The SOMOS Conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico is unofficially a political party for New York’s government officials and affiliates while they allegedly make backroom deals that decide the fate of our city and state. In the wake of Hurricane Fiona, which devastated the island in September, some are galvanizing more on the ground efforts to keep the spotlight on recovery for local communities.
Councilmembers Alexa Aviles, Tiffany Caban, and Amanda Farias, with Senator Gustavo Rivera, the Executive Leadership Development Council and other local community groups are organizing a ‘resistance’ bus tour on Nov. 12 during the conference in San Juan.
The bus tour will visit with less commercialized non profits across the island still working towards reconstruction and relief efforts from Hurricane Fiona and Maria.
Jonathan Soto, the coordinator for Movimiento Victoria Ciudadana in the Diaspora and a former city hall staffer, has a pretty “anti-SOMOS” stance. He will be attending the conference this year, but heavily criticized the “viper’s nest” that the conference has become. Soto said that groups that are community-led, like Comedores Sociales de Puerto Rico, have been operating for a long time and deserve more financial support during this time of “disaster capitalism.”
“Comedores Sociales. They are a mutual aid organization,” said Soto. “Many of them occupy schools and they cook for the community. I think they’ve been a really important source of support and I suggest connecting directly with those grassroots groups without intervention of any nonprofit from New York City because then it becomes political.”
SOMOS Inc. is in fact a nonpartisan nonprofit partnering with the New York State Assembly/Senate Puerto Rican and Hispanic Task Force to put on the conference. The Puerto Rican and Hispanic Task Force was created in 1987 to better represent the growing population of Puerto Ricans in the city and state. By 1988, the first Somos Uno annual mock session was held in Albany, New York, before the name change and a second conference was added on the island.
Puerto Rican Activist David Galarza works for a union and will also be attending SOMOS while organizing the resistance tour.
“Given everything that Puerto Rico is going through. The environment, financially, energy crisis, privatization, labor struggles, poverty, health,” said Galarza. “As the oldest colony of the U.S., it’s going through some difficult times. To parachute into San Juan and stay in that Albany, City Hall bubble and not engage with folks or local activists in solidarity and elevate issues, is a wasted opportunity.”
Galarza intends to have the resistance tour be an alternative space to uplift issues concerning the Puerto Rican communities on the island. He mentioned, for instance, advocating for more federal and Federal Emergency Management Agency monies to create a sustainable energy grid as opposed to LUMA, the faulty privatized American-owned system that’s currently in place.
“I have a long history of hearing about SOMOS and how it was basically a place where people would go to talk to lobbyists and get drunk. And I found that very much to be true,” Councilmember Alexa Avilés told City & State about last year’s conference.
“I was not going to meet with any lobbyists. My time was not for them there. If they want to meet with me, they will meet with me here on business hours,” said Avilés.
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://bit.ly/amnews1