‘I have to open doors for others’
• Unstoppable González Colón feels empowered by what she is doing in the US capital
• Resident commissioner rejects opposition accusations, details plans to win re-election
By Elsa Velázquez Santiago
Special to The Star
Her busy schedule in Congress and trips to and from the island are not synonymous with detachment from her homeland.
On the contrary, Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón says, returning to the island each time always makes her connect to the needs of its residents. And of course, she also tries to recharge batteries with her family in her Carolina home.
“I travel to Washington between Sunday and Monday and return [to the island] on Friday,” González Colón said in an interview with the Star. “Unlike when Aníbal [Acevedo Vilá] was there [in Congress], and lived in Puerto Rico all the time and did not have a property [in Washington] or did not stay there, I come [back to Puerto Rico] every weekend to keep in touch with the needs of the municipalities, to keep myself in touch with the needs of the government. So I travel every week.”
“They didn’t mention those trips,” she said, referring to recent allegations by Popular Democratic Party (PDP) members of lavish spending on trips. “The sacrifices, coming from catching a flight, arriving [on the island] at dawn to be in meetings on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and returning on Sunday [to Washington] at night. I do it with passion. I do it with joy because I believe it is a privilege that God has given me.”
Regarding the list of trips to different parts of the world, González Colón said they were paid for by Congress, not with funds from the central government. In addition, they were not pleasure trips, she said.
“Trips that did not cost the people of Puerto Rico a penny, but that have produced more than $121 billion for the island. These are trips paid for by Congress in my function as a congressman, as a member of committees,” the resident commissioner said. “I have had the opportunity to visit Puerto Rican troops in different countries, where I have represented the United States Congress, such as in the parliament of NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which for me is a privilege to be the only Puerto Rican to have represented the United States in that parliament, as well as the trips we have made to see possibilities for energy, infrastructure, economic development, security. … Trips in which I achieved the Medal of Freedom for the Borinqueneers [in the] Korean [War]. So all my trips are official, not pleasure trips as perhaps he [Acevedo Vilá] did. In fact, they have awarded me trips that I didn’t even take.”
She also said there is a great difference between her role as resident commissioner and Acevedo Vilá’s.
“He was an absentee resident commissioner,” González Colón said.
The resident commissioner also reacted to the complaints of Reps. Luis Vega Ramos and at-large candidate for the House of Representatives Gabriel López Arrieta, both of the PDP, about donations to her campaign by lobbyists of the Financial Oversight and Management Board and the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority. She defended the donations by saying they were made according to the law.
“This is very natural. When we are days away from the general election, where the numbers of all the polls put me so overwhelmingly ahead, despair becomes the opposition’s attack strategy. And that these accusations come from a candidate who remained silent when Aníbal Acevedo Vilá’s campaign director and treasurer were imprisoned, precisely for money laundering, for conspiracy involving illegal campaign donations, he at that time being the resident commissioner. It is an irony that those who raise these questions about campaign donations are the same ones who in 2009 admitted in court that they laundered dirty money with illegal political donations,” she said. “Obviously the thief judges according to his own condition.”
The New Progressive Party (NPP) leader is running for re-election against the former governor and former resident commissioner Acevedo Vilá of the PDP, as well as against Puerto Rican Independence Party candidate Luis Piñero and new faces Zayira Jordán of the Citizen Victory Movement and Ada Henriquez of the Dignity Project.
When questioned about her support and endorsement of President Donald Trump, who has been criticized for the infamous incident in which he tossed paper towels to island residents gathered at a press event during his brief visit after Hurricane Maria, as well as for allegedly having intentions to sell the island and for criticizing island leaders, the resident commissioner said Trump is the one who signs the checks and endorses her requests for the island.
“Puerto Rico is much more than a presidential candidate. Puerto Rico does not have the right to vote for the president, it does not have the right to two senators, it does not have the right to five congressmen and there are some who believe that by fighting with the occupant of the White House, things will be achieved for the island,” González Colón said. “As long as I represent Puerto Ricans in Congress, I have to seek a relationship with the president, with Republicans, with Democrats and with all those who are in power to achieve things for Puerto Rico. In that sense, even though the president has a difficult charisma, that seems to me to be [for] public [consumption], I have managed to get him to sign each and every one of the requests for funds that I have made for the island.”
González Colón also guaranteed that she has a good relationship with Trump’s opponent for the Democratic Party, former Vice President Joseph Biden, and with members of Congress. She also said she has a good relationship with the island gubernatorial candidates, although she makes a “perfect team” with Pedro Pierluisi, who is running for the NPP and is a former two-term resident commissioner.
Meanwhile, even with the amount of funds she has raised for the island, the resident commissioner is anxious to win the general election to continue with issues that she said are in process and in the pipeline.
“I pushed for the repeal of the air cabotage laws so that Puerto Rico had a cargo and passenger hub. We did it for the first time in history, as Puerto Rico had not had that before. Now, that was given to us for two years and I want it to be done permanently. I already did it, now I want it to be permanent,” she said. “Also, when I arrived [in Congress] the refund of the rum excise duty had expired, which leaves Puerto Rico out of more than $400 million. It had expired, [and] I got an extension for a period of five years. Now I want to make it permanent.”
“I filed legislation to give an incentive to the manufacturing industry. I have already gotten the president to sign an executive order forcing federal agencies to buy protective [equipment] against COVID and [other] medical products [made] in the United States,” the resident commissioner continued. “Now I want, and it is what we are looking for, for it to become permanent incentives in law that are tied to the employee, to work, to the generation of investment in Puerto Rico, not necessarily only to the owner of the company.”
González Colón also stressed that regarding health funding on the island, she achieved an increase to 100 percent in the federal allocation for two years, from the current allocation of 82 percent. Before that it was 55 percent, she added. The resident commissioner said she wants it to be fixed at 83 percent, as in the rest of the states. She also mentioned that she achieved access to additional funds, although she will fight for the elimination of the cap of $350 million that limits health processes in Puerto Rico.
“I am looking [for the U.S. government] to apply 100 percent of Supplemental Social Security to the island,” González Colón said.
“I am the only candidate for resident commissioner that has an economic development platform, an infrastructure platform, a security platform, a health platform, with measures some of which have been established and others are in the process of being established in the next Congress,” she said. “You will not find another resident commissioner in the history of Puerto Rico with a more complete platform than mine.”
“For me, becoming the first female resident commissioner in Washington is a challenge, because I have to open the door for others,” González Colón said. “For girls, I have to open doors for other women. That’s why I give one hundred percent. I have nuclear power. I do not stop.”