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New Progressive Party Attempts To Heal Itself
By Iván Román
November 25, 2001
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- With its recent primary to elect its top female leader, the New Progressive Party sought to finally heal itself -- to firm up the unity that has eluded those who fight for Puerto Rican statehood.
That goal was evident when NPP President Carlos Pesquera came into the packed room in party headquarters with a candidate for female vice president on each arm.
The delegates preferred Sen. Lucy Arce over Miriam Ramirez de Ferrer by a margin of 2-to-1. But as he announced the winner, Pesquera tossed many compliments the loser's way, moves designed to placate those not in the room.
"The important thing now is to focus on winning the next election for the good of Puerto Rico and the good of statehood," Pesquera said. "All of us have to work toward recuperating this year we lost."
It's been a year since the NPP, after being in power for eight years, lost at the polls, mostly because some 100,000 pro-statehooders who were angry at the party stayed home on Election Day.
Twelve months of internal and very public power struggles, recriminations from a resentful party base and arrests of leaders and activists on corruption charges have made it much harder to heal the wounds from that defeat.
After losing to Gov. Sila Calderon, Pesquera left the NPP presidency in January. He had lost a power struggle with party veteran Edison Misla Aldarondo, a former House speaker. Misla was indicted recently on extortion and money-laundering charges.
Former representative Leo Diaz took the helm, but complaining of an internal conspiracy to undermine his leadership, ended up stepping aside for Pesquera to come back.
Now with Sen. Norma Burgos out of the vice presidency, the delegates substituted her with Arce.
"For me, Arce is a woman of discipline who is a team player, which is very important," said Damaris Sifuentes, a retired teacher and a delegate from San Juan. "Miriam is a person who is with the extreme right wing and sometimes does not follow party decisions."
But once again, the party's delegates and leadership may have angered a good chunk of the rank and file, particularly the NPP's conservative wing. Ramirez de Ferrer, who got to the Senate this year after decades of civic and Republican pro-statehood activism, has become one of the most high-profile pro-American figures on the island.
Ramirez de Ferrer said she does not want to encourage divisions within the NPP, and the party brass is taking her at her word. Now with leaders in place, many hope that the wounds can be healed.
"Whenever there is competition, the rank and file become divided. That doesn't worry me," said Rep. Anibal Vega Borges, who replaced Misla as House minority leader. "The important thing is that 100 percent of the people be behind Pesquera."