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April 4, 2003
Copyright © 2003 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved. 

What Will Be the Predominant Issue In Puerto Rico’s 2004 Campaign?

Here are your choices.

  1. Economic Growth
  2. Political Corruption
  3. Crime and Social Issues
  4. Political Status

In a recent Hot Button Issue Poll, a large majority of Herald readers thought that the article in the March 2003 issue of the National Geographic Magazine ("True Colors") placed unfair emphasis on Puerto Rico’s nagging problems. The problems reported, however, do exist, at least in the view of the major political players who are already making their amelioration a part of campaign platforms. The three candidates for Puerto Rico’s next gubernatorial term are each stressing one main issue in their appeal to voters.

Popular Democratic Party (PDP) incumbent governor, Sila Calderon, seems to have made her choice. Apparently convinced that her eventual New Progressive Party (NPP) opponent will be former governor Pedro Rossello, she is writing lyrics to what she thinks will be a hit campaign song entitled, "Corruption, Corruption, Corruption." She has been perfecting that tune since her run against her NPP challenger, Carlos Pesquera, whom she beat in Y-2000. It was at that time that allegations of bribes and influence peddling were leveled against members of Rossello’s administration, of which Pesquera was a part. In the hundreds of subsequent investigations and scores of convictions, no legal culpability has been proven against either NPP politician.

Carlos Pesquera, the NPP President, plans to compete against Rossello in a primary to decide the NPP candidate in the general election. He is now scratching for NPP support and must hope that Sila Calderon is right that Rossello, because of the corruption found within his administration, is damaged goods. Such a perception by the Puerto Rico electorate would facilitate a Pesquera primary victory. It seems clear that Pesquera has remained relatively undirtied by PDP mudslinging about NPP corruption. He has concentrated on painting Ms. Calderon as a "do-nothing" governor who has allowed the promising social initiatives of the Rossello administration to die on the vine. As the official in charge of public works, Pesquera built a record of efficiency and progress. He is banking on that record to resonate with voters who wish to see a revival of the island economy and a new era of growth.

Understandably, Pedro Rossello hopes that they are both wrong. He has admitted his responsibility for not recognizing the corruption occurring around him at La Forteleza and is confident that the voters will accept his assurances he will be doubly vigilant in any future administration. The corruption issue, he says, is in the past and, to the extent that it continues to exist, it is the problem of the current administration that has recently seen some of its own elected officials coming under scrutiny by investigators for alleged political corruption. Rossello has said that he intends to return to first principles of governance in his campaign, placing before Puerto Ricans his plans for an improved economy, a reduction of crime and bolstering of social programs.

Political status, of course, is the 1000-pound gorilla standing behind every candidate for office in Puerto Rico. Sila Calderon, in pursuit of a commonwealth with more of the powers of an independent nation, while remaining within the U.S. system, has gotten nowhere in her appeal to members of Congress to provide them. Instead she has landed at foreign airports asking to be received as a visiting head-of-state, only to be rebuffed by host governments at the urging of the U.S. Department of State. Whether these histrionics "play" on the island political stage remains to be seen.

Another actor in the political status drama is Carlos Pesquera who mounted a campaign is support of the American flag to assure NPP stalwarts that he was not "soft on statehood." Backed by statehood supporters and followed by the press, he charged with "Old Glory" through a phalanx of PDP employees to place the symbol of U.S. nationhood beside the flag of Puerto Rico in the corridor of an office that had refused to display it. The gesture gave him publicity and momentum that lasted until Pedro Rossello entered again upon the political scene. Charges brought against him for riot have become a badge of courage for those in pursuit of a 51st star on the American flag.

Pedro Rossello, who never spent a day as governor without dreaming of some way to achieve the addition of that star on the U.S. flag, now says that he will not actively pursue statehood in a hoped-for future administration. He will leave that issue up to the courts, he says, admitting that his call for plebiscites and his lobbying in Congress for legislation authorizing a congressionally approved process for Puerto Rico to obtain permanent political status were mistaken. Some observers claimed to have seen his nose grow by several inches as he uttered those words, but, for the moment at least, he has eschewed the rhetoric of statehood in his campaign stops.

Playing upon the messages of the three candidates for governor are the persistent problems that the National Geographic article highlighted and for which Puerto Ricans are expecting solutions by the Commonwealth Government. The crime rate is rising on the island, although Governor Calderon says that it is not so. Earlier crime statistics, she says, were incorrectly scaled downward to make her job, as "chief cop," look bad. All candidates are focusing on medical care, education, housing and jobs, aware that these will be the bread and butter issues for voters after the intoxication of political status promotion and charges of official wrongdoing wear off. Each is positioning his or herself as the one most likely to change the island so that the next national article about Puerto Rico will make it seem like a Caribbean "Shangri-La."

As you consider your vote (actual or hypothetical) in the next election for the governorship of Puerto Rico, what would you expect to be the predominant issue for you among the choices offered?

  • Economic Growth
  • Political Corruption
  • Crime and Social Issues
  • Political Status

This Week's Question:
What Will Be the Predominant Issue In Puerto Rico’s 2004 Campaign?

US . Residents
. PR
Economic Growth 39%
17% Political Corruption 28%
9% Crime and Social Issues 16%
38% Political Status 17%


.To submit your idea for a future PR Herald poll question or "Hot Button" issue, please click here.

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