Monday, January 29, 2007

Puerto Rican Parties Undergoing Change

In Puerto Rico there are three main political parties, organized around the "status issue," the relationship between Puerto Rico and the US: The pro-statehood party is the Partido Nuevo Progresista ("PNP," the letters given their Spanish pronunciation); the Partido Popular Democratico ("Los Populares"), sometimes "The Commonwealth party," who favor preserving the current status as worked out by Munoz Marin in the early 1950s; and the Partido Independentista Puertorriqueno ("PIP," pronounced as in Spanish peep), or universally "Los Independentistas," whose name is self-explanatory. The reality for a long time is that the PNP and the Populares are the two leading parties, historically the PIP has had from 5 to 15 percent of the vote but in recent years that has fallen to dismall performances of less than 5 percent, bad enough that the party's formal credentials would be imperilled were support to drop any lower. "Melones" are Puerto Rican voters who are green (PIP) on the outside (talking on the street) but red (Popular) on the inside (in the voting booth), but even that political behavior is more rare as the two major parties square off over the governer's seat and the legislature. In recent years, after a period of seeming political domination, the PNP has lost power in the wake of a long, persistent problem with corruption. Pedro Rossello, the ambitious PNP cacique who had another senator step aside when he needed a seat after his election loss, was particularly damaged as many of the people in his cabinet and campaign were indicted on the most venal of charges (diverting money for personal use is almost always the gist of it here: even the AIDS money was stolen by the doctors in charge). The current Populare governer, known universally as "Anibal," was a party functionary when a replacement was needed for Sila Calderon. Calderon was the first woman governer of Puerto Rico, but she was essentially a conservative figure both politically and personally as a member of the island's traditional oligarchy. Anibal has performed, I would say, above expectations, but I write today because of interesting stirrings amongst the PNP. It was always discouraging to me, as a North American resident here, that the PNP, which nominally seeks integration with US political institutions, had so many problems both with corruption and with distinctly non-democratic (small "d") behavior. I think part of this reflected the style of Rossello, and now the party is moving on to other candidates. But I see this as part of something deeper. The political organization of the society here is not very well-rationalized. Natural divides between liberal and conservative policies are scrambled by the centrality of the status issue. Ultimately the problem for the Populares is that their agenda is to preserve things as they are, but in reality everything is changing day by day (including the relationship with the United States). On the PNP side there is at least a possibility that a political party will organize itself along broader social and political lines. Paradoxically, it may be that political organization that does not place the status issue at the center of everything will be the key to creating conditions where the issue can be resolved.

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