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Archive for August, 2012


August was supposed to be a great month for Puerto Rican Governor and pro-statehood Republican Luis Fortuño.

He was supposed to claim victory for changes to Puerto Rico’s constitution. He did not, essentially setting himself up for an unsuccessful re-election bid in November against an opponent who quite frankly is not the strongest of candidates.

Puerto Rican Republican Governor Luis Fortuño

He was supposed to start proclaiming success in his push to turn the Puerto Rican economy, but he can’t. Even after close to four years in office, Fortuño and policies have basically moved the island’s unemployment rate from 13.8 in January, 2009 to 13.7 in July, 2012, after it was as high as 16.6% in May, 2010. During his four years as governor, the Fortuño administration has seen the following happen to the island:

January, 2009: Puerto Rico had a labor force of 1,349,246 people. 1,163,674 people were employed. 185,572 people were unemployed. That would be a 13.8% unemployment rate.

July, 2012: Puerto Rico now has a labor force of 1,267,154 people. 1,093,903 people are employed. 173,251 people are unemployed. The overall unemployment rate is now at 13.7%.

Therefore, since Fortuño took office in 2009, Puerto Rico has seen a 7% decrease in its labor force (loss of about 82,000  people) and a 6% decrease in the number of employed people (a total loss of 80,000 jobs). Where are these people going? Very likely to places like Florida. In fact, they are going to Florida in growing numbers, as the latest US Census can confirm:

And that is where the Mitt Romney campaign comes in.

Unless you are totally shut off from the national election, to paraphrase the late Tim Russert: FLORIDA, FLORIDA, FLORIDA. Romney 2012 knows fully well that its candidate must make inroads into the Puerto Rican vote in Florida if it even thinks it has a chance of winning. So, being the out-of-touch campaign strategists that they are when it comes to the Latino vote, why not promote Fortuño?

Here is the problem with that. Think about it. The Puerto Rican population is migrating from the island to Florida because there are no jobs in Puerto Rico. Who has been at the helm of the worst economic crisis in Puerto Rico since the Great Depression? Luis Fortuño. There is no question that Fortuño has become a polarizing figure in Puerto Rican politics, and to think that his presence would help Romney’s efforts along the Interstate 4 corridor is unrealistic. Yay, the governor who forced me to leave the island is now telling me to vote Republican!

What is so ironic about this is that Fortuño has become a lot like President Obama, in the fact that both of them have to answer to stagnant economies and no true net changes in employment. Fortuño is quick to blame the previous administration of the opposing party, just like President Obama. But while Romney 2012 has no problem criticizing the President’s policies, it has always perplexed me why he would even roll out Fortuño. Hey, everyone, let’s celebrate the leader who has not created jobs for his own people and has seen people leave for better opportunities in the United States! Let’s hear for the guy who put a lot into pushing for changes to the Puerto Rican constitution, only to lose because people in Puerto Rico know how to Facebook and Twitter with the best of them! Right now, Luis Fortuño is damaged political goods, and his presence in Tampa will do nothing to move the needle with I-4 Puerto Ricans.

But I guess this is all about a deal. Fortuño has already assured anyone and everyone that Romney has promised the governor that if Puerto Rico were to vote for statehood in its upcoming November plebiscite (and that is one BIG IF), Fortuño were to win his re-election (another BIG IF) and if Romney were to become President Romney (a tossup IF), Romney would formally recognize the island’s desire to become the 51st state of the Union. That is the deal, and the unknowing US online media who has no clue about the complexities of Puerto Rico’s status (for example, does it even know that Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi—the Fortuño administration’s Resident Commissioner in Washington and the governor’s Number 2 guy on the ticket—is a pro-statehood Democrat who has distanced himself from both Romney and Fortuño?) eats up this whole public relations charade.

So instead of actually exploring Fortuño’s record and his growing unpopularity on the island, we get comments of how much fun Puerto Ricans love to party from Ann Romney and how Fortuño represents the new Latino Conservative (the same Latino Conservative who got billions in federal stimulus money to actually improve the situation on the island somewhat). Instead of stories that speak of a Puerto Rico that continues to see a rise in crime and a rise in income inequality, we get the shouts of “¡Buenas noches, Puerto Rico!” in Tampa. Forget the issues and the direction Puerto Rico is heading. This is all about getting the holy grail of statehood and it is also about what Fortuño will do and where he will go AFTER he loses in November.

From his speech in Tampa this week, we get a different view of a Puerto Rico from Fortuño. Cut taxes! Keep government small! Double-digit unemployment! People leaving the island I lead! Oh, wait…

In the end, all the Puerto Rican pride in the world could not hide the fact that the Romney campaign is trying to pander to Puerto Rican voters in Florida and the US every time it rolls out Fortuño as an example of success (and yes, we know, pandering to Latinos has become a tactic of both the GOP and the Democrats). As for Fortuño? It is clear that this is all about political opportunism and partisan loyalty. By not being truthful about what is really going in Puerto Rico and becoming “proof” that the GOP has new Latino stars, he is once again disrespecting and ignoring the people he serves. We thought he learned that lesson two weeks ago when he suffered a stunning defeat in the polls.

You would think he would be more humble about it. Guess not, since in a few months Luis Fortuño will be out looking for a new job.

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In its purest form, politics is all about taking risks. Without taking risks, you can’t impact change. This past Sunday in Puerto Rico, Governor Luis Fortuño and the rest of the island’s New Progressive Party took a risk. They lost. Big time.

At the same time, Fortuño’s opponent in the upcoming November elections for governor, Alejandro García Padilla of the Popular Democratic Party, tried to play it safe and really didn’t take a risk. He lost as well.

So much can be said about the surprising results in Sunday’s vote that asked Puerto Ricans to consider two changes to its Constitution: one referendum that would “have reduced have reduced the size of the U.S. territory’s legislature” and another that would have “given judges the right to deny bail in certain murder cases.” Both YES votes were leading by wide margins in the pre-voting polls, according to El Nuevo Día, yet when the results were official on Sunday evening, the NO votes had won: 54%-46% against the legislative change and 55%-45% against the bail measure.

Fortuño and the rest of pro-statehood PNP had pushed hard to get YES votes in both measures. The legislative reform, if it passed, would have given Fortuño a huge boost in his “small government” philosophy and he would have been hailed as a conservative hero at next week’s Republican National Convention in Tampa, where he will be a featured speaker. The bail reform would have been seen as another accomplishment of Fortuño’s plan to reduce violent crime on the island, which saw 1,117 murders last year and has become victim to a growing drug trade.

García Padilla, who is currently leading Fortuño by 5 points in the latest polls for governor, also favored a double YES vote, and it is clear that in his mind he was making a calculated political bet, since all the mainstream pre-election polling on the measures showed both measures passing. García Padilla played it safe, perhaps too safe, since if he had the courage and know-how to read where the island’s voters were going to vote on the issue, there is no doubt that if he had favored a double NO vote (like many of his PPD colleagues), his quest to become the island’s newest governor would have been a slam dunk.

In the end, this surprise result was all about Puerto Ricans and how the message to vote NO twice spread throughout the island, particularly in social media, where tweets, posts, emails, videos, and shares calling for two NO votes took a life of their own. The push to vote NO had everything to do with the rights granted in Puerto Rico’s Constitution and how those rights still mattered. When I spoke about this vote last month on NPR, I always felt that the Fortuño administration and the two major parties pushing for YES votes were just window dressing and not really attacking the island’s real problems.

These two leaders literally did not see Sunday’s results coming, and that is a good thing. Politicians tend to get comfortable and lose focus. And maybe the vote still does matter.

Sunday night, Fortuño downplayed his losses, especially the one on legislative reform (he said very little, if nothing about it), and focused instead on fighting the good fight and standing behind the victims who have lost loved ones to violent crime. That is admirable. However, it is still ironic.

Fortuño’s push to limit rights of all citizens, even after changes to the island’s penal code were seen by some as unconstitutional, is a bit like the United States’s struggle over gun control. Fortuño the conservative was trying to limit people’s constitutional rights in the name of public order and safety. Was a new bail measure an effective deterrent? Or is a more serious debate about the reasons why crime is still major concern in Puerto Rico still needed? Maybe this vote will force the Fortuños and the García Padillas of the world to stop looking at band-aid solutions and start looking at ways to transform the island into a new chapter. I can only hope.

So in the end, where does Fortuño go from here? Does he even have a political future in Puerto Rico? My guess is no. He is probably already thinking of how he can position himself in the US as an “up and coming” Latino conservative, since the risk he took did not play out. Fortuño will be speaking at the RNC, a defeated politician who had to take a gamble if he was serious of winning a second term. He might be able to gain some points with a new unfamiliar audience who will see him as a rising star of the GOP, but on the island he is now seen as a loser.

As for García Padilla, the only thing he has going for himself is that he is not Fortuño, and unless a wave of change sweeps through Puerto Rico in the next three months before the November election and the other political parties who benefited from Sunday’s results (like the island’s independence party) win more hearts and minds, García Padilla will become the island’s new governor. Maybe this past Sunday might be the political lesson he needed to pass to make sure he learns to lead and not just be safe, since right now, the island needs leadership that still take risks. But they better take them for the right reasons.

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Originally published at LatinoRebels.com

Leave it to pro-statehood and GOP darling Luis Fortuño to conveniently stop being a pro-US-statehooder during the London Olympics. The last few days, Fortuño, who is facing a tough re-election this November, has suddenly become one proud boricua during Puerto Rico’s Olympic efforts. Never mind the fact that as someone who fervently supports Puerto Rico becoming the 51st state of the Union, Fortuño knows that in a tough election year, you got to wrap yourself around the Puerto Rican flag and overlook your political principles.

We will got out on a limb and say that if Puerto Rico were to become the 51st state of the United States, it would no longer be an Olympic country, but what does that matter less than 100 days before an election? The irony of a passionate pro-statehooder like Fortuño now sounding like the other pro-commonwealth and pro-independence candidates he has criticized for exploiting Puerto Rico’s unique boricuaness is quite telling.

But don’t tell that to Fortuño and his campaign, since they have become Facebook addicts the last few days. Here are just a few of the posts from the official Fortuño51 page (yes he even has a 51 in his Facebook URL):

First off, change your Facebook Page cover image to exploit a picture of you and the family of bronze medal winner Javier Culson. Umm, the little girl to the right of Fortuño looks absolutely thrilled to be next to the governor.

Then start posting photos of different athletes and pushing Puerto Rico’s unique pride and love for the Olympics. Here are just a few samples of what Fortuño and his campaign posted yesterday. First off, send everyone a personal Facebook post:

Then post your first Culson pic.

Post another Culson pic an hour later. Go viral.

Then an hour later, raise the city flag of Ponce (Culson’s hometown) over La Fortaleza, the governor’s mansion.

The Olympic Facebook blitz began on Fortuño’s page over the weekend. Here are a few more screen shots of what the page posted:

Here is the hypocrisy: Fortuño is head of a statehood party (the New Progressive Party, or PNP) that wants to become a state of the Union, no ifs, ands, or buts. However, if Puerto Rico were to become a state, there is no more Olympic team for Puerto Rico. This hasn’t stopped Fortuño and his campaign from pushing Olympic pride the last few days. Talk about being inconsistent in your messaging.

In addition, many PNPers who have commented on these Fortuño posts and the posts of the PNP think that if Puerto Rico were to become a state, the Puerto Rican Olympic team would still continue because there is an Olympic charter. Yeah, right. Memo to the PNPers: the United States trumps you on your desires to keep the Puerto Rican Olympic team intact.

All this boricua pride and flag waving would go away. Puerto Ricans would become part of the US team, and give or take a Culson or a few boxers, the chances to make the bigger team would be slim.

If Fortuño were truly the pro-statehooder that he was, he would be pushing the US team’s feats to his followers. But that would not make any political sense, since it is clear that even Fortuño will admit that when it comes to being politically convenient, it is best to push the boricuaness to the masses instead of staying true to his statehood message. But, hey, fuzziness is all part of Puerto Rico’s politics. We do find it amazing that many on the island buy it because it is coming from Fortuño.

A little advice to the PNPers: If you want to become a state, put away the Puerto Rican flags and start chanting “USA USA USA!”

Are you ready to do that? Are you?

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