Commentary: Florida business leaders: Encourage, engage and energize Puerto Rican voters

Efforts to increase voter participation, including registering Puerto Rican voters and ensuring the community get to the polls on Nov. 6, have ramped up with less than two weeks left until Election Day.

Grassroots organizations like Alianza for Progress, Organize Florida, among others, have been the catalysts for these efforts. But, other forces would make an even more significant impact, and that is the business community and business leaders throughout Florida and Puerto Rico. It is the responsibility of businesses to step up to the plate and enforce how important getting out the vote is.

With 3.3 million Puerto Ricans on the island, a vote in Florida for a candidate running for Congress, governor, and other local, state, and national offices will determine the priorities and Puerto Rico's future — issues like recovering from Hurricane Maria and rebuilding the island. We need other leaders in the business sector to join efforts and take on more responsibility because they have the resources and opportunity to help cast a wider net when reaching out to Puerto Ricans.

The fact of the matter is that the right to vote is the most valuable tool a citizen has, and without utilizing it, a person devalues its worth in this country. I hate to sound harsh and blunt, but it’s the truth. If you turn your back on voting in an election, you’re turning your back on this country, your family, your neighbors, your friends. You are letting history repeat itself. Unfortunately, Puerto Ricans on the island do not have a voice when it comes to presidential and congressional elections, therefore Puerto Ricans in Florida -- and throughout the country -- must vote for those on the Island who are voiceless.

The business community has been a group who sometimes are hesitant to get involved in civic engagement because they are afraid it can hurt their bottom line. However, certain individuals in the business world understand their civic duty does not only include casting a vote every election but helping those who are not entirely familiar with the process.

I’ve been a businessman in Puerto Rico for 40 years. I’ve committed myself to help serve in multiple community and philanthropic organizations. I ran for office in 2016 knowing how difficult it would be to win. I understand how critical getting people to vote is and also know the difficulties that come with it.

In 2016, Puerto Ricans in Florida saw great successes with the election of Boricuas to federal and state office. That’s why I’m raising my voice to make sure we continue building on that success. In these upcoming midterm elections, Puerto Ricans who made Florida home after Hurricane Maria have a unique opportunity to send a strong message about the importance of Puerto Rico. Equally as important, business leaders can show their communities that they grasp the urgency of that message and make arrangements so employees can exercise their right to vote. We can use our platforms as business leaders and job creators to encourage early voting and vote by mail, or allow for flexible schedules on Election Day.

That is the approach Puerto Rican business leaders like myself are taking. I believe the Puerto Rican vote is critical, and utilizing your vote to elect leaders who can advocate and fight for issues essential to the community is what the electoral process is all about.

Respeta Mi Gente, a coalition of advocacy, civil rights, faith and civic engagement organizations, announced in a media call that it had assisted in registering over 57,000 Latinos. Now, the group is asking voters who have registered to pledge to vote on or before Election Day on Nov. 6 -- and I’m doubling down on that request.

I am also asking those in the business community to join me in these efforts. By using the numerous resources it has in Florida, Puerto Rico, and across the country, the business community can enhance voter participation in this election, in the 2020 presidential election, and in elections going forward. The Puerto Rican community in Florida, the state of Florida, and the nation will greatly benefit from it.

Manuel Cidre is the founder and president of Los Cidrines, a market leader in the sale, distribution, and manufacturing of bakery products in Puerto Rico. Cidre is a former independent candidate for governor of Puerto Rico.

Kara Watkins