Major props to Jorge Ramos and the producers of Univision’s AL PUNTO show, perhaps the best Spanish-language public affairs programming in the United States. After having US Rep. Luis Gutiérrez on the show a few weeks ago to discuss his very public and passionate criticism of the human rights crisis occurring in Puerto Rico under the leadership of Republican and pro-statehood Governor Luis Fortuño, the veteran Ramos interviewed Puerto Rican Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, a non-voting member of Congress and the island’s top political leader in Washington DC.
What follows is a video of the segment:
We have provided a brief summary synopsis (full transcript to follow tomorrow) of the exchange between Ramos and Pierluisi. In short, Pierluisi did a very ineffective job in addressing Ramos’ very pointed questions, and has only left more open questions regarding the crisis on the island. It seems to be politics as usual from Fortuño’s administration, where the strategy is to deflect the hard questions and try to put a positive spin that, according to Ramos, does not truly reflect the reality of the island right now.
Here are some highlights from the video:
- When asked about the very vivid violent images of Puerto Rican police repressing and abusing university students, Pierluisi deflects the question by reverting to other student protests, such as those in California and Britain. He admits that there were “isolated incidents” where Puerto Rican police “possibly” overstepped their bounds as officers. He refers to the “two constitutions” of the island, that of the United States and of Puerto Rico, that protect human right abuses.
- Ramos proceeds to call out Pierluisi’s description of “isolated events” by referring to the recent reports by the ACLU and the US government that suggest human rights violations in Puerto Rico have been raised since 2008. Pierluisi responds by referring to other cases in the United States and says that there could be a recommendation that these alleged violations in Puerto Rico would get addressed and acted upon.
- Pierluisi quickly brushes that criticism aside by moving on his spin message by saying: “But Puerto Rico can be an example of true democracy for the rest of the world. In Puerto Rico, civil rights are respected. We have exemplary elections every four years. And to compare Puerto Rico with totalitarian regimes is nonsense, an insult to the Puerto Rican people.”
- When Ramos shows Pierluisi the video of Gutiérrez attacking the Fortuño administration and then asks if democracy was under crisis in Puerto Rico, Pierluisi says: “That is completely false. It is really nonsense. In Puerto Rico we have exemplary elections. 80% of the electorate votes every four years. And we also have two Constitutions, two legal systems, a Puerto Rican human rights commission, and a federal commission that protect the rights of our people. And it is clear that in the latest protests from the students, there was aggression against the university’s chancellor. And when what the police does, where there is no other alternative, well, you call the police to intervene and I am the first to note that if I saw the use of excessive force, I will condemn it. One thing is to denounce any incident where there is excessive use of force, it is another thing to come out and paint Puerto Rico as if it were a dictatorship like the one we have seen in Egypt for the last thirty years.”
- Ramos then follows up by asking that if there is no atmosphere of repression on the island, why then did the head of the Puerto Rican Bar Association get jailed? Pierluisi claims that the incident was completely different from the student strikes and it is a federal case. He places political blame on the federal judge who was appointed by the President of the United States. At that point, Ramos stops him and asks, “If that is the case, why jail him? Why couldn’t you have a dialogue with him?” Pierluisi says that it is the federal judge who made the decision and not the Puerto Rican government. Ramos quickly counters that the law that jailed the lawyer was signed by Governor Fortuño.
- Ramos moves the conversation to the feeling of crisis and concern on the island and asked Pierluisi directly: “The Governor, during his political campaign, clearly said that he would not fire public employees. But at this moment 26,000 public employees have been fired. Didn’t he break his promise? Is there a feeling of concern on the island right now?”
- To this, Pierluisi responds: “In Puerto Rico, Governor Fortuño inherited a government that was completely bankrupt.” He then credited Fortuño for dramatically improving Puerto Rico’s financial rating, earning the praises of financial institutions that track this type of progress. Pierluisi says that Puerto Rico has a “promising future.” He also says that Puerto Rico is going through an “environment of change” and said that the actual number of public employees who were fired was exactly 12,505. He then notes that “other states” in the United States are actually now considering the same thing that Puerto Rico has already done.
- Ramos then says: “But the Governor did indeed break a promise because he did fire public employees.” He then calls out Pierluisi’s claim of a “promising future” for Puerto Rico by saying that the 2009 unemployment rate on the island was 13.3% but is has now increased to 15.9% in 2010. Ramos then asks directly: “That doesn’t sound promising.”
- After a pause by Pierluisi, the Resident Commissioner says: “Well, if we talk about the promise, it is very different to talk about a promise when one, well, the Governor made a promise, he makes a promise, under a premise. When he gets into the government, he finds out that there is no money to even pay for the first salary of public employees. The promise was impossible to keep because the government didn’t have any money.”
- Ramos counters: “Then he shouldn’t have made the promise. If a politician couldn’t fulfill the promise, then why did he day it?”
- Pierluisi then says: “When he made the promise, he didn’t know about the enormous fiscal crisis that he found once he arrived at La Fortaleza (the Governor’s residence), once he arrived to govern. And as to the future, for more than five years Puerto Rico has been in recession, but now we are finding out how the economy is starting to have a recovery.” Pierluisi says that the work was not easy and that Governor Fortuño was the first Puerto Rican governor since the Great Depression to have faced such a crisis.
- Pierluisi closes with the following: “So we will be having elections next year and once again our people will demonstrate that we do know about democracy and we do know how to choose our governor.”