Op-ed: Puerto Ricans should reject Rick Scott's pandering

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MARCOS VILAR OF ALIANZA FOR PROGRESS
  • Marcos Vilar of Alianza for Progress
Even in a town built on fairy tales, it would require too large a suspension of disbelief to buy the successful hurricane recovery narrative the GOP was selling at their recent Sunshine Summit in Kissimmee. But Puerto Ricans displaced by Hurricane Maria made sure the real story was told. They set up a tent city outside of the luxurious Gaylord Hotel in the hot summer heat to demand Governor Rick Scott take action to address what’s become a humanitarian crisis. Once again, he failed to act.

While a court subsequently ordered FEMA to extend its temporary hotel voucher program for evacuees who were at-risk of becoming homeless, Puerto Ricans are well within their right to question Gov. Scott’s leadership and commitment to the Puerto Rican community. As one of the nation’s most prominent climate deniers, Gov. Scott has done more than most to put the interests and profits of Big Oil ahead of the people whose communities they help destroy.

It should come as little surprise then that Gov. Scott doesn’t want to discuss the link between climate change and Hurricane Maria. But to evade the subject would be to ignore the root cause of why nearly 5,000 Americans lost their lives and countless others are now strewn across our state.



The truth is Hurricane Maria was not a normal storm. Like Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina before it, Maria was supercharged by man-made climate change, a problem Gov. Scott not only denies exists, but infamously banned officials from even discussing.

Nor are the thousands of Puerto Ricans living out of hotel rooms in Florida simply hurricane evacuees. They are climate refugees in their own country who have been hung out to dry for nine months by our nation’s biggest climate denier who unfortunately also happens to be president.

Despite this, both President Trump and Gov. Scott have sought to pander to the Puerto Rican community, feigning concern while posing for photo-ops. Puerto Ricans should not be fooled by these cynical ploys however.

The Rick Scotts and Donald Trumps of the world carry water for Big Oil while Puerto Ricans and Floridians drown in it. They masquerade as the Puerto Rican community’s would-be saviors but come bearing promises that aren’t worth the paper towels they’re written on.

Puerto Ricans and Floridians deserve better. Our region is ground zero for climate change, which companies like Exxon and Shell understood decades ago. Their own internal documents included warnings of “catastrophic” impacts and concerns that future “violent storms” causing “extensive damage to the eastern coast” would spark a backlash against the industry.

Hispanic and Latino voters in Florida can be that backlash by sending a clear message that if you are a climate denier, you are unfit for office.

Action on climate must become a litmus test in Florida, which is living on borrowed time thanks to Rick Scott’s tenure as governor. We need bold solutions to adapt to and mitigate climate impacts like sea level rise and rising temperatures that threaten our aquifers and agriculture industry.

We need to pave the way towards a transition to clean, renewable sources of energy of the likes that utilities and the oil and gas industry so viciously attack with the help of Rick Scott.

The fight to stop climate change will be won or lost in Florida. We need leaders who will help to turn the tide and stand up for those who bear the brunt of impacts like our Puerto Rican brothers and sisters rather than just pay them lip-service.

Rick Scott had eight years in office to be that leader, but failed to live up to the challenge. He doesn’t deserve another shot.

Marcos Vilar is the President of Alianza for Progress, an organization dedicated to furthering the rights of Puerto Ricans.

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