The Orlando Sentinel
Thankful It Wasn't Like Florida
By Iván Román
November 27, 2000
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Between forkfuls of rice and gandules, or pigeon peas, the pavochon -- turkey marinated like Puerto Rican-style roast pork -- disappeared from many a table in Puerto Rico. The Christmas season here has now officially begun.
Guitar and percussion-driven Puerto Rican Christmas music floods the airwaves as people line up to buy toys. With the kind of year it has been, this holiday season is what many people need.
The season is also a time to give thanks -- and there is a lot to be thankful for.
As his kids stared at a mechanical Santa Claus fiddling with gifts in a store window in Old San Juan, Rafael Lopez was thankful the children were healthy and that the hurricane season spared Puerto Rico this year. And he offered a special thanks that is appropriate every four years.
"We definitely have to thank God the elections are over," said Lopez, 34, a Labor Department administrator, of the intense, year-long campaign. "You have all those commercials and cars with loudspeakers and low blows the candidates give each other on television, just to see them hug each other afterward."
Of course, people didn`t go cold turkey on politics right after Election Day. Power struggles in the Capitol for leadership posts and bickering during the transition process between Gov. Pedro Rossello`s people and Gov.-elect Sila Maria Calderon`s consultants keeps political junkies hopping.
But it`s nothing like the campaign. And many say they`re thankful it`s nothing like the Florida recount. In Puerto Rico, an army of volunteers from three major political parties manually counted about 2 million paper ballots, tabulating votes for more than 1,000 elected officials on the island, and had all the results in nine hours.
Thanks to runners and volunteers, the parties knew the outcome much sooner, and by 11 p.m., victory and concession speeches were carried live on television. No machines, dimpled chads or exit polls to consider.
Many are appreciative of what could be a more lasting trend -- the unprecedented consensus across political, social and religious lines made possible by the Vieques issue.
Virtually all Puerto Ricans came together to demand that the U.S. Navy halt training exercises on Vieques, clean up after itself and leave. That consensus was broken when Rossello`s government accepted a compromise, but it seems back on track since the presidents of all political parties embraced the consensus again after Election Day.
"This is important because we are cultivating tolerance and respect toward different sectors of our society," said Ivette Rivera, 32, an accountant from Rio Piedras. "With a change in government, we see a new openness, a new day."
Of course, people on the losing side of this political equation may not be so generous. But many agree -- and say they are thankful for -- a gradual transformation in Puerto Rico.
People seem to be increasingly discerning about their leaders. Civic groups are becoming more organized, more media savvy, and are raising their voices in the courts and in public debate. An increasing number of voters don`t seem willing to blindly follow political parties, and an increasing number of citizens are learning to speak up for themselves.
Rossello`s communications director, Frances Rodriguez , points to the kind of spirit among the women who approached her on official visits to say they were doing everything necessary to get business licenses for the traditional task of caring for other people`s children in their homes.
"People are finally internalizing empowerment, and that`s a big achievement," said Rodriguez, who also is thankful for recently becoming a mother. "They are seeing that not just the government, but they, can do things. They have the power."
And that`s surely something to make us thankful.