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It's Good Talk, But Bad Language


January 30, 2002
Copyright © 2002

SAN JUAN, P.R., Jan. 25 — Juan Manuel García-Passalacqua is a political analyst, a newspaper columnist and a professor. He graduated from Harvard Law School, has written more than a dozen books on politics and was an adviser on Latin America and the Caribbean in the Carter White House.

But every morning this 65-year-old grandfather of six turns into a no- holds-barred radio talk show host so foul-mouthed, so crude, that objection comes even from his wife of four decades, Ivonne Acosta, who says she has not listened to the show for over a year.

"I don't listen to it so we don't fight," said Ms. Acosta, herself a historian and university professor. "I use cuss words in private, but it offends me when I hear them on the radio. The mocking and the insults, I don't go along with that."

While many disapprove and tune out, many more keep listening, even if that means blushing. After three years on the air throughout Puerto Rico, Mr. García-Passalacqua's show, "Analyzing With Juanma," on the Noti-Uno radio network, beats all AM competitors in its time slot, 9 to 10 a.m. weekdays. He divides the show between his commentary on the day's headlines and taking calls from listeners, many of whom seem torn: wanting to hear the message of so well informed a source, yet wanting to kill the messenger for the way he delivers it.

Laura Magruder for The New York Times

Juan Manuel Garc’a-Passalacqua - Harvard Law School graduate, former White House adviser, current professor - is an incongruity on his weekday radio show: user of language so coarse his own wife won't listen.

"I want to ask you, as the mother of a 6-year-old, to change your vocabulary," a woman told him recently in one of the many calls he gets from people taking him to task for his expletives and vulgar colloquialisms. "You're an intelligent man. You know you don't have to go that far."

Despite some listeners' threats to complain to the government, Mr. García-Passalacqua says he has yet to hear a word from the F.C.C.

His radio persona — which frequently takes aim at local corruption and the island's commonwealth status, among other targets — evolved not as a ratings gimmick, he says, but out of frustration. For decades he advocated sovereignty for Puerto Rico (though with ties to the United States, including a right to dual citizenship) in books and the language of an educated elite, and "I achieved nothing." Now, he says, he is using the vernacular of the masses to reach those on the margins of Puerto Rico's economic and political life, "a population that votes blindly."

"I want the average citizen to join in the search for a solution to Puerto Rico's colonial situation," he said. "I have not convinced them, but I have grabbed them."

Some defend Mr. García-Passalacqua's regular use of obscenities, agreeing with him that the end justifies what he sees as effective means. Others say a creeping intrusion of foul language, not only on radio but occasionally on television and in newspapers as well, reflects a general deterioration of standards.

"It's a product of the economic difficulties in Puerto Rico," said Jaime L. Rodríguez-Cancel, academic dean at the Center for Advanced Studies of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, an independent graduate school where Mr. García-Passalacqua teaches and is widely supported. "Unemployment grows, and people find only minimum-wage jobs. The problems of drugs, money laundering, corruption, the underground economy, all this affects social behavior."

Whatever the cause, and whatever his good intentions, many Puerto Ricans remain stunned that his kind of on-air language comes from someone with the stature of Mr. García- Passalacqua.

At the Center for Advanced Studies, where he is teaching a doctoral course this semester on United States military policy in 20th-century Puerto Rico, students describe him as a rigorous, well-organized professor with a vast knowledge of his subject and personal insights from his political experiences, including appointments as legal counsel and chief aide to two Puerto Rican governors in the 1960's.

Yet on his show he has called the governor of Puerto Rico, Sila M. Calderón, "the old woman" and much worse, and last October accused her of adultery with a cabinet member. (The governor, who is in the midst of divorce proceedings, refused to comment on the remarks other than to call them "disrespectful," and even her estranged husband came to her defense.)

All this notwithstanding, Mr. García-Passalacqua is evidently not altogether comfortable with his dual role. He has tried to make a distinction between Juanma, the irascible political analyst, and Professor García-Passalacqua, the teacher who pops up on the show once a week to lecture in what he calls "la escuelita," the little school.

"It's an ethical sacrifice," he said of his radio alter ego. "I would have liked to end my career as the doctoral professor who taught at Yale. It seems absurd, but my country is asking me for something else."

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