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The Final Days

by Lance Oliver

November 3, 2000
Copyright © 2000 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

As these words are being written, the campaigns for governor of Puerto Rico are entering the final days. The time for trying to nail down those rare unaffiliated and undecided voters has passed and now the focus is on rallying the troops, making sure the rank and file party members get out to vote.

The parties will hold their massive closing events and argue over which one drew the biggest crowd, all for the purpose of trying to create the impression that momentum is on their side. They hope that will draw out even more voters who will want to take part in a big victory.

Puerto Ricans love to be part of a victory celebration, whether it’s the aftermath of a Tito Trinidad boxing match, another Miss Universe title or the party that follows a successful election campaign. So the efforts of the final days are aimed at looking like a winner, knowing that the appearance can create a self-fulfilling prophecy in a close race.

The three candidates debated on television on Wednesday evening. That was probably their last chance to appeal to the small slice of voters who do not identify themselves as a member of one of the three parties. The last debate differed little from the first one, except for an improved performance by the Puerto Rican Independence Party’s Rubén Berríos, who looked drawn and pale in the first debate and, unsurprisingly, was hospitalized shortly afterwards with diverticulitis.

The two major-party candidates, Sila Calderón of the Popular Democratic Party and Carlos Pesquera of the New Progressive Party, followed the same scripts they used in the first debate, except that Calderón, oddly enough, seemed less comfortable than she did in her first performance, and Pesquera laid on an extra helping of last-minute campaign promises.

Calderón stuck to her campaign script by pounding on incidents of corruption during the past eight years of NPP rule and she tried to capitalize on the public’s fatigue with Gov. Pedro Rosselló’s combative and autocratic style by promising more consensus and less conflict.

Anything Calderón did not promise, Pesquera seemingly did. Among the promises he made in the 90-minute debate: to create 5% annual economic growth, to create jobs for all college graduates, to ensure equal pay for women, to provide jobs for the handicapped, to expand and improve the health reform process, to establish 84 bilingual schools, to provide a voucher to help every student with a 3.5 grade-point average buy a computer and to do all of the above without increasing taxes, water or electricity rates or highway tolls.

And that’s not to mention one of his most infamous promises, made earlier in the campaign on multiple occasions: to eliminate all drug dealing on the streets of Puerto Rico.

Calderón criticized Pesquera for saying the Vieques situation is "resolved" and Pesquera criticized Calderón for saying Puerto Rico’s status was resolved when commonwealth was created in 1952.

As in the first debate, Pesquera completely ignored the specifics of the questions put to him and recited comments he had planned beforehand. In another way, Calderón followed a script, also, but it was the old PDP script, the one that still talks about getting tax incentives from Congress in the post-Section 936 era and still talks about tinkering with the commonwealth status when Congress has bluntly said "no way."

That gave Berríos the cue he was counting on, of course.

"Ask yourself in your home tonight why neither the government of which Mr. Pesquera was a part nor the government of which Mrs. Calderón was a part did these things they say they are going to do now," he asked. "They’re thinking in the old ways. These people don’t dare to think in new ways."

Berríos recounted a campaign-trail incident in which a voter said he wished Berríos were his party’s candidate. The pro-independence leader used his closing arguments to try to build on that feeling, urging voters to cast their ballots based on their sentiments, not generations-old party affiliations. He is trying to capitalize on his increased popularity after his year of protest on Vieques to resuscitate his dwindling party.

Berríos is not a sideshow in the election drama. Indirectly, he is the main event. Some political analysts predict he will get up to 10% of the vote. This writer’s gut feeling puts it closer to half that.

If it’s the former, Pesquera will win. If it’s the latter, Calderón will probably make the three-block move from City Hall to La Fortaleza.

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

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