a street in front of a San Juan hotel, which was hosting a Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce conference for business executives and the financial industry about how to “be a part of Puerto Rico’s recovery” under the new financial control board. At least one person was arrested.

Congress created the board in the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA), a measure passed in late June to stave off more than a dozen separate lawsuits against the island’s government and public entities that had taken out billions of dollars in debt over the years to fund operations. Puerto Rico’s colonial status prevented its government from restructuring debt using US bankruptcy courts, and multiple efforts by the Puerto Rican government to negotiate with its lenders failed. Earlier this week, the Centro de Periodismo Investigativo (the Center for Investigative Journalism) in San Juan released a report listing 275 hedge funds and other financial groups that own Puerto Rican debt. The news organization only received the records after battling the government of Puerto Rico for more than a year.

Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), an opponent of an independent review board, issued a statement calling for the board to conduct as much of its work in public as possible. Referring to the board as the “federal Junta“—a reference to a group put in control after a seizure of power—Gutiérrez called for all votes, meetings, and statements to be made public, in Spanish and English, so Puerto Ricans can keep tabs on their actions.

“We expect nothing less in a democracy and last I checked, Puerto Rico is a colony, but still a democracy of U.S. citizens who deserve respect and the trust of this appointed body,” he wrote in his statement. “This is especially important because the body skews towards appointees from financial institutions and those inclined to be sympathetic to bond-holders at the expense of the Puerto Rican people…My message is simple, if you join the Junta, promise to respect the Puerto Rican people, otherwise you are no better than an occupying force.”

Continued – 

These People Now Hold Puerto Rico’s Purse Strings

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Deadline Looming, Senate Rescues Puerto Rico From Default

Mother Jones

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Two days before Puerto Rico was set to default on $2 billion in debt payments, the Senate staved off calamity by advancing a measure Wednesday that will allow the island to restructure its debts.

The Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act, known as PROMESA, now heads to President Barack Obama for his signature. It will create an independent financial oversight board that will oversee the island’s budgets and allow the Puerto Rican government to restructure its nearly $70 billion in debts with 18 different creditors. A key provision would halt all pending litigation related to the debt—there are currently 14 different lawsuits—and allow for continued funding of essential public health and safety services for the island’s 3.5 million residents.

The measure was tacked on to a bill in the Senate that will reauthorize the National Sea Grant Program through fiscal year 2021.

“Obviously, the bill isn’t perfect,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said after its passage, according to the Washington Post. “But here’s why we should support it: It won’t cost taxpayers a dime; it prevents a bailout; and it offers Puerto Rico the best chance to return to financial stability and economic growth over the long term so we can help prevent another financial crisis like this in the future.”

On Monday, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew sent a letter to McConnell arguing that failure to pass the bill by July 1 could lead to Puerto Rico defaulting on a $2 billion debt and interest payment and a possible court order forcing the island’s government to pay creditors before providing essential services for its people. The result could have been that Puerto Rico would have stopped paying police officers and firefighters, shut down public transit, and even closed medical facilities.

The next day, Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla wrote an op-ed for CNBC and argued that there was no choice but to pass this bill. He noted that the island’s government has already cut millions in spending, eliminated thousands of public jobs, raised taxes, and withheld tax returns, and is currently $2 billion behind in payments to suppliers (in addition to the $2 billion debt payment due July 1).

“The emergency measures we have taken are unsustainable, harm our economy, reduce revenues and diminish our capacity to repay our debts,” he wrote. “Puerto Rico cannot endure any more austerity.”

The governor’s op-ed echoed many Democrats, Puerto Ricans, and observers and said the independent financial review board—which has broad powers over the island’s budget decisions and is not accountable to any local elected leaders—”unnecessarily undercuts the democratic institution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.” Democracy Now’s Juan González noted Wednesday that a majority of Puerto Ricans oppose the bill and even the concept of an independent review board.

On Tuesday, as the Senate debated the bill, Democratic presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders railed against the bill, urging his colleagues not to support it, according to the Washington Post. Sanders has opposed the bill since it was proposed in the House.

“Is this legislation smacking of the worst form of colonialism, in the sense that it takes away all of the important democratic rights of the American citizens of Puerto Rico?” he asked Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who was speaking against the bill at the time. “That basically, four Republicans who likely believe in strong austerity programs will essentially be running that island for the indefinite future?”

Here’s how the financial review board works: The president will appoint the seven-member board by September 1, choosing the members from a list of names submitted by congressional leadership. â&#128;&#139;A nominee must have a background in finance, municipal bond markets, management, law, or government operations and cannot have a primary residence or business interest on the island. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) will nominate three members; McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and Obama will each nominate one. The governor of Puerto Rico, or his designee, will have a non-voting spot on the board.

The cash-strapped Puerto Rican government is responsible for coming up with the initial $2 million to establish the board—which will operate without any local oversight— and then will also be responsible figuring out its budget and permanently funding it to cover salaries for an executive director, other staff members, and overhead. The board will continue to be in charge of Puerto Rico’s financial existence until the island’s government has “adequate” access to short-term and long-term credit markets at reasonable interest rates and develops and maintains four consecutive years of on-target, board-determined budgets.

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Deadline Looming, Senate Rescues Puerto Rico From Default

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Hillary Clinton Wins the Puerto Rico Democratic Primary

Mother Jones

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With two days to go before Hillary Clinton likely secures the 2,383 delegates she needs to win the Democratic presidential nomination, voters in Puerto Rico handed Clinton a victory on Sunday. When the race was called by the major networks, Clinton was winning 64 percent of the vote to Sanders’ 34 percent, and a likely majority of the territory’s 60 pledged delegates.

On Tuesday, Democratic voters will go to the polls in six states, including delegate-rich California and New Jersey. Barring overwhelming victories for Sanders, the contests will ensure that Clinton wins both a majority of pledged delegates and a majority of overall delegates, assuming her support does not erode significantly among party-insider superdelegates.

But even if its vote won’t change the outcome of the race, Puerto Rico was in the relatively rare position of playing more than a bit role in this year’s election because of its colossal debt crisis. Candidates from both parties weighed in on whether the US government should allow the island to restructure debts under US bankruptcy laws. Puerto Rico’s government, which owes more than $72 billion, has already defaulted three times on various debt payments.

Clinton and Sanders have different opinions on legislation that would help Puerto Rico restructure its debt but would also create a financial review board with oversight of the island’s finances, harking back to the island’s colonial roots. Clinton said she had “serious concerns” about the review board but urged swift passage. Sanders, on the other hand, said the bill would prioritize creditors over Puerto Rico’s residents and encouraged other Democrats not to support it.

Puerto Ricans are American citizens who can vote in primaries but not in the general election while they live on the island. However, if they move to the mainland United States, they can vote in the general election. That’s made Puerto Ricans a key voting bloc in places like Florida and New York and forced the presidential candidates to devote more attention than usual to the island and its struggles.

On Saturday, the US Virgin Islands also held its Democratic caucuses, and Hillary Clinton easily won the 12 delegates that were at stake.

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Hillary Clinton Wins the Puerto Rico Democratic Primary

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Puerto Rico Puts Rubio in a Political Pickle

Mother Jones

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During the GOP presidential debate Thursday night, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was asked to defend his position on Puerto Rico and his belief that the island shouldn’t be permitted to file for bankruptcy as it struggles with more than $72 billion in debts.

Telemundo’s María Celeste Arraras, who is Puerto Rican, asked the question, framing it as an electoral problem in his home state of Florida, where as many as 1 million Puerto Ricans live. And even though Puerto Ricans in Florida are a solid Democratic voting group, Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, will need every vote he can get in the March 15 primary.

“You say that it is only a last-resort measure, but the government of Puerto Rico has said that bankruptcy is its last resort,” she said. “How do you explain this very strong stance to the hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans that vote across the US, and particularly in your state of Florida?”

Rubio said bankruptcy wouldn’t fix the underlying issues driving Puerto Rico’s debt problems, and that “it’s too expensive to do business there, the tax rate is too high, the government regulations are too extensive.” He said that was the primary reason for the flight of working professionals moving from the island to places like Florida, New York, and elsewhere on the mainland. Any bankruptcy protection for Puerto Rico must come later, he said, after bigger budget cuts—”but not as the first resort…because it will not solve the problems on the island.”

Economic experts agree there are a variety of reasons the island amassed such unwieldy debts over the years, including government mismanagement, waste, and bloat. But Rubio omitted key context and a couple of pertinent facts from his answer.

First, despite the Puerto Rican government’s slow response, it has taken major steps to address its budget issues. Puerto Rico’s government has already raised sales taxes to the highest in the nation, raised gasoline taxes, cut tens of thousands of public jobs, and cut hundreds of millions of dollars from education spending.

Second, as pointed out by Latino USA‘s Julio Ricardo Varela, the debt crisis has been growing for decades under politicians of all political stripes, and Wall Street has profited all along the way. Since 2000, Wall Street banks and hedge funds have made more than $900 million managing various bond sales, according to Bloomberg News. Several of the same hedge fund executives who stand to benefit if the island is barred from restructuring its debt through bankruptcy have donated to Rubio’s campaign.

“The GOP are touting Marco Rubio, a Latino candidate for president of the U.S., as ‘proof of the American dream,'” wrote Nelson Denis, a former New York State assemblyman. “But Rubio’s attitude toward millions of Puerto Ricans is actually a nightmare…In 2016 and beyond, that is a lot of voters…and they will not forget Rubio’s political calculus.”

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Puerto Rico Puts Rubio in a Political Pickle

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