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EFE News Service

Millenium Ushers In New Political Era For Puerto Rico

by Elias Garcia

December 23, 2000
Copyright © 2000 EFE News Services (U.S.) Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Source: World Reporter (TM)

San Juan - The new millenium promises to usher in a new political era for Puerto Rico , ending eight years of dominance by the New Progressive Party (PNP) and its pro- statehood agenda.

Pedro Rossello, governor of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico since 1993, will hand over the reins of power Jan. 2 to Sila Maria Calderon of the Popular Democratic Party (PPD), an advocate of continuing commonwealth status and the first woman ever to govern the island.

In 1898, at the close of the Spanish-American War, Puerto Rico , then a Spanish colony, was turned over to the United States.

It was not until 1952 that, after an arduous campaign led by the PPD, the island gained its current commonwealth status , which grants Puerto Rico authority over its internal affairs while in association with the United States, whose president is the island's chief of state.

While Puerto Ricans enjoy U.S. citizenship and are exempt from the U.S. Internal Revenue Code, they cannot vote in U.S. presidential or congressional elections, although Puerto Rico does have an elected resident commissioner in Washington, who has a voice but no vote in the U.S. Congress.

The United States controls not only nationality, but also currency, foreign relations, commerce and immigration and emigration policies, as well as exercising jurisdiction over legal procedures, among other important state functions.

This has led to incompatibilities in the treatment of certain issues, such as capital punishment, banned by local laws but sometimes imposed by federal courts.

Given Puerto Rico 's associated status , political parties on the island define themselves not according to socioeconomic platforms, but in respect to the position adopted in regard to the island's relationship with the United States.

While the PNP lobbies heavily for statehood and full integration with the United States, the PPD favors continuing and enhancing the island's current commonwealth status and a third party, the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP), seeks full autonomy.

In general elections last November, the PPD ousted the PNP from the position of power it had enjoyed since 1993, gaining not only the governorship but also clear majorities in both the Senate and House.

Calderon emerged the winner of a tightly-contested race for governor, garnering 48.5 percent of the vote against the 46.1 percent of votes cast for PNP candidate Carlos Pesquera - a 42-year-old former secretary of transportation and public works - and the 4.9 percent cast for former Sen. Ruben Berrios of the PIP.

The PPD also won handily in races for 27 senators, 51 representatives, 78 mayors and 1,170 municipal assembly members, losing only San Juan to the PNP's Jorge Santini.

The PPD victory has been interpreted as a clear indication Puerto Ricans had had enough of the corruption scandals that plagued the PNP leadership over the last eight years, with some elected officials earning jail time.

"Truth has triumphed over lies, respect over confrontation, clean government over waste and corruption," Calderon said in her post-election victory speech.

One of the immediate tasks faced by the new administration is resolution of the conflict over the U.S. Navy's presence in Vieques island, part of which has been used by the United States for military maneuvers for the past several decades.

The Vieques issue dominated the electoral race after a yearlong civil disobedience campaign against the Navy led initially by the PIP but adopted late in the campaign by the PPD, which touted it as the flagship of its platform.

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