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Posts Tagged ‘EL NUEVO DIA’


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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In today’s El Nuevo Día, Pedro Pierluisi, the island’s Resident Commissioner and a pro-statehood Democrat, said that if Puerto Ricans want the U.S. Congress to act upon the island’s political status, voting “No” to the first question of the two-question November 6 non-binding plebiscite will send a strong message to Congress that Puerto Ricans desire a change in the current commonwealth system. Basically, the first question asks Puerto Ricans if they care to remain a commonwealth of the US or whether they prefer a change in status. The second question—if voters do indeed prefer a change—would ask voters to choose from three status options: independence, statehood, or sovereign free association.

Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner

Even though the entire November 6 plebiscite is non-binding (meaning Congress doesn’t have to do anything no matter what Puerto Ricans vote on), Pierluisi believes that a “No” vote on the first question would send the right message to Congress.

The first question of the two included in the consultation on the status 6th November that will determine if the U.S. Congress will act to implement the results of the vote, said today the Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi. This is what END reported (translation is ours):

“En la primera es que nos va la vida. Si se rechaza el status actual, pues entonces de la segunda el Congreso lo que va a recibir es el deseo de nuestro pueblo en cuanto a cuál de las opciones de cambio es la que favorece. Y ahí sí que no va a tener alternativa”.

“Si por otro lado, que yo espero que no sea el caso, pide que Puerto Rico permanezca con el status que tiene, hasta nuevo aviso, pues entonces la contestación de la segunda pregunta lo que le va a indicar al Congreso es hacia dónde va dirigido nuestro pueblo, pero el Congreso no va a actuar sobre ese resultado”.

“Si el pueblo le dice que no quiere cambio, estoy seguro, no tengo duda, que el Congreso va a esperar para actuar sobre el asunto del status hasta que el pueblo le diga lo contrario”.

“The first question is what matters to us and our lives.  If voters reject the current status [in the first question], that Congress will know what option the desire of our people will prefer with the second question.  There will be no alternative [in the second question].”

“If on the other hand, I hope it’s not the case, voters call for Puerto Rico to stay with the current status, until further notice, then the answer to the second question about what option our people want to indicate to Congress, well, Congress will not act on that result.”

“If the people says they do not want a change [in status], I’m sure, I have no doubt that Congress will wait to act on the status issue until the people tell them otherwise.”

Pierluisi, who is a pro-statehood Democrat and the island’s non-voting member in Congress, and is running for re-election (on November 6; yeah, we know it’s complicated) on the same ticket as pro-statehood Republican governor Luis Fortuño, did make it a point to say that Democrats in Congress would be more open to having Puerto Rico become a state (if the statehood option wins in the plebiscite’s second question) than Fortuño’s fellow Republicans. Yes, we know, it is really confusing. Anyway, this is what Pierluisi added:

“El resultado va a hablar por sí solo. Si la mayoría del pueblo rechaza el status actual pues entonces, como yo lo veo, no tengo dudas de que mis compañeros y compañeras en el Partido Demócrata van a tomar cartas en el asunto y van a querer responder a ese llamado del pueblo por un cambio”.

 “En el caso de los republicanos sabemos que hay sectores en el partido republicano que son muy conservadores, que se han opuesto hasta que meramente tengamos un plebiscito en el pasado y no tengo duda de que también se opondrían a que Puerto Rico se uniera como un estado”.

“The result will speak for itself. If the majority of people reject the current status for then, as I see, I have no doubt that my colleagues in the Democratic Party will take action on the matter and will want to answer the call of the people for a change.”

“For the Republicans, we know that there are sectors in the Republican Party who are very conservative, who have opposed to even have a plebiscite in the past and I have no doubt that they also oppose Puerto Rico becoming a state.”

The status question is the one issue that the island’s politicians have abused for decades. What Pierluisi should be saying on the floor of Congress is that the plebiscite be made BINDING immediately. Instead, Pierluisi falls into the same political trap as every other politician on the island: he is using the carrot of Congress being more accepting of the will of Puerto Rican voters by pushing for an initial answer that clearly benefits his pro-statehood beliefs. A true Resident Commissioner would push for a binding resolution NOW. Instead, Pierluisi is just playing partisan politics, which gets even more complicated on the island since most of his fellow Democrats are more likely to be pro-commonwealth advocates than pro-statehooders. Add the fact that Pierluisi is also saying the Democrats in the Congress would be more open to accept the plebiscite vote than certain sectors of the Republican party, the party that Fortuño is a part of, and it becomes one big political ball of confusion. How can anyone in Puerto Rico even understand it?

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If the race for Puerto Rico’s governor were held today, the latest poll from El Nuevo Día, the island’s largest newspaper, suggests that incumbent Republican and pro-statehooder Luis Fortuño would have a hard time overcoming his main challenger, Alejandro García Padilla.

Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuño

These latest results, which were published this morning in END, changed very little from a poll that ran in late March. García Padilla, who is the choice of the island’s Popular Democratic Party (PPD) was at 38% then and he is at 38% now. Fortuño was at 30%, and has crept up to 31%. Pro-independence candidate Juan Dalmau is still at 4%, and there is still 19% who are undecided.

Even with the current national attention by the Republican National Committee being given to Fortuño, the incumbent has barely dented García Padilla’s lead, if that. It’s all about the economy, as they say, and in Puerto Rico, Fortuño’s much publicized tough love has resulted in a more divided island that is still spiraling from double-digit unemployment, a shrinking labor force, and an exodus of young talent to the mainland.

Who knows what the 19% undecided are thinking, but to think that Fortuño will have an easy time is a stretch indeed. Maybe the RNC should be taking notes and rethinking its promotion of the Puerto Rican governor.

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