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Orlando Sentinel

Puerto Ricans Seem Resigned To More Scandal

Maria Padilla

December 11, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Orlando Sentinel. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Wondering how folks are dealing with the political scandals that rocked the island earlier this year, I headed to Doña Elisa's house.

Doña Elisa, now in her 60s, was my neighbor when I was growing up in Puerto Rico. Originally from the coffee-growing mountain town of Adjuntas, Doña Elisa moved with her family to the San Juan area in the early 1970s, as many people on the island did years ago.

San Juan was where most of the jobs were --and still are. If you want a good job, metropolitan San Juan is the place to be.

Doña Elisa still lives in the same house. Ours was a street filled with characters who cared deeply about island politics, as the great majority of Puerto Ricans do. And politics was not just a topic of discussion; it was something you lived.

In those early years, Doña Elisa painted her one-story house blue and white, the colors of the pro-statehood party. Across the street, Doña Delia splashed red and white on her three-bedroom home in support of the commonwealth. Don Tito, who lived next door to Doña Delia, was not to be outdone. His home was green and white, the colors of independence.

I must add that all the neighbors got along. Politics was politics, but neighbors were neighbors.

Doña Elisa spent many years before retirement dishing up lunches for thousands of public-school students, and she had a lot to say about the corruption scandal involving the former education secretary and others.

Because some people think that the scandals involving mostly pro-statehood politicians are driven by anti-statehood politics, I especially wanted to chat with Doña Elisa, a statehood supporter.

I found her rocking in a chair in the carport of her home on a sunny San Juan Sunday afternoon.

"Do you think this is real or made up?" I asked about the scandals, as we gently rocked together.

"Esto es de verdad." This is for real, Doña Elisa said with a nod of her head for good measure.

That's all I wanted to know, because you can bet that if people like Doña Elisa are taken aback by the sorry state of politics, then thousands of other islanders are, too. And although it's been relatively quiet on the scandal front, indications are that more bad news may be forthcoming.

A recent news item mentioned that federal investigators are looking into a possible bribery-and-extortion scheme in the Superacueducto water project here -- a scheme similar to the one uncovered in the island's Education Department, the news report said.

A grand jury may file charges against various ex-public officials affiliated with the New Progressive Party, as the statehood party officially is known.

That would be another blow for statehood supporters in particular, and Puerto Rico in general.

The public, whether here or in the states, benefits from a strong two-party or multiparty system in which there are checks and balances. But when one party is down, as the statehood party is, a void is created where there should be respected dissenting voices. (Hint to Florida's Democratic Party.)

As for Puerto Rico, it needs another corruption scandal like it needs another palm tree or piña colada.

As Doña Elisa would say, Basta ya! Enough already.

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