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PUERTO RICO REPORT
New Year, Same Old Same Old
by Lance Oliver
January 12, 2001
This time, its supposed to be different. Gov. Sila Calderón said so.
A new year, 2001, and it would bring a new administration to La Fortaleza, new control of the Legislature, a new mayor in San Juan city hall and in other city halls around the island.
Most importantly of all, the new governor told us, there would be a new style of governing, one based on seeking consensus rather than abusing one-party rule.
And truly Im willing and even predisposed to join in the optimism. After all, Calderón has at least four years to try to turn around business as usual in the political arena. Certainly, no judgments should be made based on the first two weeks of the year.
Thats a good thing, considering that so far, 2001 has been a new year with much of the same old stuff. For example:
New year, same old: blame game. Calderóns team started this one by using the transition as an excuse to magnify the governments problems and lay the groundwork for blaming the previous administration for current problems. But it took Jorge Santini, the new mayor of San Juan, to perfect it.
In his inaugural address, given shortly after he and Calderón warmly embraced, Santini devoted nearly a third of his speech to criticizing her management of the city while Calderón could do no more than squirm on her seat. She was understandably a lot less cordial after the inaugural address.
Calderón may not be innocent, but at least she didnt lash out directly at former Gov. Pedro Rosselló during her inaugural address. And at least she didnt leave during Santinis address, as Rosselló did during hers.
New year, same old: party in crisis. The party lost the governorship, the legislature and most of the mayoral seats. Debt levels are debilitating. No leader is clearly poised to move the party forward. Rogue elements threaten unity.
Of course Im talking about the Popular Democratic Party in 1996. So what was it people were saying about the New Progressive Party being in such a state of indebted disarray? All true, but see how quickly these "crises" can turn into "major victories."
New year, same old: political leadership. Carlos Pesquera said the NPP should have new faces, new leadership. Edison Misla Aldarondo, not exactly a newcomer, felt otherwise, wishing to hold on to his leadership post in the Legislature. Misla won, Pesquera resigned.
An unexpected casualty of all this was not Pesquera, but Guaynabo Mayor Héctor ONeill, president of the NPP mayors organization, who heeded Pesqueras call for new leadership and gave up his post, only to be left empty-handed when Pesquera bolted.
New year, same old: Carlos Romero Barceló. Why would I retire from politics? the former resident commissioner recently asked. El caballo will not go gently into that good night of retirement, party renovation, "new faces" and all that other talk. But then no one really expected him to.
New year, same old: patterns. The new mayor of San Juan is a rare moment of joy, the only victory his party can point to. Luis Ferré suggests he is the partys future leader. The new mayor demurs, saying that San Juan City Hall should not be used as a springboard for running for governor.
Why does all this sound familiar?
New year, same old: undoing the previous administrations work. Senate President Antonio Fas Alzamora said that the new PDP-controlled Legislature will soon turn its attention to reviewing and undoing some of the laws passed by the previous Legislature.
Does each party undoing the work of the other amount to "progress?" (Well, maybe in the case of erasing the "daylight saving time" law it would be progress.)
Some enterprising political science or history student should write his or her thesis on what percentage of the legislative actions in Puerto Rico are devoted to undoing previous legislative actions. The same could be said of executive branch policies.
Where else does a government change its "official language" every time the party in power changes?
New year, same old: know-it-all columnist. Well, its not that I think I know it all. I just get paid to act like I do in public, where my old columns can be retrieved later for the purpose of pointing out all the times I was wrong.
New year, same old: hope. That its a good one.
Lance Oliver writes The Puerto Rico Report weekly for The Puerto Rico Herald. He can be reached by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.