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WIPR: Controversy Of The Week

by Lance Oliver

February 9, 2001
Copyright © 2001 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

The political controversy of the week in Puerto Rico is the turmoil at WIPR, the public broadcaster, where the chairman of the board has been fired and the president has resigned. But it is really only one of many examples of how political fighting leaves Puerto Rico weaker and distracted from its essential problems.

On Tuesday, Gov. Sila Calderón fired Board Chairman Arturo Guzmán in a dispute over hundreds of contracts he had signed. The Calderón administration is reviewing contracts throughout the government.

On Wednesday, WIPR President Jorge Inserni resigned. Calderón appointed Luis Agrait, former chairman of the Board of Directors of the Institute for Puerto Rican Culture to replace Guzmán. Inserni will soon be replaced, the turmoil will continue and the spoils divided up anew.

Naturally, over in the Capitol, investigations are being launched and irate press conferences scheduled. The public broadcaster is the crux of debate for the moment. Does it have autonomy from the central government and was therefore not obliged to hand over the contracts? Does it have, as the Calderón administration contends, administrative autonomy but not fiscal autonomy?

These hair-splitting questions are not the real point, anyway. The real issue is the power struggle that has been going on for years between the two major parties, both of which stack the government and its bloated, related agencies with politically loyal personnel, passing out jobs like the Three Kings handing out candy to crowds of children.

The WIPR fight is just this week’s headline example. There will be more. There is no end in sight, actually.

Another one of the more absurd examples of political squabbling was a press conference held in recent days by Edison Misla Aldarondo and other New Progressive Party legislators who went before the eager-to-oblige microphones to denounce Calderón for not having accomplished anything significant in her first 30 days.

This hasty assessment was based on the fact that the governor has not yet sent any sweeping legislation to the Legislature. What about the crisis in funding the public health care system? Why no legislation to deal with corruption or economic development?

This takes a lot of gall, but that’s a substance in no short supply in the Capitol. Do the NPP legislators expect us to believe that these problems only arose since Calderón took office on Jan. 2? If not, any health care system crisis, government corruption or economic woes would more rightly be blamed on the party that was in power in both elective branches of the government from 1993 through 2000.

But that didn’t stop Misla Aldarondo and colleagues, the highest-paid local legislators in the United States, from declaring the Calderón administration a failure after one month on the job.

I’m reminded of an ancient Doonesbury cartoon wherein a radio commentator passes judgment on a new presidential administration. It gradually becomes clear he’s making the assessment after one day in office for the new president. He ends, "While it’s too early to talk about impeachment…"

While real life has not yet reached the level of absurdity found in that satire, it’s bad enough. And it’s happening according to the same script in San Juan City Hall, where Mayor Jorge Santini continues to seize every opportunity to criticize Calderón and trash any plans she made while she was mayor of the capital.

Most notably this week, Santini scrapped Calderón’s plans for building a park on the former city landfill and unveiled plans of his own for a park and golf course. Of course he couldn’t answer questions about who would design it or build it, but the important thing was not to address the details and show that it was a carefully considered and improved plan, but rather to toss the old plans into the trash can as rapidly as possible.

The constant power struggle between two evenly matched political parties introduces a constant inefficiency into Puerto Rico’s systems. Long-term planning cannot survive a change of power.

It’s a system that can be sustained only because Puerto Rico is willing to give Washington its sovereignty in exchange for subsidies and, for the majority, is satisfied with no taxation and no representation. Otherwise, this built-in inefficiency would only ensure Puerto Rico’s greater impoverishment. Recent economic trends suggest Puerto Rico is slipping further behind the world’s wealthier countries anyway.

One thinks there must be a better way.

Lance Oliver writes The Puerto Rico Report weekly for The Puerto Rico Herald. He can be reached by email at:

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