"What a wonder life I've had! I only wish I'd realized it sooner." Colette

May 6, 2018

Puerto Rican Politics 101

Just because broadcasters can pronounce Pu-wherrrr-toe Rrrree-co correctly and have been to the island since Hurricane Maria doesn’t mean they have a clue as to what's going on, politically speaking, inside the minds of the general public.  I lived there for 12 years and met 3 of their Governors, including the current Governor’s father, Pedro Rossello; but I still can’t explain Puerto Rico’s favorite sport much more than most of the people holding the microphones.

Here's the gist of it: Puerto Rico has three main political parties, and for simplistic terms I’ll call them Blue, Red and Green, their party’s colors. The Blues want Statehood; the Greens want Independence, and the Reds want things to remain the same, presumably until something better comes along. The current Governor, like his Father, is a Blue; therefore, no matter whether something’s good or bad for the island, most of the Reds and certainly all the Greens are going to object.

As a relatively neutral Gringa, people felt free to offer their opinions on a more personal level, both good and bad. I've been spat at during art shows (after the Abu Ghraib photos were publicized), and more than one of my Artesan-neighbors became friends after defending me against vehemently Green citizens and artesans, who thought I had no right selling my gourds on their turf.

Listening to recent news I’m getting the impression people assume that all Puerto Rico has to do is hold a referendum and the people will vote to become our 51st state. Ain’t happenin’, Genté. 

A few years after arriving on my trawler in 1998, there was an unfortunately accident on the island of Vieques, one of Puerto Rico's tiny sub-islands. The Navy had a testing facility there and for years people had been trying to get it closed, and the island and waters cleaned up.  A Puerto Rican security guard, I believe, in the wrong place at the wrong time, was blown to bits during a military exercise. That was the match which set off the firestorm that followed, and in June 2001 President Bush declared it would be closed by 2003. (Note: these photos of my friends are not meant to be associated with the accompanying text! But they are all of different political persuasions.)

It polarized the main island. As a Gringa with a small kite shop I was subjected to my share of verbal abuse and I distinctly recall a man who spoke perfect English and left me an article to read. When he returned and asked my opinion I simply said, “Wouldn’t it have been easier to just say, ‘Gringo Go Home!’?”

After successfully ousting the Navy, the economy of Vieques tanked. The Blues fear the same could happen if the island becomes Independent; the Greens claim they should decide their fates for themselves; and the Reds, well, some people thought the Reds just wanted to keep the people down, meaning poor and ignorant; blindly following whatever their wealthy political leaders dictated. Sort of reminds you of other places, no?

That is not MY opinion of the people of Puerto Rico or its politics; it’s what I heard from friends, acquaintances and strangers for over a decade.
Life down there isn't like here in the United States. Even before computers took over our lives, people in other countries (I'm picturing my time in Europe) would go out and speak to their neighbors, and in la Parguera I happened to be in the heartbeat of the community all the time.

The Red’s agenda was never clear to me, because during every referendum for Statehood vs Independence, which they have put before the public for both official and unofficial votes, the Red party advises their followers to write in,

“None of the above.” Made our Congressmen crazy, and as you already know they’re still a Commonwealth.

As a Commonwealth, Puerto Ricans cannot vote in our Federal elections and only have a Resident Commissioner to speak on their behalf in Washington. The Commissioner is elected along with the Governor, like the President and Vice, and generally belong to the same party but it's not a requirement.

When I became a licensed artesan and met my first Governor, Sila Calderon (Red), I had our photo enlarged and proudly placed it inside kite shop Volantines. It took no time before I was advised,

“Don’t put up a photo of one party without the others. You’ll lose business.”

Which is how I wound up with so many photos of me with politicians (see A Political Stalker Comes Clean, but I was never able to snag the elusive Ruben Barrios, then-leader of the Independistas, and I looked, darn.

By the time I left I was considered family by many of my friends, and so earlier this year I tried a fundraising campaign through GoFundMe to help them. My heart was in the right place; however, unable to contact anyone to arrange the banking/non-profit end, I put a stop on receiving donations before anyone from my past raises their ugly head(s) and tried to seize the funds. Boy, would I be in a pickle.

I did keep the page up because it’s a compelling story, which was discovered by a non-profit that helps artists around the world. They wrote asking if I could help them disseminate their information, and I was able finally to contact Zulma Santiago, my contact who invited me to so many NICE festivals throughout the island.  Zulma sent out the news via her Facebook connections, and I’m happy to report that CERF has begun helping through grants and loans and has generated a fundraiser specifically for Puerto Rico's artists. Please take a look if you would like to help the artists with supplies and equipment.

There is no way the population will vote for Statehood, especially if they feel they’re being blackmailed by our government, which is what they’re trying to do right now. Even if Puerto Rico does become our 51st state, don’t believe for a second that that is truly what the majority wants. I’ve watched firsthand how resilient the people are after hurricanes and they’ll get through Maria, too.

But as Miguel relays, from his home in the western part of the island, most people don’t believe anything they’re being told anymore.

And what are they doing about the U.S. Virgin Islands? I've got pals there, too.

Again, click here for the fundraiser to help PR artists through CERF. Thank you.  

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Original gourd art designs Copyright 2020 Andrea Jansen Designs. Please write for permission.



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