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Cambridge City Council Adopts Four Puerto Rican Sister Cities

Cambridge City Hall.
Cambridge City Hall. By Jessica C. Salley
By Sarah J. Hong and Luke W. Vrotsos, Contributing Writers

In response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, Cambridge City Council voted Monday to adopt four new “sister cities” in Puerto Rico.

The unanimously-passed resolution will designate Coamo, Orocovis, Salinas, and Jayuya— four Puerto Rican cities well-represented in Cambridge’s population—as sister cities. Its goal is “to strategically increase opportunities and pathways for collaboration and aid to these municipalities that have such deep ties to our city,” according to the resolution.

“It’s important for Cambridge to do its part,” City Councillor Nadeem A. Mazen said in an interview Thursday. The resolution mentions inviting representatives from each of these cities to Cambridge, and comes days after a group of Harvard students launched fundraising efforts to aid Puerto Rico.

“I think it demonstrates how Cambridge is a leader and how Cambridge supports its residents,” added Former Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan, who co-authored the resolution. Benzan said he also hopes that “other cities around the state will do the same,” in an effort to provide much-needed aid to the island.

Although the resolution does not make specific commitments of monetary aid, it streamlines potential future aid by focusing it to specific cities, Benzan said.

Mazen said, however, that sister-city designation alone is not enough for Cambridge to effect change in Puerto Rico, adding that “financial support” to the affected areas will be needed as well. Rafael G. Escalera Montoto ’19, who has family in Puerto Rico, added that even with donations, distribution remains a challenge.

“There are cities which are further off from that capital and are kind of hard to get into. Trees are knocked down; roads are destroyed. Access has been very difficult,” he said. Benzan also noted the difficulty of distributing aid supplies to municipalities outside of the capital, especially in mountainous regions.

According to the Department of Defense, 95 percent of Puerto Rico’s residents remain without power, and 88 percent are still without cell service. Critical infrastructure like roads and hospitals also remain in poor condition.

Escalera Montoto noted the importance in maintaining public awareness throughout Puerto Rico’s recovery period.

“A big part of the help would be keeping up awareness because it’s already being said in the media at home in Puerto Rico that the recovery is going to take months, and there’s no time clear as to when the island will be recovered—if it will be recovered—to the capacity it was before,” he said.

Cambridge already has six active sister city partnerships, with Coimbra, Portugal; Gaeta, Italy; Tsukuba, Japan; San José Las Flores, El Salvador; Yerevan, Armenia; and Galway, Ireland, along with eleven inactive relationships.

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