With Four Weeks To Go, Who Will It Be?
Recently a caravan was observed snaking its way up a mountain road in Puerto Rico. At close inspection, it was seen not to be a procession of dromedaries burdened with spices and textiles from the Orient, somehow disoriented on its trek to Istanbul.
This caravan consisted of a disparate collection of cars, trucks, buses, bikes and walkers, spurred on by sound trucks alternately blasting out Caribbean rhythms and slogans about the suitability of a candidate campaigning for office in the islands 4-year election cycle to be held on November 2nd.
On that day virtually all elected offices are to be decided, including the entire Senate, the House of Representatives and the Mayors of Puerto Ricos incorporated cities. The major focus for most islanders, however, is who among the candidates is to be their next Governor and Resident Commissioner.
Vying for the office of Governor are Aníbal Acevedo Vilá of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) - the current Resident Commissioner, Pedro Rosselló of the New Progressive Party (NPP) a former Governor and Ruben Berríos Martinez of the Puerto Rico Independence Party (PIP) a current Senator. The candidates for Resident Commissioner are Luis Fortuño of the NPP, Roberto Pratts of the PDP and Edwin Irizarry Mora of the PIP. Typically, voters choose candidates from the same party to both important posts, but it need not do so. It is possible that the Governor could be from one Party and the Resident Commissioner from another.
This week, Herald readers can indicate which of the three political parties will hold these two offices from 2005 to 2008.
The joyous and colorful tradition of Puerto Rico political campaigning, the "caravan," is now a daily sight throughout the island as cheering bystanders encourage caravan participants as they make their way along the road. Festooned with the colors of each political party; red for the PDP, blue for the NPP and green for the PIP, caravan riders end up at a "metin," there to hear speeches and enjoy delicacies like "lechon" (roast pig). Its all a part of creating interest and excitement for a Partys slate of candidates.
But beyond the "hoopla" of caravans and "metins," serious issues underlie the choices to be made on November 2nd and for nearly two years aspirants for office have made their cases in primary campaigns, radio interviews and TV debates. The three candidates for Governor recently held an island-wide TV debate, to answer questions posed by local reporters. The journalists wished to explore such issues as official corruption, economic development, building island infrastructure and the environment.
In actuality, much of the debate became an "ad hominem" attack against the front runner, NPP candidate Pedro Rosselló, by his principal opponent, PDPs Aníbal Acevedo Vilá. The PIPs representative, Ruben Berríos chided both for failing to meet the issues. Rossellós campaign has been sidetracked by federal convictions and indictments of some 20 members of his former administration on charges of bribery and money laundering. Although no charges have been leveled at Rosselló personally, his opponents have tried to tar him with the same brush. Even though such partisan attacks seem not to have diminished his popularity, they have kept him on the defensive.
PDP Candidate Acevedo Vilás decision to turn the final days of the campaign into personal attacks on the front runner can be explained by his desperation at not being able to attract wide appeal to his own candidacy. He is being criticized for not attending to his official duties in Washington over the past year and he is "joined at the hip" with the foundering gubernatorial administration of Sila Calderon, his mentor and now supporter. The Calderon Acevedo Vilá team was victorious four years ago in winning the top spots in Puerto Ricos political hierarchy.
Her term as Governor has been beset by miscues, the latest of which was her decision to shut down the electrical power grid for the entire island as Tropical Storm Jeanne approached Puerto Rico on September 15th . Her reasoning for this unprecedented move was to prevent "accidents" should people step on downed power lines. This move outraged most of the islands 4-million inhabitants who were plunged into darkness as the storm hit. As it was, seven people died, two from fumes of a gas-powered generator and the island suffered an estimated $100 million in damage to business and property. In some cases it required 8 days for residents to have power restored. Most were without electricity for 3 to 4 days.
As Puerto Ricans from every point of the islands political compass hurled complaints at the Governor, she remained adamant that it had been the right decision. Acevedo Vilá tried to distance himself from the fiasco, knowing that he would be asking for the votes of those whose food had spoiled, whose water would not pump, whose telephone service was interrupted whose friends and relatives had recounted "horror stories" of a week without power. Pedro Rosselló rubbed salt in the Governors wound by recounting his own experiences with hurricanes during two terms as Governor. "I was told that it was better to keep the system running because if it shuts down due to the storm, the system will identify where the damage was made." He also pointed out that turning off the power risks more damage to the electrical grid.
Rosselló has been touting his record of infrastructure growth during his eight years in the Forteleza and has complained about the Calderon Acevedo Vilá administrations foot dragging on new projects. If elected, he would accelerate existing projects and initiate new ones to create jobs in an island that has an unemployment rate of 10.8%, up more than one point over last months estimate published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. He has also pointed to the escalating crime and murder rate on the island as a priority in need of reversing.
The PDP currently has 1/2 the money available to the NPP to use in political activities in this last month of the campaign and is searching for an issue that will deflect the trend favoring Pedro Rosselló Acevedo Vilá is promoting a plan to assist small businesses by dedicating a quota of government contracts to that sector. He also proposes creating tax-free zones outside of the major cities to encourage reverse migration away from overpopulated urban centers.
Berrios Martinez, shooting from the sidelines, is articulating the familiar PIP mantra, that the political establishment is too much tied to corporate interests, too much depending on federal aid and too similar in its approach to social concerns. So far, Berrios has not enjoyed the popular "bounce" he had hoped for as a result of his leadership in forcing the U.S. Navy out of its training facility in Vieques. During those months, his image as a "squatter" in his pup tent on the base, and later his photos as a jailed protestor, gave him hero status at the time but seems not to have netted him much power in the polls.
Below, pick the party whose candidates will be victorious in November. The choices are:
For Governor and Resident Commissioner, respectively:
PDP -- Aníbal Acevedo Vilá and Roberto Pratts
NPP -- Pedro Rosselló and Luis Fortuño
PIP -- Ruben Berríos Martinez and Edwin Irizarry Mora
Who will win? Please vote above!