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Will Superman Rescue The New Progressive Party?

by Robert Becker

AUGUST 10, 2001
Copyright © 2001 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

Carlos I. Pesquera’s nickname in Puerto Rican politics is Superman. The New Progressive Party’s losing gubernatorial candidate in 2000, Pesquera got his moniker from his resemblance to Christopher Reeve, the movie actor who portrayed the Man of Steel.

After his crushing loss last November to Sila Calderón of the Popular Democratic Party, Pesquera retreated to lick his wounds at his Fortress of Solitude, in this case an executive job at a Caguas steel and pipe company.

Pesquera was a novice in politics when he ran for governor. It was his first try at elective office, and with him at the head of the ticket, the NPP, grown fat and complacent after eight years in power, fell to Calderón and her 200-watt smile. Pesquera, a brainy former university professor, displayed on the campaign stump all the charisma of Al Gore at his plodding best. He didn’t seem ready for prime time. To his detractors within the NPP, Pesquera was more Clark Kent than the Man of Steel.

Soon after losing the election, Pesquera failed to win the NPP internal reforms he wanted, particularly the removal of Edison Misla Aldarando as leader of the party’s House delegation. When Misla, a wily old-style backroom politician, refused to step aside for new leadership, Pesquera shocked many hard-core party faithful by resigning as party president. He quietly took the Caguas job, where calibrating pipe fittings replaced the razzle-dazzle of stadium rallies.

But that was then, and now is now.

Pesquera, it seems, has once again been bitten by the political bug. The question now on everyone’s lips is, can Superman rescue the declining fortunes of the once-mighty NPP?

Pesquera made his first foray back into the public eye in late June at the so-called Battle of the Flags, a day-long media stunt in which opposing bands of statehood militants and anti-Navy activists scuffled over the raising of the U.S. flag at a makeshift " peace chapel" cherished by the anti-Navy crowd. He followed that up with an appearance at the NPP’s traditional Barbosa Day rally in Bayamón on July 27. Pesquera’s appearance was clearly orchestrated, as groups in the crowd began chanting pro-Pesquera slogans as if on cue. Some NPP honchos were not amused, turning on loud political jingles over the PA system whenever the Pesquera chanting got too boisterous.

Pesquera seems to have been drawn from exile by the rising profile of his chief rival within the NPP, San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini. After months of City Hall drudgery, Santini has began playing for media attention. He organized a trash removal flying squad at a San Juan building site, on the pretext that construction debris posed a safety hazard whenever the next hurricane hits. Santini’s real purpose was to embarrass Calderón, who had stalled a renewal project from going forward at the site.

Santini, a former senator from San Juan, is a formidable rival to Pesquera. He has a powerful political machine in San Juan, is extremely ambitious, and is the NPP’s most powerful elected official.

Not to be overlooked in the leadership equation is the party’s president, Leo Díaz. Díaz, an obscure House member who was thrust into the leadership after Pesquera bolted, is using the party presidency to make his mark as an up-and-comer. Like Santini, he lacks experience, but he is growing rapidly in his new job.

With all this jostling and jockeying for position going on, the party elders had to do something, lest the Young Turks embroil the party in a destructive internecine war. The solution was a peace conference of sorts on Aug. 7 at party headquarters in San Juan’s Santurce district.

The party’s Old Guard turned out in force. Former governor and Resident commissioner Carlos Romero Barceló was there, as was former governor and party patriarch Luis A. Ferré, still an active figure in the statehood movement.

When the confreres emerged from the back rooms -- smoke-filled or other side -- the terms of the truce were announced. All concerned had agreed to hold off any declarations of their aspirations, and any campaigning as such, while offering their availability to the party.

It was clear in the aftermath of the NPP meeting that the party is dividing into factions under rival chieftains. That is not necessarily a bad thing. For one, it was the first sign of life from a grouping that had seemed to shrivel up, literally, after its elections loss. It was also clear that if Superman is to rescue Metropolis, he has to conquer his rivals, unite the party, and lead it into battle for 2004.

Robert Becker, Managing Editor of The San Juan Star, writes the weekly Puerto Rico Report column for the Puerto Rico Herald. He can be reached directly at:

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