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Orlando Sentinel

Status Politics Invade Central Florida

Maria Padilla

October 2, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Orlando Sentinel. All rights reserved. 

Many Central Floridians left Puerto Rico to escape the island's rabid politics. But politicking within Orlando's Hispanic community is beginning to resemble Puerto Rico's.

That's not a good thing.

One of the good things about politics in Puerto Rico is that participation is very high. Nearly 90 percent of the people vote, which means you don't have to worry about voter turnout on Election Day, as people do here.

But the downside to island-style politics is that it infects everything -- from your job to your wardrobe. Everything is filtered through a political lens, every issue is blown up to crisis proportions and people weave conspiracies where none exist.

For example, during the '90s, when I lived on the island, I once was asked if I was a Nationalist because I had on a black and white dress! It just so happened that these are the colors of the old Nationalist movement. Here's the other rainbow of political colors:

If you wear blue, you favor statehood; red is for commonwealth; green is independence. I never wore that dress again.

There are more serious political consequences to island politics, and we got a good example of it last week.

In the political-corruption scandals rocking the island, an ex-secretary of education testified that he had conducted a "census" of Education Department employees to determine their political affiliations and, thus, begin a shakedown for party contributions. The extortion of contractors began when the shakedown of employees didn't generate enough money.

I wish I could say the employee "census" is unusual, but it's been going on for decades, although it is as illegal in Puerto Rico as it is here.

Politics is the national sport of Puerto Rico, where even in casual conversation people try to smoke out your political affiliation. When I left Puerto Rico in 1994, I thought I had left the political fever behind. Not so.

Some Puerto Rican readers in Orlando get in a tizzy over stories or columns, and begin connecting disparate dots and forming conspiracies that are too fantastic to believe.

A recent conspiracy theory has it that the Orlando Sentinel has it in for Hispanic political candidates this election. The sad part is, Hispanic candidates -- including Anthony Suárez, John Quiñones and Eddie Díaz -- are the ones espousing the hypothesis.

The theory lacks credibility, which goes to show that the Puerto Rican community has a while to go before real leaders emerge.

Another reader asked whether I got "paid under the table" to write the things I write -- just the sort of thing you might expect to hear in Puerto Rico. The Sentinel is the only entity that cuts me a regular paycheck.

Some readers are working hard to put me in a political box. I am a Democrat, Republican, favor Puerto Rico's commonwealth status or independence, statehood or all of the above. Each column has an "agenda," so say these readers.

I select my own subjects, and develop them accordingly. There is no "agenda," just my own power of observation.

Here's an observation, though: The political fanaticism of Puerto Rico has produced a stalemate on the island, an inability to conduct dialogue across party lines, co-worker to co-worker or neighbor to neighbor.

And here's a related question: Is that what Puerto Ricans want for Orlando?

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