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Legislature Leaves Puerto Ricans Scratching Their Heads

by Lance Oliver

September 8, 2000
Copyright © 2000 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

More than a few chuckles sounded around Puerto Rico this week as the Legislature went about its business. Check any public opinion poll and you’ll find that the issues that most concern Puerto Ricans have to do with crime, drug abuse, the quality of the public schools and unemployment.

So what important measures emerged from the Legislature this week? The creation of Daylight Savings Time and the approval of the presidential vote for Puerto Ricans, both of which have left many people mystified.

The first of those two new laws would create Atlantic Daylight Time, which would apply from April to October. Currently, Puerto Rico is on Atlantic Standard Time, an hour ahead of Eastern Standard Time, which applies to the U.S. East Coast. When the United States shifts to daylight savings time, Eastern Daylight Time and Atlantic Standard Time coincide. It’s the same time in San Juan as in New York or Miami.

It has been this way for years and rarely seen as a hardship. But now, the Legislature has decided that Puerto Rico should imitate the United States and move its clocks ahead an hour each summer. Once the measure takes effect, Puerto Rico will remain uniformly an hour ahead of the Eastern Time Zone all year round.

What’s the point? In the United States, daylight savings time is used to compensate for the longer days of summer. Because the days are longer, it’s still light when people get out and about in the morning, but the sun sets later, leading to less energy use.

But in Puerto Rico, just 18 degrees north of the equator, the longest and shortest days of the year are less than two hours different in length. Will turning on the lights an hour later in Puerto Rico in the summer cut energy consumption? Or will the savings be unnoticeable given the greater power consumption of air conditioners, which run full-time in the summer in all commercial and many residential buildings?

These questions have not been answered or even studied by the Legislature but the time change has been approved.

While most Puerto Ricans wonder why the Legislature bothers with such a measure, it can at least be pointed to as a rare moment of bipartisan agreement. The dissent came from the Puerto Rican Independence Party, with Rubén Berríos citing it as just another attempt by the pro-statehood majority to try to emulate the 50 states, since they have been unable to join them. The PIP couldn’t even issue its one vote of dissent in each house of the Legislature, however, since both its elected representatives are currently in federal prison awaiting trial on charges of trespassing on Navy land on Vieques.

No such bipartisan agreement was found when the House followed the Senate’s lead and passed the bill authorizing a presidential ballot for the general election. Naturally, since this is a new concept on the island, many voters were hazy on the details of the presidential campaign. One television station’s man-on-the-street interviews included a fellow who firmly said he planned to vote for the Bush-Lieberman ticket.

Without a scientific poll, it’s impossible to measure the true interest among the public in voting for president, but if the discussions on talk radio are any indication, it is not high. There is more talk about using the presidential ballot as a form of lodging a protest over Vieques, with some activists lobbying for voters to write "Paz para Vieques" on the ballot.

Absent has been any widespread discussion of whether Al Gore or George W. Bush would be the better president, either in the interests of the United States as a whole or in the narrower interests of Puerto Rico. This lack of discussion can probably be traced to the fact that most people believe their votes will never be counted anyway.

Such has been the work of the Legislature this past week.

In one of the many predictions that legislators issue that are worth writing down, if only to come back to them years later for a humorous moment, was one by Sen. Kenneth McClintock that other Caribbean islands would eventually follow Puerto Rico’s lead and create daylight savings time schedules of their own.

In the unlikely event many people on the other islands even hear of Puerto Rico’s experiment in time management, they may decide to do what most Puerto Ricans did: chuckle at the news.

Ah, those crazy Puerto Ricans. What will they think of next? Hey, maybe they’ll get the presidential vote for us, too!

Lance Oliver writes The Puerto Rico Report weekly for The Puerto Rico Herald. He can be reached by email at:

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