Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Noon in Puerto Rico on Election Day

It's 11:47 AM Atlantic Time here in Puerto Rico, an hour ahead of Eastern (they "fall back," we stay the same, no DST). From everything that I can see (OK, obsessively stare at), we're on course for victory for Obama tonight. But it's not in the bag or at least if it is in the bag we can't yet tell. Like everyone else, I just want it to be over so we can move on, an apparently universal emotion today aggravated for G. and me by the closure of the university here since last Wednesday because of political and labor problems. Sophia has got her wading pool set up outside. When cars go by we can hear the party flags flapping in the wind.
Speaking of that, Puerto Rico is going through some political changes itself. Anibal Acevedo Villa, the Popular Party governer who initially got good marks when he took over from the patently oligarchic Sila Calderon (PR's first woman governor), has seen the public sour on him as he was unable to tame the endemic corruption that undid the last Nuevoprogressista governor Pedro Rosello as well (stateside readers: the Populares/PPD are the party of the status quo, the Nuevoprogresistas/PNP are the pro-statehood party). These are structural problems with a deep cultural dimension and it's going to take a lot to change things; people are more just angry than they are resolute to do anything in particular. They are, however, likely to turn the government back over to the Nuevoprogresistas today. This was helped by the effective ousting of Rosello who very typically tried to claim the nomination for himself once again (he had one of his loyalists step down to free a senate seat for him after losing both the last election and extensive legal challenges). Fortuno, the PNP candidate this time, thus represents a fresh face in contrast to both Acevedo and Rosello.
An interesting development here is the visible evolution of Puerto Rican party politics past its traditional focus which has always been the status issue. The younger faction that has taken over the PNP may develop the party along Democratic Party lines (something Rosello also tried to do), and if that succeeded, and the PPD came to represent an essentially conservative posture (they are the party of the Catholic Church as well as other populist/conservative elements), politics in PR would indeed be transformed. Meanwhile the same evolution of a more rational political discourse is evident regarding the PIP, the independence party. They are under intense pressure this election from yet a fourth party, the new Puerto Ricans for Puerto Rico (PPR? I'm not sure), which is polling around 6 percent vs. the PIP's truly dismal 2 percent (it's true that a likely PNP victory tends to bring out the "melones," so called because they talk a PIP (green) line while voting a PPD (red) line in the voting booth. I cannot yet make out what the new party stands for: for the moment they are the Cinderella ticket and are catching basically a free ride. The problem for the PIP considered as a nationalist party is that, for various historical and social reasons, it is also the self-styled vanguard party of the left. This turns out to be disastrous over the long term. Without the people the PIP is a party but not a movement. There is no reason that the nationalist movement needs to be the socialist movement, and some very practical political reasons why it shouldn't be. That might sound like an opinion hostile to independence, but the opposite it true: my view is that the single biggest political problem for Puerto Rican nationalism is the identification of the movement with the left, and with (inevitably) anti-US sentiment. What an irony that the left-wing intelligensia that dominates the PIP is itself the single biggest obstacle to the nationalist movement's success! But as I say, we can see things changing and today is a big day for local politics here.
Meanwhile the US election is more important and will make more of a difference here as well as in the States. The Republicans can try to hold the line and not suffer too big of a defeat, and I'd say that's more likely than a blowout. But a blowout would be much better for the country, that is several notches too far over to the right. Progressive taxation, regulatory enforcement, health insurance for all Americans: that's the way to put the middle class back in power, and it's not going to be easy to do.
I'm getting slightly more traffic today than usual, at least for a Tuesday. Anybody who does happen to read this: everybody's got to vote. More is better. If we could flip a couple of red states and break 300-325 on electoral votes Obama's first hundred days will be much more successful.


Anonymous said...

Just learning about Puerto Rican party politics, so appreciate your insight. From the little I'm reading, it seems that Fortuno is not a fresh face as you write, but perhaps an old face in new clothing. He is/was Resident Commissioner and a McCain delegate, and seems to have enriched himself from these positions. He has certainly capitalized on the rising calls for change. But there's good change and bad change. Would you elaborate on the new governor's positions as you have time? Thank you!

Anderson Brown said...

I don't endorse Fortuno, or even claim to know much about him. My point is that PR politics appears to me to be working its way out of the formulaic "status" structure that has defined politics here since the 50s. For example, we do not have here any clear identification of "liberal" vs. "conservative" parties (although there is plenty of name-calling). Both the Populares and the PNPs are amalgamations of rightist and leftist elements. That might sound alright, but it is part of the general political disenfranchisement of Puerto Ricans. When I argue that PR politics ought to be more rationally organized, I don't mean that as an endorsement of any particular party or politician. Here the first thing most people do is to try to figure out if you're an estadista or an independentista - my argument is that that whole mindset at this point is basically a distraction.