|September 5, 2003
Copyright © 2003 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.
The Politicians: What Do You Want Them To Do?
Not surprisingly, candidates for the 2004 elections are offering solutions for Puerto Ricos problems. Campaign platforms cover the gamut of all perceived public concerns, tailoring messages to differing audiences and the latest public opinion poll. The assumption is that they know what the voters like and dislike, want or do not care about. But do they?
In spite of campaign promises in the past, elected officials generally have underserved the nearly 4-million American citizens of Puerto Rico. Government budget deficits are growing and the island, when rated against the fifty states, has the largest percentage of its population below the poverty level. Political corruption has stained the reputations of both major parties and campaign reform is a distant dream. It is still money that talks.
In spite of structural reforms over the past decade, the overall state of health care of the islands inhabitants ranks relatively low compared to any other group of American citizens. For example, the most recent data (2002) of the national Centers for Disease Control shows Puerto Rico at or near the top of national statistics in deaths caused by HIV, diabetes, influenza and liver disease. In deaths caused by the use of firearms, the island ranks only slightly better than the worst three states and the District of Columbia. In the number of homicides per 100,000 of population, Puerto Rico ranks next to worst, with Washington, D.C. holding that dubious honor.
In recent public opinion surveys, Puerto Ricans cite political status, the economy, crime rates, education and infrastructure development as the categories most requiring government action. This week, Herald readers have a chance to tell the politicos what is uppermost in their minds as the most pressing problem for Puerto Rico. Your opinion might assist warring ideologies to seek compromise to solve urgent problems for the common good. The following will serve as examples of the wide divergence in public policy recently debated in the stepped-up political campaigns.
The man who is now at the helm of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP), Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, is against privatization of government-run industries. The New Progressive Party (NPP) front-runner, Pedro Rosselló, when in the Governors office, privatized the islands phone company. Both state that the issue is about improving service and guaranteeing jobs.
Incumbent Governor Sila Calderon refuses to call up the Puerto Rico National Guard in the fight against the increasingly serious crime problem on the island, although it was a popular move when the previous administration adopted it to take back crime-infested neighborhoods in the nineteen-nineties.
Politicians of all stripes posit that a permanent political status for Puerto Rico is an urgent need but there is no agreement on the method to obtain it. Competing ideologies seem more interested in blocking each others initiatives than bringing closure to an issue that the vast majority of Puerto Ricans want finished.
Carlos Pesquera, NPP pre-candidate for a run at the governorship in 2004, points to the infrastructure projects that he oversaw in the Rosselló administration -- roads, bridges and the urban train -- promising to accelerate them if he is elected, all the while bemoaning the lack of progress in this area by the PDP administration now in power.
Puerto Rico Independence Party (PIP) leader, Sen. Rubén Berríos, jailed for his civil disobedience during the protests over the Navys use of its training facility on Vieques, is heralding his partys role in forcing the maneuvers to stop, but is less vocal on the loss of revenue to the island when the "swabbies" piped, "anchors aweigh." The subsequent reaction to the Vieques protests by pro-military members of the U.S. Congress presaged the removal of the Southern Command from Ft. Buchanan and the partial closing of the Roosevelt Roads Naval Base in Ceiba. Each and every politician has a different remedy for the loss -- "lobby Washington," " turn the land to development," "redeploy existing federal activities."
Meanwhile, the problems fester as politicians offer perfume where antiseptic is needed, rhetoric in the absence of plans and promises that never become commitments.
Wake them up! Send them a letter! Tell them what you want them to do.
Dear Mr./Ms. Candidate:
The following is the most urgent category of problems that you need to address for the benefit of Puerto Ricos people.
Services: Health Care/Education
The Economy & Jobs
Crime and Security
Please vote above.