(Published in Workers Wold newspaper Dec. 23, 2004.)
Who will decide
Puerto Rico's election results?
By Tom Soto
San Juan, Puerto Rico
A month after elections were held in this island nation of 4 million - which has been a U.S. colony since 1898 – there is still no official winner in the gubernatorial race.
The reason: A federal judge, Daniel Dominguez, has taken over control of the electoral process and overruled a decision by the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico which had instructed the Elections Commission to "count and adjudicate" all the votes in this past November's election – including thousands of contested crossover votes made by "independentistas" (supporters of the independence) who voted for Anibal Acevedo Vilá of the Popular Democratic Party.
The action of Federal Judge Dominguez in assuming jurisdiction of the electoral process, after the opposing New Progressive Party challenged the independentista ballots and initiated a suit in the local Federal Court, is broadly viewed by large sections of Puerto Rican society as an open colonial insult.
On Nov. 3 the Election Commission had preliminarily certified Anibal Acevedo Vilá as the winner in the gubernatorial race, with 48.38 percent of the vote. His contender, Pedro Roselló of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party, received 48.18 percent of the vote.
The difference between the two bourgeois candidates was about 3,800 votes. So the crossover independentista vote has become crucial. Thirty percent of the eligible voters in Puerto Rico did not participate.
The Popular Democratic Party and the New Progressive Party are the two bourgeois parties that have historically administered the colonial government of Puerto Rico on behalf of U.S. interests.
A third electoral force is the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP). As a result of thousands of its supporters crossing over and voting for the gubernatorial candidate of the Popular Democratic Party, the PIP did not receive the 5 percent of the vote required to maintain its official electoral status, though PIP members were elected to the House and Senate of the Puerto Rican Legislature.
Usually capitalist political factions who administer the government concede to one another after an election result, even if the outcome is close. They are keenly aware that no matter which bourgeois party gets to administer the state, capitalism and private property go on as usual.
But the election of November was particularly sharp and divided, especially due to the participation of Pedro Roselló of the New Progressive Party. As two-term governor from 1993 to 2000, he led the most corrupt administration in the history of Puerto Rico, emptying the coffers of the treasury. He now is pushing ahead with a new plan to impose statehood.
At issue in the current electoral crisis is whether, within the context of a colonial capitalist democracy, the independentista vote will be counted and adjudicated or disenfranchised altogether, thus allowing the colonial governor to be literally handpicked by a federal judge. However, the political crisis also seems to reflect new emerging economic relations between the U.S. and other countries in Latin America.
In an earlier historical period Puerto Rico was a center of continuing U.S. investment, which stimulated economic growth on the island, though distorted and owned by foreigners.
But in recent years the United States has made a number of so-called free trade agreements – the Latin American Free Trade Area (ALCA) and the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) – that allow U.S. economic penetration and exploitation of so-called cheap labor markets in Mexico, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and elsewhere.
Beyond a doubt, capital will flow to the areas where the rate of profit is highest. How this emerging economic situation affects the Puerto Rican economy, which is U.S.-owned, remains to be seen, but it is certain that many U.S. corporations will pick up and leave for more profitable areas if these so-called free trade agreements are consummated.
As of the beginning of 2004, total Puerto Rican government debt, including municipalities and so-called public corporations, was reported at $32.3 billion – in a small island nation where 53 percent of the population lives below the established U.S. poverty level, 77 percent of the women are heads of households, and an average 50 percent of all salaries are committed to pay for personal debt.
During moments of election rhetoric, the candidate of the Popular Democratic Party spoke of the "need for more autonomy and the right of Puerto Rico to carry out its own economic agreements," but he was simply electioneering.
While the Popular Democratic Party has appealed the decision of Judge Dominguez to the Federal Appeals Court in Boston, many workers, students, independentistas and socialists have taken to the streets.
The current political crisis could become a clarion call to struggle. On Monday, Nov. 29, at 10 in the morning during working hours, a demonstration of 5,000 was held near the Federal Court house in San Juan. Demonstrators demanded that the Federal Court respect the supremacy of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico regarding counting and adjudicating all the votes.
On Friday, Dec. 10, youth organizations of the Socialist Front - which during the election had advocated that "No candidate deserves your vote" - clashed with police in front of the Federal Court under the slogan: "No to colonialism, Federal courts out of Puerto Rico!"□
The author's email address is: email@example.com
To access Workers World newspaper clique here.