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Y2K in PR, Part 2

by Lance Oliver

December 29, 2000
Copyright © 2000 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

As the first half of the year ended with the loss of Tito Puente, other noted Puerto Ricans who were so much a part of the island’s 20th century would not live to see 2001.

Poet Francisco Matos Paoli, who wrote hundreds of poems and remained firm to the end in his belief in independence for Puerto Rico, died in July at 85. He would be followed by another great Puerto Rican figure of the 20th century, Sor Isolina Ferré, whose lifelong dedication to alleviating the world’s social problems, from the slums of New York to the hills of Appalachia to the poorest barrios of her native Ponce, earned her praise, admiration and love around the world.

The FBI turned over more than 12,000 files it kept on independence supporters from the 1930s through the 1980s. The subjects of the FBI scrutiny ranged from nationalist Pedro Albizu Campos to Luis Muñoz Marín.

Meanwhile, what one court gave, another took away. A federal judge in Puerto Rico ruled that U.S. citizens could not legally be denied the right to vote for president just because they lived in Puerto Rico. Gleeful statehooders pushed a bill through the legislature appropriating money for a presidential ballot for the general election.

A federal appeals court saw it differently, however, following many precedents that limited participation in the electoral college to the 50 states.

In the second half of the year, the election dominated the news. Nearly a month before the vote, Resident Commissioner Carlos Romero Barceló declared himself a candidate in 2004, just in case anyone was wondering.

According to the polls, the race for governor had been tightening throughout the year, with Sila Calderón’s lead slipping away percentage point by percentage point.

Voters got a good look at the three candidates for governor during two debates. Just as Saturday Night Live made hay with spoofs of the presidential debates in the United States, local comedians produced hilarious send-ups of the gubernatorial encounters that were far more entertaining than the real thing.

Nothing seemed to change the steady, unrelenting tightening of the race, however, and by election day, many New Progressive Party supporters who had been nearly desperate at the beginning of 2000 were optimistically expecting a victory.

Instead, the general election of 2000 looked a lot like the status vote of 1998. In the final weeks and days, the populares came home and voted for Calderón and her running mate, Aníbal Acevedo Vilá.

Decisively, the massive defections the Puerto Rican Independence Party had banked on did not happen. Rubén Berríos’ personal popularity, for his stand on Vieques, did not translate into the high single-digit vote percentage the PIP had hoped for. Once again, melonismo, the habit of supposed independence sympathizers voting for the Popular Democratic party, proved decisive.

Calderón’s margin of victory was not huge, but then margins rarely are in Puerto Rico, with the two major parties so evenly divided. What made the win so convincing, and also made it mirror the NPP victories of 1992 and 1996, was the way the PDP swept elections across the board, seizing control of the executive and legislative branches and the majority of the mayoral seats around the island.

Pesquera accepted defeat and announced his resignation as party president on election night, but a quick glance at the party leadership roster reminded NPP officials that a Pesquera resignation would mean a Norma Burgos presidency. With Burgos out of favor because of some of her comments on the campaign trail, which were seen by many as refusing to toe the party line, Pesquera was convinced to stay on as president.

It didn’t last. In the final days of the year, the NPP caucus rejected Pesquera’s pleas to reorganize the party leadership and backed Edison Misla Aldarondo as House minority leader. Pesquera then resigned, this time for real.

One of the first items of business for the pro-statehood party in 2001 will be to hold a general assembly and choose new leadership.

The year ended with the incoming administration and the outgoing Rosselló administration bickering over the transition process, just as they had begun the year fighting over such monumental issues as whether the then-mayor of San Juan should be allowed to have her own photographer accompany her to La Fortaleza for the annual protocol handshake ceremony. Rosselló administration officials complained that the transition process was being used to dig up dirt, sling accusations and stack up political ammunition rather than ensure a smooth transfer of power.

Calderón promised a new approach to governing, one involving less conflict and confrontation. The transition so far has not provided much evidence of it. The next four years will tell the tale.

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

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