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Drugs, Politics Fuel Scandals In Puerto Rico
By Maria Padilla
January 30, 2002
Why is this happening now? That's the big question about the recent scandals coming out of Puerto Rico.
About 23 police officers were caught in a corruption, extortion and bribery ring to protect drug dealers. Last week, a former secretary of education was charged with extortion, theft and money laundering. At least two people involved are from Orlando.
It's a shameful chapter for the island, one that has upset many people who are calling for a change in Puerto Rico politics. In Central Florida, many Puerto Ricans wish the headlines would go away.
"The Sentinel outdid itself again by portraying the seedy side of Puerto Ricans on their front page," a reader wrote in an e-mail.
There are reasons why so many corruption cases are erupting now. First, there's been a change in administration, and Gov. Sila Calderón is cleaning house, as all new administrations do. The island's political structure also has a lot to bear on the issue.
Puerto Rico, which is a United States' territory, is dominated by two political parties. Calderón represents the Commonwealth Party, which favors the island's existing political relationship with the United States. The New Progressive Party wants Puerto Rico to be a state.
Island scuttlebutt is that the Commonwealth Party likes to run government, while the NPP cares mostly about statehood.
Translated, when those who want statehood are in power they try to dampen negative news about the island for fear that it will tarnish Puerto Rico's image and the party's goal of making the island the 51st state. Corruption investigations don't get top priority when the statehood-backers are in office, while the Commonwealth Party has no such qualms.
Commonwealth advocates don't want to draw Puerto Rico any closer to the United States than it already is.
In addition, Puerto Rico's concentration of power is a big problem. Political power and the government purse is highly centralized in San Juan, where every major department has a huge bureaucracy. Very little is decided at the local level.
Essentially, the government behemoth in San Juan is accountable to no one, making it a perfect breeding ground for corruption. That's why the two political parties fight to the death to maintain power and access to the public till.
The case of the education secretary is a clear example of the blurred line between political party and public administration. It's a pity because the island's education system oversees more than 600,000 students, many of whom are poor.
The police officers' case also is an example of blurred lines and blurred vision, but with a different twist.
Police scandals in Puerto Rico are not that uncommon because ofofficers' low pay ($20,000/year) and, until not too long ago, low qualifications.
Police officers are tempted daily by the cocaine and heroin that flows through the island from South America on its way to the United States.
Drug shipments have generated crime waves on the island, driving many islanders to Orlando in search of peace and quiet. Previous administrations have tried to expand the police force to fight crime, while also raising standards. Obviously, the results have been mixed.
Islanders deserve better. Politics and drugs need to be cleaned up in Puerto Rico. Until then, my e-mail friend can look forward to reading more stories about corruption in Puerto Rico.