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Puerto Rico Rep. Jenniffer González Colón Discusses The Future For The Island


Now let's bring in Jenniffer González-Colón. She is Puerto Rico's representative in Congress, which means she has been watching from Washington as this history plays out on the island. She joins me now from Capitol Hill.

Congresswoman, welcome.

JENNIFFER GONZÁLEZ-COLÓN: Thank you for the opportunity to join you today.

KELLY: So we just heard there - people in Puerto Rico back on the streets today. They are shouting. They're still not done demanding change. What is your message to them?

GONZÁLEZ-COLÓN: I think the most important thing after the governor resigned yesterday - last night will be at having another, you know, peaceful transition of government in Puerto Rico. Yes, the next position should be the secretary of state, but that guy resigned a few days ago. So that's the reason. Our Constitution established that the attorney general from the island is the one having the position, which is, in this case, Wanda Vazquez.

KELLY: Right.

GONZÁLEZ-COLÓN: And then it could go on to the secretary of treasury and then education. But I think the most important thing at this time is to gain credibility and stability to the island, not just in Puerto Rico but at Congress and the federal agencies as well.

KELLY: I should note that you favored Rosselló's resignation. You have tweeted that the next governor, as you mentioned, Wanda Vazquez, has your support. I mean, but she is closely - I just want to ask you this. She is closely tied to Rosselló. What gives you confidence that she will bring about change, that she will bring stability?

GONZÁLEZ-COLÓN: I mean, my confidence is in the next person's that's going to be the governor, whether it's she, whether it's another person. So I think at this time we need to show stability on the island because we do have a lot of federal funds coming from recovery process. And as we speak, a lot of the processes regarding FEMA reimbursement are being changed. We just received a letter today saying because of the instability of the island there are going to be some changes. So you need to have credibility back here in D.C. as well as on the island.

KELLY: So you're saying we need to get the new person in, let things calm down a little bit and bring stability. Right.

GONZÁLEZ-COLÓN: Yes. And I think whoever the person is going to be, I think we need to have the people that are going to be Cabinet members in several posts that are empty at this time. They are managing federal funds. I mean, our tourism was hit because of all of this situation, the investment in the island as well. So you've got the private sector being impacted - the whole island, I mean, the society as well.

KELLY: Yeah, enormous challenges facing the incoming governor.

GONZÁLEZ-COLÓN: So you need stability at this time. And whoever person it's going to be, we need all - I mean, all public officials and the people of Puerto Rico need to work with. We're going to have elections in 14 months. So at that time, I really believe that it's going to be a complete new political map on the island.

KELLY: Let me put to you this - a question that is already being raised on the island, I understand, which is - Governor Rosselló, whether he goes immediately or whether he goes a week from today, as we said, once he goes, is that end of story or is what happened here a symptom of a wider, more systemic problem in San Juan?

GONZÁLEZ-COLÓN: Definitely. I mean, we've been - we've been a colony of Spain for 500 years. And we've been part of the U.S. since 1898. And at the end, 97% of the people who voted in 2017 were asking for statehood. Puerto Rico is not being treated equally in terms of federal laws in many programs. And we're talking about health care, Social Security, others. So that's the reason you got a lot of people live on the island for...

KELLY: Is that a voting bell we can hear behind you, Congresswoman?

GONZÁLEZ-COLÓN: Yes, yes, that's the reason. It's not a jam. It's - we are voting now.

KELLY: Well, I will let you go in just a minute because it sounds like you do need to vote. But I do have one more question for you because you were describing the huge financial challenges facing the island, the political challenges, the political challenges.

GONZÁLEZ-COLÓN: (Unintelligible).

KELLY: I also know that you are calling for a federal coordinator to oversee the hurricane relief aid - why? Why can't Puerto Rico manage its own money, meet the needs of its own people?

GONZÁLEZ-COLÓN: That - actually, that's what I would love to have. But the problem is you have a lot of federal agencies delaying the process of that (unintelligible) sending the money to the island. So we are taking the precedent of what Louisiana did after Katrina, what was done when Sandy superstorm hit. And there was a federal coordinator that actually facilitates all the federal money and all the permit to get done.

At this time, I mean, $42 billion have been in Congress, and just 13 to the island. So we need to get our people who are still living under blue tarps and a lot of people that need that resources to get on with their lives. So a federal coordinator will help us in terms of, you know, expediting the permits and the money.

KELLY: Congresswoman, thank you so much for your time.

GONZÁLEZ-COLÓN: Every time, I'm going to be able.

KELLY: Jenniffer González-Colón. She represents Puerto Rico in Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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