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Congressman Luis Gutierrez

Representing the 4th District of Illinois

Congress is still in denial that Zika is real

September 13, 2016
Press Release
Rep. Gutiérrez speaks about Zika and Puerto Rico on Floor of the House

Washington, DC – Today, Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL) spoke on the Floor of the House of Representatives about the need for Congress to approve funds to fight the growing Zika crisis that is already engulfing Puerto Rico.  He also highlighted efforts by Puerto Ricans to create a mosquito vector control system and to ensure that family planning and contraception are more widely available on the Island of Puerto Rico.  He criticized those on the right who are holding up Zika funding legislation so that the Congress can fight over funding for Planned Parenthood.

“Congress has the same response [to Zika] it has to almost everything: ‘nothing.’  In this case, ‘nothing’ flavored with a little partisan posturing over abortion in an election year.  The issue for some people seems to be that we can fund research, prevention and treatment as long as one of the most important, proven, and effective health care delivery mechanisms for women is excluded – because Planned Parenthood is on the Republican hit list.”

He continued:

“A generation of children – in Puerto Rico and in the United States – is counting on the U.S. Congress to protect them from the Zika virus and I hope this Congress puts politics aside and rises to the occasion.”

The full text of the speech (as prepared for delivery) is below.

A video of his speech is here: https://youtu.be/WHNBNTiwLgo

The Congressman also wrote an article on Zika and Puerto Rico for The Hill newspaper’s Congress Blog, which was published Monday: https://bit.ly/2cTGoMO

Rep. Gutiérrez represents the Fourth District of Illinois, is a Member of the Judiciary Committee and the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, and is the Co-Chair of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.  He was born in Chicago to parents who were born in Puerto Rico and he has lived in Puerto Rico at various times in his life.

Floor Remarks

September 13, 2016

It is almost as if the majority would prefer to go into the final stretch of election season with fresh reminders of how dysfunctional things have become. 

No action on common sense gun control measures.  No action on immigration or climate change.  And no action on the Zika virus that is taking a huge toll in Puerto Rico and is poised to take a toll in the U.S. as well.

Congress is still in denial that Zika is a real threat and that a generation of children could be exposed to the disease with dangerous and debilitating birth defects. 

It is so hard for me to articulate this out loud, but  in just a few weeks, the first group of children born with brain-development and physical problems associated with the disease will be born in Puerto Rico. 

We are looking at more than 15,000 reported cases of Zika in Puerto Rico and more than 2,000 pregnant women.

At its current pace, Zika will infect a quarter of the Island in the next year.

This is the first mosquito-borne disease that successfully infects children in the womb through the placenta.  It can be sexually transmitted.  Humans can give Zika to mosquitos that then go on to infect other humans.

And Congress has the same response it has to almost everything: ‘nothing.’ 

In this case, ‘nothing’ flavored with a little partisan posturing over abortion in an election year. 

The issue for some people seems to be that we can fund research, prevention and treatment as long as one of the most important, proven, and effective health care delivery mechanisms for women is excluded – because Planned Parenthood is on the Republican hit list.

No matter that funding Planned Parenthood in Puerto Rico – or anywhere else – would be the prudent use of federal funds if our goal is to prevent the spread of the disease and prevent – that is prevent, not terminate – unwanted pregnancies during this crisis.  Politics and elections always seem to trump good sensible policies, no pun intended.

So, ‘nothing’ yet from Congress despite the pleas from the Obama Administration, the CDC, the medical community and the American people.

But in Puerto Rico, some people may not be taking the disease seriously enough, either.  Having spent time talking to people in Puerto Rico, too many of the people that I talked to are also complacent about Zika and the impact it will have.

Many Puerto Ricans suspect it is all hype from Washington; yet another crisis to give the United States more control or to spray chemicals all over Puerto Rico. 

Given the Island’s history, this point of view is not unreasonable.  This Congress just appointed an unelected Control Board or Junta to take control of the Island’s government and finances.

For decades the United States used Puerto Rico and especially the Island of Vieques for target practice for our military.  And for more than a decade the United States has been denying the health and environmental impact of that bombing, including cancers and other diseases that Islanders know are real because their relatives are dying.

And back in my mother’s day, the “family planning” that came from the United States was forced sterilization.

So I understand why some people are skeptical when – so far – it has been hard to demonstrate the consequences of the Zika virus and how it could make life any worse than it already is in Puerto Rico.

But again, in just a few weeks, when we see children born with mental and physical impairments, it will become clear that Zika is real. 

Puerto Rico must rise to the challenge presented by Zika and bridge the deep ocean of distrust between the Puerto Rican people and the United States.

That’s why I spent a lot of my time over the past month meeting with public health experts, doctors and scientists. 

And every one of them was Puerto Rican, not people sent from the U.S.

Puerto Rico needs an integrated, comprehensive mosquito vector control center and Puerto Ricans are coming together to discuss how it can be created quickly.  This is the mosquito-tracking and eradication that is deployed when a disease is detected so that resources can be concentrated on a neighborhood or city if an infectious disease like Zika is present.

Puerto Rico does not have the access to contraception you would expect in the 21st century, but Puerto Rican doctors, gynecologists, scientists and experts are also strategizing about how to make modern, effective, reversible family planning more widely available so that women can delay pregnancy.

But, while Puerto Ricans can drive the process of addressing Zika in Puerto Rico – and this will lead to much greater acceptance of those strategies by the Puerto Rican people and greater success in the long run – that does not get Congress off the hook.

Puerto Rico, like the United States, needs this Congress to fund the President’s request for funding and also for the federal government to do the job it should be doing.

In Puerto Rico, this includes the Environmental Protection Agency addressing the toxic landfills that dot the Island, which are breeding grounds for mosquitos but seem to have been overlooked by the EPA.

A generation of children – in Puerto Rico and in the United States – is counting on the U.S. Congress to protect them from the Zika virus and I hope this Congress puts politics aside and rises to the occasion.

Mr. Speaker I ask unanimous consent to enter my op-ed from The Hill newspaper yesterday on Zika and Puerto Rico into the record. (https://bit.ly/2cTGoMO)

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