US Vice President Kamala Harris
Vice President Kamala Harris visits Puerto Rico for the first time since being sworn in office. AFP

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris visited Puerto Rico on Friday for the first time since she was sworn in three years ago. The visit took place days after President Joe Biden launched a campaign targeting Latino voters ahead of the November general elections.

According to the Vice President's office, the purpose of the trip was aimed at highlighting President Biden's "commitment to supporting Puerto Rico's recovery" following hurricanes, earthquakes and the Covid-19 pandemic. The visit also focused on promoting the administration's investments on the island's infrastructure and economic recovery initiatives.

Harris was accompanied by U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and Housing and Urban Development Deputy Secretary Adrianne Todman. Welcoming them was Gov. Pedro Pierluisi, a Democrat whose New Progressive Party has long pushed for statehood.

The roughly five-hour trip included a visit to a new home in the northern municipality of Canovanas which had been destroyed after Hurricane Maria, a category 4 storm, hit the island in 2017 and killed nearly 3,000 people in its aftermath.

Hurricane Fiona
Aftermath of Hurricane Fiona in Puerto Rico in September 2022. AFP

"I see we are making a difference. There is still more work to do," Harris said as she stood on the lawn of the new home draped with a large Puerto Rican flag. "We are ambitious. Yes, we are impatient."

In her speech she also noted how energy sources are a big issue on the island, with outages occurring daily since Maria razed the power grid. Harris also highlighted how the federal government has provided some $3 billion in reliable energy sources, including rooftop solar panels. It also shopped mega generators last year to minimize outages, AP News reports.

"(This) is about an upgrade on quality of life and just the well-being and dignity of each family to be able to satisfy their basic needs," she said, adding that hurricane resistance technology is being used. "Puerto Rico taught us some lessons."

Harris' visit has been met with mixed reactions.

Following her visit to the home in Canovanas, the Vice President stopped by a community center in San Juan where a handful of protesters gathered, yelling "Yankee, go home!" and with one protester holding a sign that said "Kamala Harris war criminal."

Hours before her arrival, a couple dozen protesters also gathered in Puerto Rico's capital to show their opposition to the island's territorial status and demand a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war.

"We find her presence disrespectful," Joselyn Velazquez, a protest spokeswoman, told AP News.

On the other hand, there were avid followers showing their support for the incumbents.

Charlie Rodriguez, president of the Democratic Party in Puerto Rico, told NBC News he viewed the vice president's visit as "a reiteration of the policies established by the President since he stepped into the White House, of staying focused on Puerto Rico during his term."

While those in Puerto Rico cannot vote in U.S. presidential elections despite being U.S. citizens, more than 5 million Puerto Ricans live in the U.S. mainland. Political parties, however, allow them to participate in the primaries that help elect presidential nominees.

The Democratic primary in Puerto Rico is scheduled for April 28, and the Republican primary for April 21.

Many Puerto Ricans live in competitive states for the elections like Florida and Pennsylvania. Biden-Harris supporters hope that touting the wins of the Biden administration in Puerto Rico can influence Latino voters of Puerto Rican heritage who live in the mainland and can register to vote in presidential elections, NBC News reported.

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