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Posts Tagged ‘Eduardo Bhatia’


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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Memo to Puerto Rico’s Popular Democratic Party (PPD), champions and defenders of a status colonial arrangement that is 60 years old and is no longer working: stop the politics, stop the whining, and allow the will of the Puerto Rican people to decide on its political future.

Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuño

Today, Puerto Rican and pro-statehood Republican Governor Luis Fortuño signed into law a two-part voter referendum to address the island’s political status preference. The process had already experienced a public session where amendments to the vote were made as well as criticism from members of Fortuño’s own party.

(On a sidenote, Fortuño’s actions must have taken Puerto Rican history into account, since the 2012 plebiscite will occur during the 60th year anniversary of the Puerto Rican Constitution, the document that declared the island a Commonwealth of the United States, the country that invaded it in 1898.)

Now, the PPD leadership, which clings to a colonial status quo mentality that has done very little to advance the status question as well as Puerto Rico’s move into the 21st century, is crying foul. Bring on the POLITIQUERÍA, which has become the island’s #1 pastime, even though more and more islanders are done with the pettiness and more worried about getting jobs and staying safe.

As reported by the Associated Press:

The first part of the referendum will ask voters if they want a change in status or prefer to remain a U.S. commonwealth. The second part will ask that voters choose from three options: statehood, independence or sovereign free association.

The original proposal was to hold the first part of the referendum in August 2012 and then, only if the majority sought a change in status, hold the second part during the November 2012 general elections.

But under the new proposal, the two-part referendum will be held on Nov. 6, said Gov. Luis Fortuño, who leads the pro-statehood New Progressive Party.

Regardless of what voters decide, any change requires approval by the U.S. Congress and president.

PPD Senator Eduardo Bhatia

Sen. Eduardo Bhatia said holding both parts on the same day makes no sense because it assumes that the pro-status quo option doesn’t win and the second round will be necessary.

“This law is proof that the leadership of the pro-statehood movement turns to trickery, deceit and the technique of confusion as political weapons,” said Bhatia of the Popular Democratic Party, which supports the current commonwealth status. “What opportunity do voters have to seriously reflect between one vote and the other? None.”

The questions will be on the same ballot and Fortuño has not stated clearly how they will be presented. Critics fear that being forced to choose from the three options could influence how people vote in the first part.

Kenneth McClintock, secretary of state for Puerto Rico, denied accusations that pro-status quo supporters would be ignored, saying that people were free to leave the second part of the ballot blank. He said Bhatia’s party had previously agreed to holding the referendum in one day.

McClintock said the U.S. Congress would interpret the results if the majority chose something other than maintaining the status quo.

Fortuño also discarded criticism of the referendum.

“All processes aimed at resolving Puerto Rico’s political future assumes that the current situation no longer has majority support,” he said.

Fortuño spokeswoman Ana del Valle said his administration chose to hold the two-part referendum on the same day to get a sense of what people prefer for the island’s political future.

The referendum received praise from Luis Delgado, leader of a group that is pushing for Puerto Rico to have a sovereign free association with the U.S. But Delgado urged Fortuño to demand that the U.S. outline terms and conditions for each of the choices before the referendum is held.

Puerto Rico has long debated its political status, with no majority for any particular status emerging in referendums held in 1967, 1993 and 1998.

Rafael Cox Alomar, a PDP member who is seeking the island’s nonvoting Congressional seat, dismissed the referendum as expensive and unnecessary.

“This referendum does not work and does not involve nor compromise in any way the U.S. Congress,” he said. “In a moment of economic crisis… the cost of this referendum is an insult to the people who reject it.”

Alejandro Garcia Padilla, who is running against Fortuño, said the Popular Democratic Party would soon issue its official stance on the referendum.

Critics also noted that if Fortuño’s party loses the election, millions of dollars spent on the referendum will have gone to waste.

The PPD reaction is clearly partisan and short-sighted. The Defenders of the Colonial Commonwealth are making a huge political mistake by trying to defend a system that is becoming less and less viable for the island. Instead, the PPD should seriously consider taking the growing anti-Fortuño sentiment and turn it into a positive. Why won’t it consider other options that go beyond the current system?

If the PPD continues to think it is running a campaign out of 1979—when the political will to maintain the Colonial Commonwealth was stronger— it will lose it all. Fortuño will win his re-election, even with the island’s social and economic problems, and statehood will win out. The time for the PPD to wake up is now, or else everything it has tried to defend since 1952 will vanish. The smart move now is to try and salvage what it can. Voters in Puerto Rico are ready to change and improve the status quo, and there is still a sentiment that statehood is too extreme and the wrong fit for the island.

But if the PPD doesn’t change its course and stop complaining that it doesn’t approve of the rules of the game, they will become irrelevant.

Why doesn’t the PPD lead the charge in forcing the US Congress to make the plebiscite vote binding? This might actually be seen as a proactive and tangible action that goes beyond political whining.

The question is: if your house is on fire, do you work hard to save part of your house or do you stubbornly refuse to save your burning house out of anger that your house is on fire?

Here’s hoping the PPD wants to truly save the burning house. Puerto Rico is definitely worth saving. The people should have a voice. Let the politicians get out of the way.

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