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Orlando Sentinel

Island Should Get New Name -- Macondo

By Maria Padilla

July 3, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Orlando Sentinel. All rights reserved.

Here's a postcard from the edge: The head of Puerto Rico's pro-statehood movement forced his way into the island's women's advocacy office to plant a U.S. flag next to the Puerto Rico flag, creating a melee.

Then, pro-statehood chief Carlos Pesquera put his media machine in action, sending out press releases. "Defending Old Glory in Puerto Rico," blared the statement issued out of Miami. Last Friday, the commonwealth government charged Pesquera with inciting a riot.

Since Pesquera invited me into the controversy by publicizing his cause to the stateside media, and since he has also been indicted, here are my thoughts:

Until the moment he and his supporters crashed the office, Pesquera had made a valid point in a peaceful, non-violent way. Puerto Rico is a 104-year old territory of the United States, and both flags are flown in 99.9 percent of government offices. Why not the women's advocacy office?

After waiting four hours to enter that office, Pesquera and his group lost patience. A supporter began padlocking the door, which prompted an advocacy employee to open it. As they say in street Spanish, pa' que fue eso! Or, why'd you do that for?

All hell broke loose, and the television cameras clearly showed Pesquera and his supporters as the aggressors, while others tried to hold them back. Several people were hurt.

I guess it never occurred to Pesquera that his move carried profound symbolism.

On an island where machismo still rules and violence against women still is tolerated, Pesquera decided to crash the very office set up to protect island women against such abuses.

To borrow from the great Colombian writer, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, this could happen only in Macondo, the fictional village in his novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, where the surreal is the stuff of daily life.

Indicting Pesquera was the correct thing to do. Pesquera denied he was violent.

But of course, this is Macondo, where pro-statehooders sometimes try to be more American than Americans. It's not surprising that this incident occurred close to July 4.

Independence Day is celebrated on the island, although many more people rally around the U.S.-approved creation of the commonwealth government, which is July 25 and which 50 years ago gave Puerto Rico a limited form of self-government.

By the way, a big chunk of Puerto Ricans who settle in Orlando from Puerto Rico favor statehood.

Pesquera's main objective was to embarrass the governor, whose party is pro-commonwealth. Island voters are split evenly along pro-statehood and pro-commonwealth lines.

In an important twist, the head of the women's advocacy office favors independence. She had removed the U.S. flag from the corridor of her office, breaching protocol. Pesquera's statement described her as an "avowed separatist, anti-U.S. advocate," scare words used to instill terror in a Congress that often is befuddled about Puerto Rico.

The island's independence movement barely has a heartbeat -- a fact conceded by its advocates.

This whole incident can be reduced to two wrongs: The head of the women's advocacy office should not have moved the U.S. flag, and Pesquera should have used his brain, not brawn.

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