The Rise Of New Political Groups

by John Marino

May 7, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

. This political season has seen the rise of the fourth party contender, even if none of the would-be upstarts garner enough signatures to actually make it on the November 2004 ballot.

The federal court established the legal groundwork, and mandated local regulatory changes, to pave a fair route to legitimacy for any new political entity. And the 2004 campaign has been energized by the contributions of the political novices who head the new organizations. Many helped forge the legal decisions that overturned burdensome local rules applying to the political party certification process, mainly the costly need to notarize each petition signature. Others stomped in its wake to start petition drives for their organizations, or to start organizations to go after petitions.

The Calderón campaign finance reform only served to feed the appetite of new entities, dramatically increasing the amount of public cash available to certified political parties. And the low-down rhetoric of the current gubernatorial contest is making them look more viable, as they strive to gain the ground of common sense on such diverse and important issues as sustainable development, urban renewal, fighting crime and proposing reforms of the Legislature and the commonwealth government.

It’s not completely the fault of Aníbal Acevedo Vilá of the Popular Democratic Party and Pedro Rosselló of the New Progressive Party – one of whom will surely occupy the governor’s seat come January if neither drops out of the race before then. Both have talked ideas, even though the proposals have now taken a backseat to the mud being currently thrown in the campaign. Even within the campaigns, there’s acknowledgment that the race has gotten really hot, really early.

Rosselló, during his primary battle against his former Transportation secretary Carlos Pesquera, declined to criticize his opponent for most of their electoral battle, and gave a series of weekly press conferences on his campaign platform. The former two-term governor gave specific proposals on everything from introducing universal health coverage in Puerto Rico to fighting crime and corruption to announcing a robust infrastructure construction campaign. Acevedo Vilá has been less specific on proposals and has taken longer to release them. But he has drawn broad outlines of dramatic actions he plans to take on municipal reform, political status and improving public education, among other areas.

Yet, today’s headlines and sound bites have the two main contenders for La Fortaleza bashing each other over their respective records, their fitness for office and their honesty. Each, no doubt, are reacting to the heat of the battle, and their desire for victory, when they attack their opponent rather than discussing their ideas.

The political newcomers, who have no real shot at winning, at least in 2004, have the luxury then of relying on their ideas. They have no primary opponent to knock down and, therefore, no one to attack. This is giving the sprouting of the new political entities an air of legitimacy.

One of the most interesting of the new groups is Puerto Ricans For Puerto Rico, headed by a young entrepreneur, Roegilio Figueroa, which has offered provocative ideas on a number of issues and has managed to stay out of the political status debate. He has presented solid plans to reform certain aspects of the government, halt suburban sprawl and foment urban renewal, and spur economic development. Just this past week, Angel Quintero, a would-be independent candidate for a San Juan House seat, released a University of Puerto Rico poll taken in District 1 that found a majority of respondents supported the creation of a new local party and said they would vote for an independent candidate. Both contenders, however, have acknowledged an uphill battle in garnering enough signatures to turn their groups into full-fledged political parties.

Most of the newcomers strive to point out that they don’t take a stance on political status, but there are other groups attempting to form new parties while embracing a political ideology, such as statehood. The new crop of political novices also feature Rosselló gadfly Dr. Enrique Vázquez Quintana, the former governor’s first Health secretary, who has been a constant critic of the former governor after resigning from office during the first year of the Rosselló administration.

And the guy who tried to knock Rosselló out of the race, José Emilio Pérez Gúzman, by contesting the former governor’s residency status, is part of the new movement as well. While his current legal battle appears to be a losing effort, he was one of the successful plaintiffs in federal court suits which prompted the rulings that have made it much easier to register new political parties.

The nascent new party movement has also been spurred by the recent successes of larger citizen movements in Puerto Rico, which have been able to mobilize support outside the traditional party structure. The drive to end Navy war games in Vieques is one such success. More recently, Nestor Muñiz, whose 16-year-old daughter was killed last summer by a stray bullet shot between rival drug lords, has successfully mobilized a citizens movement which has advised the administration on fighting crime and organized massive demonstrations to call attention to violence in society.

Sure, there are your typical publicity hounds and mischief-makers among the new groups. But the movement is promising to be much more than that. If it stays on message, it might actually be able to take root by 2008.

John Marino, Managing Editor of The San Juan Star, writes the weekly Puerto Rico Report column for the Puerto Rico Herald. He can be reached directly at: Marino@coqui.net

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